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We all have the memories. Maybe it was that time in the arcade you made an interception, knocked three guys over, and got knocked silly into the end zone as time expired to win a game. Perhaps it was that time playing Nintendo against your buddy when he jump-threw an impossibly timed pass to a triple-covered receiver that somehow made the grab for a touchdown. Whatever your memories, NFL Blitz is inextricably part of the gaming lexicon, familiar to almost anyone who’s played mainstream games in the last fifteen years.
And now, it’s back, having been rescued from the now-defunct Midway Games by EA Sports. We live in a different world now: the NFL protects its brand fiercely, and with the recent scrutiny and lawsuits the league is facing, it’s no surprise the development team was forced to make changes to the core presentation. Gone are the ferocious late hits and most egregious over-the-top violence that were the hallmark of the franchise; what remains is so solid, simple, and fun, it’d be a mistake to dismiss it out of hand. After all, there are still men on fire and the voice of Tim Kitzrow. All is not lost.
Most importantly, if you’ve ever played NFL Blitz you’ll feel right at home. It only took us a few warmup quarters to rediscover our mojo, and within a couple of games we were completing impossible passes, laying out defenseless receivers, and throwing quarterbacks head over heels off the field. The trademark Blitz gameplay is smooth and solid, featuring 30 yards for first downs, no penalties (including pass interference), and lightning-fast action.
You definitely need to be quick on the draw to succeed on both sides of the ball. Quarterbacks tend to have long releases to pass (and there are no running plays) so whenever a blitzer is nearby there’s trouble afoot. Sacks are plentiful, but we have to believe that’s a balancing effect. If it weren’t easy to get sacks, virtually every drive would wind up with a touchdown. After all, throwing into double coverage is nowhere near as dangerous as it is in Madden. Blitz, in many ways, is the anti-Madden. And we mean that in a good way.
The default directional passing can be a little tough. Old-school players will instantly recognize it, but if you’re new to the series and have grown up playing football games that only have button-based passing, it can be a bit of a challenge to always hit the right receiver. Luckily, there is an option to use assigned buttons to pass to specific guys.
So the gameplay is solid – that’s to be expected. Honestly, though, Blitz would get old quickly if all it offered was a season mode and online play. What’s most intriguing – and potentially addicting – this season is the inclusion of the Elite League mode. It’s based on the immensely successful Ultimate Team popularized in FIFA and Madden, involving the creation of a custom team, purchasing player cards to upgrade it, and taking it out on the field online against other like-minded players. The best part of Ultimate Team is that the entire experience is free (unlike the other titles); all you need to do to earn the in-game currency to buy new players is to play games.
The cynic in us would suggest that Elite League is an insidious plot by EA to get us to realize how cool the expensive Ultimate Team is; whether or not it’s a vast gridiron conspiracy, there’s no denying it’s a blast. You collect players, switch them in and out of the lineup, compete against rivals, and get more Blitz Bucks to get more guys. After a few games, you can trade up for seriously handy elite players, powerups, and eventually create a super-team capable of destroying the universe. Even better, it offers a huge reason to keep playing the game long after you’ve destroyed your friends and fought through the single-player Gauntlet mode (a quasi-season ladder featuring real teams and “Boss” squads populated by teams of pirates and hot dogs – no, we did not make that last part up).
The starting rosters are a bit outdated, and there are a couple of eyebrow-raising player attributes, such as lefties Mike Vick and Tim Tebow being right-handed. On the other hand, if you’re playing any mode other than straight-up online play, you’re able to remake your team as you see fit. For example, we started off with the Eagles in Gauntlet mode and quickly brought back safety Brian Dawkins. While we were at it, we added hard-hitting James Harrison. Blitz lets you do this to your heart’s content, and it goes a long way to making the roster issues easier to take.
It’s no small task re-creating a beloved gaming franchise while being limited by external forces. That the development team at Tiburon managed to put together an NFL Blitz that’s a blast to play and features interesting new things to do is no small feat. Releasing it as a download-only title for $15 is brilliant as well, as there’s more than enough content to justify a purchase. While we all may long for the “good old days” of late hits and personal fouls, we’d rather have this Blitz than none at all. It’s good to be back with an old friend, even if he’s not quite as wild and crazy as he was back in the day.