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Tecmo is Cool as Ice

Everyone knows Tecmo Bowl is cool. But did you know it’s Cool as Ice?

1991 was an interesting moment in pop culture. Tecmo, boosted by the smash success of 1989’s Tecmo Bowl, neared release of its sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl. Hollywood gave us a bizarre mish-mash of phenomenal films: T2: Judgement Day and Silence of the Lambs share 1991 with Father of the Bride and Beauty and the Beast. Grunge music (perhaps inspired partly by Tecmo) hit mainstream with the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. On the other side of the music coin, the pseudo-feud between pop-rappers M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice spilled over to TV and film.

In the fall of 1991, M.C. Hammer debuted a Saturday morning cartoon, HammermanHammerman followed the adventures of Stanley, voiced by Mr. Hammer, a rec center employee with a pair of magic dancing shoes. Whenever trouble came around, Stanley put on his magic shoes to become the superhero Hammerman! It sounds bad, but trust me, its much worse.

That tag line…

Not wanting to be outdone, Vanilla Ice made a movie. Let that sink in: Vanilla Ice made a movie. Not just a cameo, like his scene-stealing “Ninja Rap” in TMNT 2: The Secret of the Ooze, but a whole feature film. Cool as Ice, released on October 18, 1991, is best described as a cut-rate Dirty Dancing clone, replacing Patrick Swayze and dancing with bad rap and Japanese-made motorcycles. Vanilla Ice plays Johnny, the leader of a traveling group of motorcycle rappers. After breaking down in a small town, Johnny falls for good girl Kathy. Unbeknownst to Kathy, her family is in witness protection, on the run from crooked cops. The arrival of Johnny’s gang spells trouble for everyone. There’s excellent 90’s fashions, a number of hilariously bad music sequences, and, for some reason, supermodel Naomi Campbell. It sounds bad, but trust me, it’s much worse.

This is only worth mention because 67 minutes into Cool as Ice, Johnny gives Kathy’s little brother Tommy a motorcycle ride. After, Johnny leaves the kid unsupervised in an empty home. In a stroke of bad luck (and lazy writing) Johnny zooms off just as–oh no!–two dirty cops approach. The screen goes black and then…

“Ready! Down! Hut hut hut!”

Just before getting himself kidnapped, little Tommy plays some Tecmo Bowl.

Cool as Ice Tecmo Bowl 1

As you can see, little Tommy knows his Tecmo. A match of TB superpowers has his San Francisco facing Chicago. Even smarter, Tommy takes control of SF’s all-world DB, Ronnie Lott just before the snap.

Cool As Ice Tommy Plays Tecmo 00

However, dirty cops arrive before Lott can snag yet another interception. Hearing commotion outside, Tommy leaves his Tecmo game. As he does, a keen eye will notice a few odd things. Although we’ve just seen little Tommy controlling San Fran’s defense, it’s the 49er offense that is on the field as Tommy walks to the door. Weirder, the game continues play even after Tommy puts down his controller. What black magic does Tommy possess, that he can make his cart play by itself?! (It also appears that the NES deck is powered off, but that could just be owed to supbar video quality.)

Cool As Ice Tommy Plays Tecmo 01

Once at the door, Tommy realizes he’s staring down two bad dudes. Worse, they don’t want to play Tecmo!

Cool as Ice Tecmo Bowl 2

As Tommy backs through the living room, his TB game continues playing, even though Tommy hasn’t touched the controller. Again, despite CHI’s offense in the establishing shot, its clearly SF and their three pass plays driving through this sequence. The NES deck lid, up in the earlier shot, is magically down as Tommy backs through the living room. It’s almost like the producers of Cool as Ice simply didn’t care about NES continuity and just wanted to quickly cash in on Vanilla Ice’s 15 minutes of fame.
Cool As Ice Tommy Plays Tecmo 04

If there was any doubt that its San Francisco’s offense playing in this sequence, compare the play selection screen above with the San Francisco’s playbook. The upper right play has a longer text string, PASS instead of RUN, and the lower left box has PASS 3’s distinctive crossing route:

Tecmo Bowl 49ers Playbook

Tommy leads the wet bandits crooked cops to his dining room where he attempts to call 911. The game continues playing even with Tommy and Co. a full 20 feet away. If you think about it, Cool as Ice is 4000% more interesting if you imagine it’s secretly about a magic Tecmo Bowl cartridge that can play itself.

Cool as Ice Tecmo Bowl 3

It seems, though, Tecmo’s magic needs Tommy to work. As soon as the dirty cops drag him away, the game goes back to its play select screen.
Cool as Ice Tecmo Bowl 4

Kathy returns to an empty home. Without Tommy’s magic, Tecmo Bowl can only blink SF’s 4 plays. Kathy, the monster she is, turns off the TV with her toe, but LEAVES THE NES DECK RUNNING! The console will overheat, Kathy!

With magic Tecmo gone, the plot to Cool as Ice resolves exactly how you’d expect. Vanilla Ice’s Johnny saves the kid, wins Kathy’s love, and performs one final (hilariously bad) musical number.

Cool as Ice Vanilla Ice Dance

Tommy’s magic Tecmo is emblematic of Cool as Ice’s Swiss cheese of plot holes. The sentient game makes no appearance after the film’s 70th minute, leaving only two interpretations of its presence: either Cool as Ice‘s filmmakers couldn’t be bothered with continuity and used a looped gameplay vid during filming, or the film hides a secret sub-plot about a magical boy technomancer and his sentient copy of Tecmo Bowl. Given the plot deficiencies of Cool as Ice, I prefer the latter.

Tecmo’s inclusion in Cool as Ice may have even been at the request of the Vanilla One himself. Vanilla Ice readily proclaims his admiration for Tecmo (even if he can’t pronounce it):

There you have it; Techno Bowl is the greatest game of all time. There’s even a bad 90’s movie to prove it.

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Keith Good

Keith Good is a future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and 8-bit game geek. A perpetual optimist, he convinces himself every September that this could finally be the Cleveland Browns' year. He was once told to eff off by Tecmo great Kevin Mack. You can check out his other work at www.keithisgood.com and follow him on twitter @keithisgood.

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