If you were anything like me, you enjoyed some hard-hitting action on the Nintendo 64 version of NFL Blitz. It was a straightforward, arcade-style, over-the-top football game that was a blast to play, alone or especially with friends. There were no rules, and best of all, you could do a flying elbow drop onto a helpless receiver after the play had ended. This version of the game, by the same name, returns via the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, and I’m happy to report that it stays true to the foundation on which is was built years ago.
This iteration does get a fresh coat of paint to keep up with the times. There’s an HD feel to it, along with much more detail in the environments. One nice touch to this end is that you’ll notice the individuality of the stadiums. At Texas Stadium, you’ll feel how big it is, and see the openings in the end. You can tell when you’re in a dome, or under the open sky. Mind you, the point of this game is by no means to look good. Once you start playing, you’ll hardly notice the environments. The players look, well, pretty much like they did on the Nintendo 64, except smoother and more polished. Every player is built like a Greek god, which gives the game the cartoony feel it’s going for. The fact that players’ names are on the jerseys, along with the NFL licenses, makes it all the more enjoyable.
In case you’re not familiar with the basic premise of the game, you’ll be playing a 7 v. 7 game of pigskin. The biggest difference between this and a football simulation like Madden is that there are no flags. The system won’t let you roam offside, but in terms of hitting, you can do it whenever you want, however you want, and as hard as you want. This plays into the strategy on almost every play. For example, on defense, the best move is to wait until the ball is thrown, switch to the defender guarding the would-be receiver, and tackle him while the ball is still in the air, erasing any chance of a reception. Perfectly legal, and perfectly satisfying – when you’re on defense, that is. Of course, there is a risk vs. reward dynamic here, since if you miss the tackle, the receiver will have nothing but green in front of him once the catch is made. One other notable aspect of the overall concept is that first downs require gaining 30 yards instead of 10 (but gaining 30 yards is about as easy as gaining 10 in a game like Madden).
NFL Blitz wouldn’t be a modern sports arcade game without some sort of power-up feature. Here, this comes in the form of being “ON FIRE,” not unlike the NBA Jam series. On offense, if the same receiver catches two consecutive passes, he catches fire, and possesses unlimited turbo until the offense if stopped. On defense, two sacks in a row will cause the entire defense to catch fire and possess unlimited turbo until a first down is converted. It’s a nice touch, and provides an additional element of strategy when applicable.
For a downloadable game, there is plenty here to keep you busy. Offline, you can of course jump into a single game against the computer or against a friend – the latter being much more fun – or you can play through the “Blitz Gauntlet.” The Gauntlet is essentially a mode in which you must beat every team in the NFL in succession, playing against a “Boss” every 4-5 games. The Boss teams generally consist of a single themed character, such as a team of all identical gladiators, in a special stadium that includes on-field pickups like time-pause or instant on-fire. Upon defeating a Boss, you can use the character in your games.
Playing online is where NFL Blitz really shines. As expected, you can jump into a one-on-one match-up and test your skills against other players. Also in one-off games, however, you can join with a friend or random player over the airwaves and play in cooperative mode, making for a two-on-two match-up. When you get the chat going, it’s a ton of fun, and there is quite a bit of strategy involved. Who’s going to blitz? Who’s going to drop back into coverage? Can the two of you time routes effectively? It certainly is a fresh experience every time, and is one portion of the game that will not get old.
If you’ve played recent EA games that have used a card-based system, the included “Elite League” mode will be familiar territory. You’re dealt a hand of cards (players), and you earn Blitz bucks by playing and winning online. The Blitz bucks can then be spent on better players and upgrades. One fun aspect of the mode is that there is an option to wager a certain card before each game, and the winner keeps the card. It makes for another effective risk vs. reward dynamic. If you stick with it, you can sink quite a bit of time into improving your team.
NFL Blitz feels so very much like its predecessor on the Nintendo 64 that you’ll jump right in without a hitch. However, once you get into the game modes and features, you’ll find that there is plenty of new content to keep you busy – especially for a downloadable game. If you have a few virtual dollars sitting in your PSN or Xbox Live account, I recommend this game to fans of the series, and fans of a solid arcade experience.
This review is based on the PlayStation Network version of NFL Blitz provided by Electronic Arts.