Gridiron Grit or Grime?
Arcade sports games have been part of the gaming landscape for generations now, but have often taken a back seat to their full-on simulation brethren. Then in the late 90s, an arcade sports game unlike any other smashed onto the scene and redefined arcade football for a generation. This game was NFL Blitz. Unfortunately, as later iterations of the game were released and the NFL sank their hands deeper and deeper into the franchise, it became a watered down shell of its former self before finally shedding the NFL license in the hopes of keeping the franchise afloat. It did for a short time, but once Midway filed for Chapter 11, this beloved franchise was thought lost to the limbo of the once great franchises of yesteryear.
Flash-forward to the present day though where EA Sports has decided to resurrect this once great franchise in the hopes of catching fans ready for a return to arcade greatness. But is this new downloadable NFL Blitz even worthy of being mentioned in the same breath to those original smash mouth games of the late 90’s?
In some ways, yes it does. In other ways though, EA Sports’s version of NFL Blitz is very much the same watered down game that forced Midway to abandon the NFL license in the first place. The most glaring omission while playing the game is the infamous late hits that were allowed in the original version of the game. Elbow drops, suplexs, and various other maneuvers performed more by professional wrestlers than football players have been taken out, allowing those cocky players who we used to make pay for dancing in our end zones now plenty of time to work on their cha-chas.
The most frustrating aspect of the game though comes in the form of something I wish did not return: the rubberband A.I. At first, I thought most of my frustration came from the controls in that passing required you to look at your intended receiver, often resulting in misfires and interceptions. Although still a bit more sluggish that I would like for an arcade game, after changing the controls to the more traditional icon based passing (which is under Settings instead of Controls for some weird reason), I found that where I had placed much of my frustration in the controls came instead with the rubberband A.I.
I played against four human opponents and four computer opponents with the icon based passing after playing more than a dozen games with the look based mechanism, and no matter how big a lead I had, or how big a hole I had fallen into, the game never ended by more than a touchdown meaning the game had almost nothing to do with skill, like I had originally surmised, but more about what player could weather the storm of adversity the computer would throw its way better. The first game I played in Blitz Battles saw me to a 21-0 lead halfway through the 2nd quarter. My next three possessions saw me throw two near impossible interceptions (one was a deep ball picked off by a defensive lineman at the line of scrimmage…what the heck?!) and then fumble the kickoff after it was 21-14. It didn’t matter if I was looking at the receiver or pressing the B, X, or Y buttons. I would end up losing that game by a touchdown because once we were all caught up, the other player had the ball last and would have me swearing up a storm. I think I may have caused at least a few trips to therapy for that poor 10-year-old who was sick home from school.
On the flipside, a game I was losing 28-14 at the half, would cause the player on the other headset to start swearing up a storm, much to my chagrin, as I would inexorably break five tackles, without stiff arming or being on fire, on the opening half kickoff and sack him four times in a row and get the ball deep in his territory on his next possession. I didn’t have another sack for the rest of the game, but still won that one, also by a touchdown. And similar outcomes happened against the computer in the Blitz Gauntlet and Play Now modes.
I will say though in terms of positives, NFL Blitz may have the deepest online modes of any sports game out there, including simulation titles. If you can overcome the sometimes sluggish QB throwing animations and cheap A.I., competing in the online Elite Leagues and Battle Boards in order to earn Blitz Bucks is a deep experience full of team customization aspects that could make this a very addictive experience for some more enthusiastic players. Of course, the idea of having to play online with people in order to unlock many of the better aspects of the game like cheats and cheerleader load screens via Blitz Bucks seems like a clear way to bait players into playing in these leagues. Ahhhh…paying for cheerleaders…has shades of my prom night written all over it.
Anyway, when all is said and done, EA Sports’ version of NFL Blitz is a well put together game in terms of look and sound (the announcer from NBA Jam does the play-by-play and is just as hysterical in Blitz), but it feels like the watered down versions of the game from the early 2000s that got too far away from what made the original NFL Blitz really great. Horrible rubberband A.I. and clear influence from the No Fun League removes a lot of the potential fun of the game and makes me long more for the steroid inducing mini-games and good ol’ crazy Lawrence Taylor from the Blitz: The League spin-offs than anything else, even with just a $15 (1200 MSP) price-tag.
SUMMARY: Strong online modes and a crisp look and sound for the game can’t hide the fact that this is a watered down version similar to what caused many fans to leave the series in the first place.
- THE GOOD: More online depth than most sports sims, never mind an arcade game
- THE BAD: NFL influence waters down arcade greatness of original
- THE UGLY: Zombies in football pads
NFL Blitz is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PS3 (PSN). Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.