Fresh off the success of their NBA Jam revival, EA Sports has decided to throw another Midway classic our way in NFL Blitz. The original stormed into arcades and homes almost 15 years ago, and was updated bit by bit through to the previous console cycle before losing its NFL license due to its over the top violence, turning into Blitz the League and adding complexity as it shifted into the current gen, losing its way. Fortunately EA saw fit to turn back the clock, gain back the NFL’s blessing, and deliver a refresh true to the game’s roots.
The idea behind Blitz is quite simple. Real football is too complicated and has too many rules. This is just seven on seven, no holds barred. Penalties for pass interference? Cmon, that’s no fun. Madden can be an obnoxious chore for those who just want to dive into the game, so let’s give the people what they really want: insane passing plays, plenty of touchdowns, and merciless hitting. It’s like arena football on steroids, and it’s highly addictive. Even people who despise the real thing can get into this, as it’s really more of a twitch-based arcade game than a pure sports title. Those familiar with the original will not miss a thing, except for the lack of late hits, which had to be cast aside in order to get approval from the “No Fun League.” As a veteran of the series, I took delight in the fact that the plays are exactly the same as found in the first NFL Blitz, and the AI even plays the same way. All the same tricks work and it just feels extremely familiar and comfortable. EA Sports did a great job of recreating the game faithfully. No complaints as far as the basic gameplay goes.
For those just looking for a quick exhibition match, there’s the “Play Now” mode where you just select your teams and sides and kick off right away. New to the table for the series however is the Blitz Gauntlet, which operates a lot like Mortal Kombat’s ladder mode, giving you a series of opponents to defeat, but with special boss matches along the way. The boss teams are composed of wacky characters like gladiators, yetis, and zombies. Games against these teams include power ups on the field that you can run over (provided you’re heading the right direction) and gain increased abilities temporarily. The concept was interesting but hard to make pay off as you have to be lucky enough to pull off the right plays to take advantage of them and even then they don’t seem to confer too much of an advantage unfortunately. Once you beat a boss team you can unlock those characters’ cheat codes for future use to play as them. Before every game you have a chance to enter these and other codes in with ranging effects from chrome balls to big headed players.
Blitz Battles is where you’ll head online for matchmaking and playing against others, or you can even create a team with a friend and take on other teams. There are rankings and leaderboards to compare your skills with your buddies or everyone in the world. In Elite League you can earn Blitz Bucks for victories and buy cards in order to build stronger teams. This adds more of a perks or leveling up element to the online game which helps extend its longevity. Finally there’s an online co-op mode where you can play the AI together. All of these multiplayer modes are a nice touch for when you don’t have someone beside you on the couch to school and are a welcome addition to the franchise.
EA Sports updated the graphics in this version of NFL Blitz, but they didn’t overdo it trying for realism in any way. The players aren’t too much more detailed than the Dreamcast version I remember playing a few years ago. Stadiums have a bit more detail and the presentation is stepped up a bit in general. The key here is the smooth framerate. For those who had to settle for the N64 version back in the day, it’s nice to step up to a full 60 fps and non-blurry textures and really have that arcade feel.
When it comes to the sound, there is no letdown either. The moment you hit start and hear Tim Kitzrow exclaim “Welcome to NFL Blitz!” and the rocking soundtrack fires up in the background at the menu screen, you know there is no mistaking what game you’re playing. The play by play is a hoot, with some newly recorded one-liners sprinkled here and there for comedic effect. Sadly I have not heard the classic “He could… go… all… the… way… ” call in my dozens of games yet, so perhaps that made the cutting floor.
EA Sports tried to create their own arcade football series, NFL Street, but it never caught on because it did too much. Midway’s bankruptcy was quite fortuitous for them and gamers worldwide, because now we have a modern version of a proper arcade football game. Blitz is back baby, and it’s here to stay. I would not hesitate on picking this up if you were ever a fan. For the price of the typical download game, you get much more for much less than if you bought the game years ago. Now that’s progress.