It's been years since the heyday of NFL Blitz at the local arcade. I remember getting in many good games, though, so when I heard that a genuine Blitz revival--complete with the NFL license--was in development, that got my attention. Now that I've played it, I'm happy to say that the core NFL Blitz experience makes its return intact, with some exciting new features as well.
The main rules of NFL Blitz are just as I remember them. The offense gets two pages of basic plays with which to make 30 yards for a first down; the defense counters with a single page of plays, but it's not about the x's and o's. It's about racking up outrageously high scores. Penalties are completely thrown out the window, so open receivers can legally be knocked over like bowling pins. Left upright, they'll often catch the ball, even in coverage. Just like in the old days of Blitz, it's easy to complete passes with Drew Brees-style accuracy, leading to intense shootouts. My lowest scoring game in all the time I've spent with Blitz was a mere 42-28 affair.
This latest NFL Blitz also introduces some new game modes. Blitz Gauntlet has players select their favorite NFL team and play through a ladder of opponents. It's a setup I'm more used to seeing from fighting games. The Gauntlet also pits players against "boss" teams with rosters made up entirely of pirates, zombies, and other unlikely groups. Completing the gauntlet unlocks one of these teams for use.
I like Gauntlet's presentation better than a generic season mode, but I still have some issues with it. Single-player Blitz games in themselves can be long and tedious. Because so many games are grouped together, I found that the tower structure started to quickly outstay its welcome. Unlocking all of Blitz's fantasy teams would mean completing dozens of single-player games and I'm more interested in just getting in the game and playing against my friends.
The Elite League is another new addition to NFL Blitz and brings out everyone's inner fantasy nerd. Players are issued teams, comprised of individual cards. Teams can then be built up by buying new decks of cards with Blitz Bucks, the game's currency earned by playing various game modes. I personally didn't make much use of the Elite League mode, even though I was lucky enough to buy a pack of cards with superstar Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and Chargers WR Vincent Jackson. Seeing as players can pit their fantasy teams against one another online, however, I feel like this feature could extend the life of the game significantly.
Simply being able to play online rates as the most notable inclusion to NFL Blitz. Online sessions were smooth. In the days that I spent with this title, I experienced minimal lag, leading to fast-paced matches. Online games are easy to jump into and are as much fun as local multiplayer games. Those that do prefer local multiplayer will be pleased to learn that up to four players can play on a single console.
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There is, however, one major omission from this NFL Blitz reboot, and that's the late hit feature. Part of the fun of the original NFL Blitz was the option to tackle a celebrating player. I loved watching the ball-carrier mouth-off to one of my guys and immediately turning him inside out. Unfortunately, the new safety-conscious NFL put an end to this feature. If Tom Brady runs in a touchdown and starts sword-fighting with the football, I'm no longer allowed to bring out my inner James Harrison and knock his block off. (I remember being so displeased by this news that I originally aired my grievances in Chatty). At the end of the day, however, the removal of late hits is only cosmetic and the overall gameplay experience is unaffected by this change. Old-school Blitz fans shouldn't let this change turn them off to this otherwise-faithful revival.
NFL Blitz returns to its arcade football roots, marking a great update for a classic franchise. Anyone looking for an alternative to the simulation-heavy Madden series will find this game to be a great change of pace. It's not the old arcade cabinet, but it's the closest I'll get to that feeling again.