The long-in-the-works high-definition revival of NFL Blitz has finally arrived, less than three months after EA officially announced it last fall. It’s an idea that gamers of all stripes could get behind; after all, you didn’t need to be a football fan to enjoy the original Blitz at the turn of the millennium.
Fans had just cause to be apprehensive, though. EA’s most recent downloadable arcade football game, 2009’s Madden NFL Arcade, was a mediocre offering that struggled to justify its $15 price tag. And the publisher’s previous arcade-classic revival, NBA Jam, didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it launched the following autumn. It’s difficult to recapture the magic of bygone years, but EA Tiburon might just have managed it this time.
NFL Blitz (PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade [reviewed])
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Released: January 3, 2012 (PSN) / January 4, 2012 (XBLA)
MSRP: $14.99 (PSN) / 1200 Microsoft Points (XBLA)
In almost every respect, the game plays like NFL Blitz as you remember it, for better and (sometimes) worse. Yes, it’s a shame that the NFL’s recent focus on the dangers of concussions has forced EA to excise the original Blitz’s post-play antics. But while you can’t perform elbow drops after tackles anymore, anything goes until the whistle blows -- and it’s still funny, over a decade later, to see a linebacker deliver a powerbomb to a wideout. It’s also as frustrating as ever to dive at someone from behind, or grab him and spin him around, subsequently flinging him forward for a few extra yards.
Almost all the old animations have returned, which unfortunately means that players still have no sideline logic -- you can’t manually step out of bounds before enabling a cheat code, but CPU receivers never go out of their way to keep their feet in-bounds. And the game still endows defenders with superhuman speed, even without turbo, so they can catch up to receivers who might otherwise have scampered into the end zone on a long passing play. (Really, Vince Wilfork shouldn’t be able to outrun Hakeem Nicks.)
In fact, there’s not a whole lot of player differentiation to speak of. EA didn’t even account for left-handed quarterbacks, so Michael Vick and Tim Tebow are both righties as far as Blitz is concerned. And while teams’ home and away jerseys exist, users have no control over them, so games will sometimes feature both teams in their home colors or road whites. Players do actually have ratings in four areas, but the only place you can view them is within the Elite League mode. And I didn’t have more trouble defeating supposedly better teams, or less against worse teams. I’m guessing that’s a function of the designers’ desire to ensure that games ultimately come down to the skill of the players holding the controllers, not the ones on the virtual gridiron. Balance always had paramount importance in Midway’s arcade classics, and this game is no different.
One welcome concession to modern football games is the inclusion of an option for icon passing, so you can throw to receivers with the face buttons instead of having to switch between them with the left stick. Today’s gamers also expect more out of an arcade title than exhibition games, and NFL Blitz is no slouch in that department. For a $15 downloadable release, this game is packed with content. The single-player Blitz Gauntlet mode lets you customize a team for a three-tier ladder. Each tier includes games with three NFL teams and a boss battle -- with power-ups scattered on the field -- against a squad of fantasy characters, like horses, hot dogs, or zombies. There are twelve different characters, so you’ll have to complete the Gauntlet four times if you want to unlock them all.
The online package is even more impressive. EA has included a trading-card mode, Elite League, which resembles the Ultimate Team setups in simulation franchises like Madden and FIFA. Here, you create a team and are given a smattering of cards featuring decent players. Completing online games earns you Blitz Bucks, which you can spend on a wide variety of content, such as card packs to improve your team, or power-ups and cheats to help yourself out online. (Thankfully, you earn Bucks even when you play poorly and lose.) Elite League also offers Risk and Reward games, in which you can lay cards on the line and try to take some from your opponent.
NFL Blitz’s online co-op offerings are similarly robust. You can simply jump into a co-op game with up to three different friends, including a guest on the couch with you. For those who want a deeper experience, there’s the Blitz Teams mode, in which you create a team -- with a custom name, logo, and banner -- and invite a buddy, whether local guest or online friend, to be the co-owner. Then it’s up to the two of you to take your Blitz Team to the top of local, regional, and national leaderboards. None of the games I played were lag-free, but the latency wasn’t so bad as to be a hindrance. EA has gone the extra yard online, with a feature set that rivals full retail games.
But Blitz was always meant to be played with friends in the same room, and by bringing back all of the fast-paced thrills of the old games, EA has not only evoked nostalgia, but rekindled ancient rivalries and their attendant arcane rules. Back in the day, my high-school buddies and I played NFL Blitz 2000 all the time, with an important twist: “no wimps.” That is, we always had to go for it on 4th down, and we always had to go for two after a touchdown. I played NFL Blitz with some of the same friends last week, and once I reminded them of “no wimps,” it was as if nothing had changed in a dozen years.