Right on the heels of releasing the download-only NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, EA Sports has dusted off another former Midway license and brought back the original NFL arcade masterpiece: NFL Blitz. A hit in the late ‘90s, the series spawned console releases for six straight years before sequel fatigue led to poor sales and an eventual cancellation. No stranger themselves to arcade football titles like the NFL Street series and Madden Arcade, could EA restore the Blitz franchise to its former glory?
The biggest obstacle facing EA was having the game feel like the previous Blitz titles. While the old playbooks and controls are there, the game noticeably lacks the swagger and over-the-top flair of the original. When I first stepped on the new Blitz gridiron, and after warming up with the original Nintendo 64 title and NFL Blitz 2000 for the Dreamcast, I wanted to be wowed and perhaps set my expectations a little too high.
Gone were the post-play leg drops and German suplexes, along with the classic trash talk and sound bytes of the original. The commentary was stale and repetitive and the game felt and looked so much like a 7-on-7 Madden, I wondered if EA had managed to slip their hit stick feature into the game to fully bastardize the Blitz name. (Thankfully, they didn’t.) Initial letdown aside, NFL Blitz is not a bad game by any means. The allure of the original was the fun of playing with friends, and EA did a fantastic job of implementing a multiplayer experience that keeps you wanting to come back for more.
The standard multiplayer, Blitz Battle, is your typical online ranked matches. The hook here comes via state, regional and national leaderboards. You earn points with your online wins and in-game performance (like having the most yards or interceptions), so there definitely is some merit in the rankings. As you move up the leaderboards, your chances of playing the 0-6 guy who has no clue how to play defense diminishes significantly, as you are matched with similarly-skilled players.
The other multiplayer aspect of Blitz is the Elite League. This mode lets you customize a team based on players you’ve purchased in card packs via Blitz Bucks (earned from winning online) and then challenge others who have done the same. One of the cool features here is that each player card has a limited use, so after rolling out Aaron Rodgers for a number Elite League games, he becomes a free agent and you’re no longer able to play him. Overall, I found the lag minimal, and it seems to have gotten better each day after the release. As you can imagine, kicking becomes impossible when the game is stuttering along, so thankfully this slowdown seems mitigated.
While the highlight is multiplayer, EA did include the Blitz Gauntlet, a single player challenge where you fight through other NFL teams to encounter boss battles against teams like the Zombies and Cheese Heads. Where NBA Jam: On Fire Edition had unlockables like former players and custom teams, NFL Blitz is severely lacking in this department. My motivation to acquire a team of pirates is absolutely nil, so there was little incentive for me to work through the gauntlet. Former stars like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice or John Elway, even in an expiring card format for the Elite League, would have been very welcome.
The question right now is how EA will support the game after release. The initial rosters had some pretty big gaps (with the Patriots offense sporting Chad Ochocinco over guys like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez), and EA has made no comment as to how the game will be handled or updated now that it is available.
While the game is not the Blitz we fell in love with thirteen years ago, it is a decent effort that is fun with friends or against random strangers online. With a number of sports gamers infatuated with the simulation game style, it is a little refreshing to have another arcade option out there.
Pros: Great multiplayer, smartly not a retail title
Cons: Mediocre commentary, lack of original over-the-top Blitz style