Despite releasing only 72 hours ago, EA’s resurrection of classic Midway gridiron series NFL Blitz is being flamed hard on pretty much every forum I’ve visited so far. Most of the hate is premature and based solely on speculation, but some of the complaints I’ve read can be legitimized by considering that the newest generation of gamers may have never experienced the original titles in their collective heyday. They also seem to be approaching Blitz with pre-conditioned expectations of what a football game should be, thanks to the omnipotent Madden franchise. In essence, there are two simple facts that need to be kept in mind when downloading Blitz and getting ready for the action:
This is 2012, and this game costs $15.
As kids, my brother and I played copious amounts of Blitz against each other on Nintendo 64, and the overwhelming sense of nostalgia that we experienced in tandem over Xbox Live on Blitz’s launch night attests to how faithfully EA has recreated the original. What’s more impressive is that they’ve managed to keep the tweaks so subtle that they’ve preserved the original experience I was hoping for andkept the gameplay from feeling aged—impressive, considering the original NFL Blitz debuted in arcades in 1997.
If you’ve never played Blitz before, the gameplay is nothing like what you’re probably accustomed to with conventional next-gen football titles. Each game is seven on seven with two-minute quarters and a timeclock that stops after every play—not just on incomplete passes or when the ball goes out of bounds. There are no timeouts or challenges, and first downs are 30 yards instead of ten. There are zero rushing plays, and there are literally no penalties.
It plays just as ridiculous as it reads, trust me.
It’s also just as fun as it sounds. My brother and I were afraid of the questionable tactics that random player matches could have potentially delivered us, but we quickly found a way to counter every strategy that we encountered and managed to win all three co-op games we played. Someone blitzing you every single play? Run an option and perform a turbo jump-pass to dodge the tackle and create a running opportunity. Receivers kicking your defensive backs down and running their routes wide open? Cut in front of them and intercept the ball yourself, or destroy them at the line of scrimmage to render them useless, or hurl yourself at them as the pass is in the air—there’s no pass interference in Blitz, so it’s all legal.
The additions EA did include are mostly online-centric in an effort to create levels of competition you’d find in actual arcades. Blitz boasts both local and online co-op that allows you to play against the AI, or player and ranked matches against real-life opponents. My brother and I teamed up online and took on a series of other gamers on Wednesday with little to no lag; we searched for and found opponents every instance in a matter of seconds, which is impressive for any game on launch night. Perhaps the coolest feature of four-player online co-op is that the game swaps who calls the plays and acts as QB each drive, so you and your partner both get ample time to manage and control your team.
Akin to high score screens that flash up on arcade machines, a complex series of region-specific leaderboards that increase in prestige and decrease in size as you rank up offer finite amounts of spots to keep ranked players engaged. At this point in time it’s all a bit confusing because the boards aren’t yet populated, but I imagine that they’ll become easier to comprehend as the online community begins to grow in size and competitive desire. And it will, because a bunch of Blitz’s 20 achievements are directly tied to your online prowess.
Included also is a gauntlet-style arcade mode that allows you to unlock special players that can be used both offline and online with the input of a three character code on the pre-game loading screen. As of now I’m not sure if these unlockable dudes boast better stats than normal players or if they’re just unique skins, but I’d wager to guess it’s just an outfit to make you laugh. If it’s the same as the older Blitzes, the skin will amusingly jump from player to player as you switch; there was nothing funnier than watching beefy dudes suddenly transform into Raidens and hurl themselves headfirst at the opposing team as I mashed the dude-switch button and tackle in a syncopated flurry back in the late 90s.
The coolest new feature is definitely the fantasy-esque mode called “elite league” that has you purchasing card packs with your credits earned from online matches and using your spoils to create an all-star team of pros. Each player has individual stats that can be stacked and combined to give everyone on your team bonuses—even the players who may not excel in that field. However, to keep you from initially stacking your team with little to no effort, each player comes with a contract time that slowly expires as you use them in games. You can renew the contract for a fee to keep them on your roster if it’s a player that you really like, or you can choose to let it expire and fill the void with another player you’ve collected from a card pack.
If you manage to assemble an entire NFL team of cards, Blitz allows you to trade the team in for a pro player with a permanent stat boost and an infinite contract. These pro players can then be collected and traded in for an ultimate player who is even more juiced. Your elite league team can be used online in a risk and reward mode that pits you against another elite opponent, with the winner earning the right to rifle through the loser’s card collection and claim a player or a powerup as their own. While this thought is initially terrifying to me, I could see it becoming really fun as I gain a better grasp of the game mechanics. The only criticism I can muster is that I wish I didn’t have to use a uniform from a pre-existing NFL team to go along with my custom team name, logo, banner, and roster. But hey, like I said before, it’s a $15 arcade game—I’ll deal.
If you enjoyed the old-school Blitzes or the N64 and Playstation ports, or you’re looking for a frenetic alternative to the same two realism-driven football sims that EA and 2k games have been churning out for the past decade, then I highly recommend giving Blitz a shot. However, if you care enough about your custom-created offensive lineman’s pancakes-per-game season average to replay a dynasty game even after you’ve already won, you might want to try the demo first.