Tecmo Super Bowl holds a special place in the hearts of sports gamers. The first game to use the NFL and NFLPA licenses in tandem, the NES and SNES game paved the way for modern football titles by introducing player attributes, customizable playbooks, substitutions, injuries, a season mode, stat tracking, and a Super Bowl presentation that still has more pageantry than the latest version of Madden. Its standing as the premier football franchise may have expired in the decades since its 1991 release, but a dedicated legion of fans has worked diligently to preserve its legacy online, building new rosters and hosting ROM leagues.

Tecmo’s first attempt at resurrecting its beloved franchise, the 2008 Nintendo DS title Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff, proved that without the NFL licenses and the talents of studs like Bo Jackson and QB Eagles, the game loses all its nostalgic value. For the XBLA follow-up, Tecmo is staying as faithful as possible to the SNES version of the game without bringing down the wrath of NFL lawyers. Throwback may not have the NFL team or player names, but everything else is intact. The game still breaks its 28 teams into the old divisional alignments, each team has the same playbook it had in Tecmo Super Bowl, and the players have the same jersey numbers and player attributes. While the Detroit team may not be called the Lions or wear the traditional silver and blue, number 20 still has the Pro Bowl level skills of the inimitable Barry Sanders, the most explosive runner in the original game.

If you’re a hardcore fan who can’t stand the idea of Barry Sanders being named Craig Pickens, you can rename every player in the game. Surviving as a football title without an official license isn’t easy, but as the All-Pro Football and Backbreaker communities have demonstrated, the public still gets excited about license-free games provided you give gamers to the tools to craft their own players and teams. Providing total team customization with Tecmo Bowl Throwback seemed like a no-brainer given the dedicated communities that still exist online, but the company neglected to include deeper editing options. You cannot change the team colors, edit jersey numbers, or tweak player attributes. The game also lacks a roster sharing function like the EA Locker that would allow you to trade rosters with friends.

From the button layout to the arcade action, Throwback perfectly preserves the classic Tecmo Bowl gameplay. This re-skinned version even features the charming idiosyncrasies from the original game. You have no idea when an injured player will get healthy during a season, and the nose tackle dive exploit still works like a charm. The opposing team AI is still laughably exploitable, which means when playing through an entire season the only true challenge is to best your personal highs in the various stats the game tracks. The stat tracking, however, is one of the areas where Tecmo’s dedication to preserving the authentic Tecmo Super Bowl experience feels lazy. Rather fleshing out the record books to account for the missing stats like QB rating, tackles, etc., Tecmo opted to use the half-baked stat tracking from the original.

Presentation-wise, little has changed outside of the new coat of paint Tecmo put on the game. When in offline games you can switch seamlessly from the traditional 2D camera to the new 3D view at the tap of the button. Like Madden NFL Arcade, the new player models look questionably top-heavy, and as always Tecmo found a way to integrate its jiggling breast technology into the game by showing cutscenes of the well-endowed cheerleaders whenever possible.

The time Tecmo spent perfecting breast physics would have been better spent on building a more robust multiplayer component. With no playoff brackets, no season mode, and no customizable playbooks, Throwback’s multiplayer is the qualitative equivalent to punting on first down. Your only option is to take on challengers in exhibition matches, and if you’re racking up the points on an opponent and he or she rage quits, you get no credit for the win and the other player suffers no penalty for dropping out. Tecmo says it is working on a fix to remedy this situation, but not having a system in place for discouraging this behavior in the first place is an amateur move even for a $10 game.

Even without the NFL license, Throwback’s pure gameplay reminds me why I sunk hundreds of hours into Tecmo Super Bowl as a kid. But without the deep customization and multiplayer options we’ve come to expect from football games, Throwback fails to build on the nostalgia factor. Dedicated Tecmo Super Bowl communities are better off sticking with their ROM leagues.