Almost as soon as there were video games, there were worries about inappropriate content in video games. Before Mortal Kombat’s blood drenched fighting sparked Congressional hearings, there was Death Race. The 1976 game, based on the film Death Race 2000, saw a blocky little car squishing “gremlins.” Though quaint compared to Grand Theft Auto, the game sparked genuine outrage to the point it appeared on the CBS News program, 60 Minutes. Tecmo Super Bowl set itself above its more controversial peers with good, clean, family fun.
As a child, when playing TSB with parents, there was always the moment of heart-clenching anticipation at the end of the 2nd quarter. 3 of TSB’s 4 Halftime Shows feature blimps and marching bands and fans doing the wave. But god help the 10-year-old version of you that had the misfortune of sitting through the 4th Halftime sequence with gran sitting on the couch behind you.
First, a Dallas Cowboys-esque cheerleader gives a sexy wink, showing acres of midriff that would make even Britney Spears blush.
Then come Rockette-kicking cheerleaders with legs for days.
After the Rockettes, a cheerleader is tossed in the air. Smiling, her skirt flies up just enough to show a white triangle of her panties.
The parade of childhood embarrassment then ends with a kissy-face cheerleader, arms over her head, displaying maximum sideboob to your grandmother .
It begs the question: in a game otherwise marketed to the whole family, why is a girl showing me her panties? Even the original Tecmo Bowl’s lone halftime show featured a line of cheerleaders, their hemlines so high a slight breeze threatened “wardrobe malfunction.” Certainly Tecmo programmers wanted to capture the feel of American Football, cheerleaders included. Bulging breasts and panty flashing, though, seem oddly sexual, almost out of place in an otherwise squeaky-clean game.
Why Tecmo would include such material in TSB may go back to the early 80’s and a Tecmo company slightly different from the one famous for American Football.
Before 1987, Tecmo was known as Tehkan, Co. The company, founded in the 1960’s, initially sold office supplies. In the 1970’s Tehkan shifted its focus to entertainment products, including early arcade machines. Tehkan’s games offered little innovation. Instead, they happily manufactured knock-offs of already popular arcade machines. As we’ll later see, if Tecmo had been more innovative, perhaps we wouldn’t have even had Tecmo Bowl. One of Tehkan’s clones, not likely to be found in your local Pizza Hut or comic book shop, was a risqué little cabinet called Lovely Cards.
From cave paintings to pottery, photographs to the internet, immediately after after man invents a new medium, that medium is filled with naked women. Video game erotica dates back to the very beginnings of the form. Sexy pinball and sexy card games filled—shall we say—less reputable arcade facilities. Seeing the success of the genre, Tehkan created its own sexy video poker machine: Lovely Cards.
NOTE: Although all the pictures below have been edited to retain at least some pixelated modesty, past this point, we’re dealing with representations of a woman in various states of undress. Be advised, it’s ever so slightly NSFW from here on out.
Just from the title screen we can see similarities between Lovely Cards and TSB’s Halftime sextravaganza. As a video game, Lovely Cards offers very little. It’s vanilla video poker: the player bets money on successive hands of 5-card draw. An alluring woman reclines atop the cards. A heart meter above the woman shows how “enamored” she is with the player. Max out the heart meter by betting and winning big, and the woman removes an article of clothing. Conversely, if the player bets too little and loses too many hands, the disgusted woman gets dressed. The same mechanic applies to countless games across almost every platform, from sexy poker to sexy mahjong, all the way to sexy Tetris.
And…that’s it. Bingo, bango, bongo, boobs. Getting past the bingo and bongo of Lovely Cards, however, is a chore. Lovely Cards hates to lose. Because the game offers very little after the woman is disrobed, Lovely Cards sometimes cheats. Emulating Lovely Cards with savestates shows that the game sometimes deals bad cards if the player holds good cards. Let’s say Lovely Cards deals an initial hand of K♥, 10♣ 2♥, 5♠ and J♦. If no cards are held, the second round of cards are K♣, 3♦, J♠, 8♥ and A♥. Loading a savestate in the initial round and holding K♥ and J♦ should earn 2 pair: K♥, K♣, J♦, J♠, 3♦. This isn’t always the case, though. As the player amasses more money, Lovely Cards will increasingly deal random garbage to avoid winning hands.
If a player had the quarters and attention span (or was that thirsty) winning Lovely Cards rewarded the player with a reclining nude. (Although for propriety’s sake we’ve censored a few pixels, let’s just say the programmers at Tehkan were probably happiest when their hardwood floors were freshly waxed.)
Although not a straight line by any means, we can see the curved path between Tecmo Super Bowl and Lovely Cards. Lovely Cards only predates Tecmo Bowl by a few years. We know Japanese programmers sometimes misunderstood the cultural sensitivities–especially regarding religion and sex–of American audiences. The fact that the newly-topless woman in Lovely Cards winks just like TSB’s first cheerleader only strengthens the connection. It’s a small hop from bra-and-panties poker to the panty-flashing cheerleaders who made Friday Family Game night super awkward for everyone involved.
Tecmo, who knew you were so naughty?
 Rob Crossley, BBC. “Mortal Kombat: Violent game that changed video games industry
 It seems there was also a version of the game called Lovely Poker, where the player could bet and win actual money.
 The first game to use erotic graphics, 1981’s Night Life, was, coincidentally made by Koei. Koei purchased Tecmo in 2009
 Oof, that’s a risky click.