Downloadable services like Xbox LIVE Arcade and the PlayStation Network have been godsends for companies with interest in bringing classic franchises back to popular status. We’ve seen countless remakes, revamps and re-releases of games that many of us grew up playing during earlier console generations. The most recent title to adopt this strategy is NFL Blitz – Midway‘s incredibly popular and over-the-top football series, which is now owned by Electronic Arts. Knowing that fans have been wanting a return to the franchise’s roots, the video game giant commissioned a downloadable PSN and XBLA revamp, which gives those begging fans exactly as they ask. It forgets about any changes that were made with the two Blitz: The League titles that were released earlier this generation, and takes us back to the 1990s. Armchair athletes can, and should, rejoice.
In all honestly, it doesn’t feel like such a long time ago that NFL Blitz was a digital phenomenon on home video game consoles and local arcade cabinets. However, it has been a decent amount of years since then. There’s a new generation of gamers out there, who have probably never performed a late elbow drop onto a downed receiver, while listening to Tim Kitzrow bellow out a one-liner. Unfortunately, those late hits have been removed at the request of the National Football League (for understandable reasons,) but everything else that we loved about this series is still there. Now, newcomers and veterans can both take to the digital gridiron, with the hope of decimating their opponents while enveloped in orange flames.
What makes this such an iconic sports franchise certainly isn’t an adherence to strict rules and simulation qualities. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what you’ll find here. Every Blitz match features two teams who enter into a contest without flags or penalties, where the referees are basically just a part of the crowd. In these digital stadiums, tackling receivers before the ball gets to them is a defensive tactic, instead of a punishable offense. Everything is legal, and nothing gets in the way of the game. Of course, the sport’s standard rules apply. They have been altered a bit, however, with thirty yard first down markers and a pass-heavy offensive play list. Lengthy bomb passes, Hail Mary plays and faked kick attempts are common occurrences within. The same can be said about on-fire players, who catch flames after continued success on either offense or defense. Being on fire improves player performance, while also making them tougher to take down.
The great thing about this revamp, is the fact that it comes with a ton of content. For 15 dollars, fans are not only getting a game with infinite replay value, but they’re also receiving something that will take a long time to fully complete. It includes several gameplay modes: Play Now, Blitz Gauntlet, Blitz Battles, Elite League and Online Co-op. Almost every option brings something new to the table, allowing players to pick and choose what type of experience they would like to have at any given point in time. It’s great having variety, which is something that makes this game feel less like a downloadable title and more like an on-disc product.
In Blitz Gauntlet, gamers get to choose their favourite team to take into battle against a ladder full of NFL and fantasy opponents. The fantasy elements come thanks to varied boss characters, such as a team full of zombies and another one that is staffed by ninjas. Victory will allow you to use their skins in future games, through a code-based unlock that can be entered before the start of each game. Since there are quite a few of these unique teams and character skins, multiple play throughs are required in order to unlock them all. However, those who put a lot of time into this game can spend 20,000 credits (earned through progression and quality performances,) to buy them individually. Then again, that happens to be a ton of in-game currency.
While the previously described mode is a lot of competitive fun, using standard Blitz gameplay and the odd power-up, Blitz Battles mode could be the star of this show. It brings leaderboard climbing to an addictive front, allowing challengers to take their team to the top of region-specific leaderboards. After picking their region from a specified list, players take to rather standard online battles, with the results determining whether they move upwards or downwards. Starting at the bottom with the rookie board, the hope is to move up towards regional and local elite boards. These games can be played against random challengers or friends, with the option for two friendly players to band together to create and control a team. Regardless of which option is chosen, having your rank and potential achievements (or trophies) on the line, adds extra tension and adrenaline to each contest.
For those who like to make the experience their own and spend a long time working on one team, Elite League is the mode to play. It’s a lot like the Ultimate Team modes that are found in recent Madden NFL series releases. Capitalizing on the addiction that is card collecting, this mode allows players to create a completely unique team through purchased card packs, unlocked legends and won superstars. A randomized pack of cards is received at its onset, making up the player’s starting team. After that, risk and reward (card betting) matches, credits and progression, help to enhance the roster. It’s more about buying or stealing your team, than buying or trading with other players – something that has been removed in favor of credits being given for duplicates. Even without that option, this is a very involved and addicting (online-focused) mode, which requires players to be given contract extensions.
The last option on that list is Online Co-op – a mode which is exactly what it sounds like. Teams of two human players battle it out against each other for gridiron supremacy, using standard rules and the occasional power-up. Teammates can use different avatars for their controlled players, while using league teams. This promotes individual personalities, along with teamwork. The two take turns playing as quarterback and receiver, with the former having the option to choose the squad’s offensive and defensive plays. This is a good way for groups of friends to challenge each other, for some friendly competition, and it works pretty well.
Adding extra reason to spend hours upon hours of your gaming time with this version of NFL Blitz is its store. This is where credits can be spent on some of the aforementioned cards and characters, as well as a host of other items. Some of the unlocks featured within will aid your game with new plays or cheat codes, while others focus more on the aesthetic side of things. An entire section of purchasable items is dedicated to the loading screen cheerleaders, who have a few pages worth of sultry poses for sale.
When the Florida-based team at EA Tiburon was chosen to helm this project, the company’s higher-ups made a smart choice. This release certainly is a return to form for the franchise. Not only is it a heck of a lot of fun, but it also gives fans a ton of game hours at an affordable price. It’s tough to argue that the content provided doesn’t match the game’s fifteen dollar list price, which is nice.
Unfortunately, even though this release is a quality trip back in time, the experience isn’t all roses. There are some occasional issues which pop-up during gameplay, like the odd time where the game will activate the incorrect defensive player. Also, while it’s nice to see this franchise return, this release doesn’t push the envelope forward in noticeable fashion. Sure, the addition of new game modes is great. However, good defence is still tough to pull off, and there are times where players have trouble catching the ball during punt returns and tips. Fumbles also happen with uneven frequency; there were games with three or four of them, as well as others where the ball never dropped from a rushing player’s hands.
Presentation-wise, NFL Blitz is a bit of a mixed bag. Its retro-inspired look works, but won’t blow anyone away. Character models tend to look similar, and happen to be a bit too dark at times. Though, what is there is certainly serviceable and far from poor. That issue doesn’t affect gameplay at all, as the game moves with fast speed and a lack of noticeable hiccups. It’s incredibly quick, with split-second decisions needing to be made in order to get the jump on the defensive linemen running toward your quarterback. As a result, an easy to learn control scheme was implemented, in order to make those quick moves and jukes relatively easy to pull off under pressure.
The only major complaint that can be levied towards the title’s presentation, would have to do with its audio, which could’ve been better. Tim Kitzrow and actor Brian Haley both do a good job, with some quality one-liners; some of which happen to be returning favourites. However, their audio quality isn’t always great, with the occasional line going up in volume quite a bit. Usually, that happens during replays, when the colour commentator is excited. The problem is that, instead of altering his voice, the game’s audio levels rise. It reduces voice quality and brings forth a bit of static. Other than that, this title sounds decent, with bone-crunching hits and outrageous plays that sound as jarring as they look.
When it debuted in the 1990s, the National Football League‘s licensed arcade series helped make over-the-top sports games popular. Unfortunately, some of its more recent releases weren’t up to snuff when compared to the games which started it all. The nice thing is that this version of NFL Blitz fixes those wrongs, by delivering a high-quality and very addicting experience. Although there are some rough edges and the occasional minor issue, this is a game that all sports fans should check out. Even though it’s been out of the spotlight for a bit, this heavy-hitting gridiron classic has made a quality comeback. Thankfully, it does so in good shape.
This review is based on a copy of the XBLA version of the game, which we received for review purposes.