Review: NFL Blitz (PSN)

Firstly, it must be admitted that we don’t live in as awesome an era as we did in the late 90s, in regards to “extreme content.” Entertainment today must be politically correct, so everything goes through the PR department now. Things were different in the late 90s. In 1998, the NFL was desperately trying to be “edgy” in order to combat the incoming barrage of Monday night wrestling shows (Raw and Nitro) which were at their zenith. The likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the nWo were pulling away the valuable casual viewer. Back in these days, the NFL wasn’t so powerful that they could simply throw a sour glance at ESPN and get a show like Playmakers instantly canceled. Also, they were willing to experiment to get fans. That’s when Midway came calling and said, “Hey, let’s make the most comically violent, absurdly entertaining, simple three-button arcade football game ever made!”. The NFL said “F**k yeah!” – or maybe something along those lines – and NFL Blitz was born.

The series totally eclipsed the competition for a couple of years, such as Madden, Quarterback Club, NFK2K, and GameDay (remember competition?) firstly, because it was so damn refreshing, and secondly, because this was the time of local multiplayer dominance. It was the Super Smash Bros. of football, and folks loved it. While the concept eventually showed little room for growth without losing it’s core, simple, entertaining essence, Blitz was one of those things that should have stopped by every few years and said, “Hi!” with a roster update, and some flashier visuals. Instead, over time the NFL got conservative. Through yearly updates, he game was gradually stripped of it’s over-the-top violence, comical effects, absurd tackles (wrestling suplexes and elbow drops), and late hits until it became a shallow, and feature lacking simulation game and a husk of it’s former self.

Title: NFL Blitz
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Genre: Arcade Football
Price: $14.99                                                                                                                                                                                       
Pros: Competent recreation of arcade classic, solid online, gauntlet mode, cheat codes.
Cons: No late hits due to NFL politics, over-complicated controls, game speed considerably slowed.              
Verdict: Valiant attempt, but fails to live up to the entire reasons for the brand’s original popularity.

Publisher provided code for review purposes.

While the new NFL Blitz isn’t the disgusting wreck that was 2004’s “Blitz Pro”, it’s still a far cry from the zany off-the-wall game we remember from the late 90s, because frankly, that atmosphere of “Political Correctness” has only gotten worse since then. Late hits are still gone. Is that a deal-breaker? No, but it’s a big deal. Blitz was in many ways the casual players football game, like Tecmo Bowl before it. Late hits were a serious part of Blitz’s appeal, regardless of how many Madden fans are downplaying it. The blame for their removal can be laid squarely on the NFL and not EA, as early builds had the feature built in, but was removed due to league pressure. Blitz without late hits and the trademark comical violence is like Street Fighter without special moves. It’s just a part of the game. Their removal once again demonstrates how disconnected/disinterested the NFL is to the desires of gamers. Also worth noting is that the really big tackles (the ones that borderline on wrestling moves) have also been removed, and showboating is kept to the bare minimum – all thanks to the No Fun League. But remember, these are the guys who killed the touchdown dance a couple years ago too. Things could be worse.

Aside from the obvious blights, let’s look at how it otherwise plays on it’s own merits. Not all is bad once you get past the censorship. First Downs are still 30 yards, penalties are non-existent, extra points are automatic, and the game clock still stops after every play. Player control is tight, and the classic playbook is back in full force, including such classics as Dawg Hook, Spider Legs, and Sub Zero – though all Blitz players know that “Da Bomb” is the only football play you’ll ever need to succeed in life.

Control is another issue. In an era of complicated sims, Blitz was a game anybody could play. It only used three buttons: Turbo, Dive/Switch, and Pass/Tackle. Generally, Blitz 2012 still uses the same basic command structure, but the moves are spread out over five buttons. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal to those who converted to Madden long ago – to the football novice, gone is the immediate approachability. Suddenly you’ve got to learn the game again. That takes away a lot of Blitz’s immediate casual appeal – the same appeal that made it so dominant over sims in 1998, and kept the skill gap close enough where an experienced gamer and a couch quarterback could still have a close game.

Another problem is the near total lack of customization. Outside of CPU player AI, you can’t change anything – even the quarter length. Each quarter is preset at the old-school arcade 2:00 minute setting, which may seem fine, except that the game generally plays slower than previous installments, so a full game can take nearly 25 minutes. Also the ability to marathon through a full-length game with a friend is gone. Even so, the multiplayer still commands that same ferocity, and insanity that it always has, with 59 yard passes and running backs dragging a train of players at their heels whist leaving a trail of fire in their wake. New modes are abound, including the Mortal Kombat-esque Gauntlet ladder mode that stacks you up against various NFL and fantasy teams, that are unlocked when defeated.

Surprisingly, the cheat codes are happily present. Classics like Big Head Mode and random team mascots are present and accounted for, as well as unlockable stadiums and gameplay/weather modifiers, input through the traditional pre-game symbol system. Announcer Tim Kirtzow – a Midway sports staple – is also here with his zany calls that help keep the laughs at a maximum.

This review is harsh because the things that were taken away – while not deal-breakers – are still core essence elements of the franchise. These elements drove the brand’s popularity, and the only reason for their absence is stupid politics and blind-sightedness. That’s not to say you cannot have fun with this modern revival of a classic arcade football game. In the end, this is still Blitz – just with censored violence, quality online play, a cool gauntlet mode, and a clunkier control setup. As a fan, I would still play this just for the updated rosters, modern visuals, and online play, blemishes and all… but my jaded side still says no. Too much is missing to pay $14.99 for what is fundamentally a compromised version of a classic game. $9.99 seems more appropriate. Of course, if the NFL takes the hint and allows EA to restore the missing features in a (hopeful) patch or future revision, I’d be willing to pay even more. Not horrible for a first draft, but Blitz just can’t touch the revival standard set by 2010’s NBA Jam.

GrE Grade: C-

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