EA calls the Safe Cover
The late 1990s found the once evergreen American Arcade scene slip into it's autumn and eventual falling out of gaming providence. While titles like Dance Dance Revolution and perennial dive bar favorite Golden Tee Golf were-arguably-the last golden eggs laid in North American arcades, Midway Games' cartoonish no-hold-barred take on professional football, NFL Blitz, helped rekindle a bit of the competitive luster that once drew hundreds of gamers out of their homes and into their cramped and musky local arcades.
With no penalties, multi-staged trick passes and unforgettably crazed commentary; NFL Blitz was an absolute attention getter in the day. Backed with gameplay that was both initially inviting in its simplicity and deceptively deep in the hands of seasoned veterans; it is little wonder that NFL Blitz survived a few tumultuous seasons after developer Midway Games lost interest in the barren field of arcade development.
It's been nine years and one Chapter 11 bankruptcy since the last proper NFL Blitz release; the best time for a reboot. Under the banner of EA Games, NFL Blitz (2012) is an intentional nostalgia trip that wisely forsakes some of the simulation-centric missteps of the console exclusive Blitz era for fast arcade pigskin battles.
At the core, this downloadable entry of NFL Blitz is, more-or-less, the same gonzo version of NFL football that stole countless quarters in the 90s. No penalties, frequent fumbles, jump passing and priceless opportunities to trash talk your buddies. Some of the reverence to the original source material can be a bit jarring (Midway's self-referential play titles from the first two Blitz games are mostly intact even if the actual plays themselves are slightly tweeked), but the initial nostalgic euphoria of witnessing some of the old tricks pan out in this new version is fantastic. Still, NFL Blitz is noticeable slower than the original which might rub die hard followers the wrong way. It's nothing that you cannot adjust to fairly quickly, but expect a few frustrating quarterback sacks as you learn to adjust for the lengthier passing animation.
The $15 USD download comes jam pack with an arcade ladder mode entitled "Blitz Gauntlet" and a FIFA-inspired player/stat card collecting career mode dubbed "Blitz League" in addition to functional (if a bit laggy) online multiplayer and co-op support. All that said, the game's title screen does not make the online play tab initially obvious and secrets unlocked through the "Blitz Gauntlet" must still be inputted in via cheat code at the start of every match. The issue with unlocked content gets even stickier online, where both players must have the secret content unlocked on their machine for it to function in game, even for harmless graphical modifications. There is a lot of bang for the proverbial buck even if some minor issues tarnish the deal a bit.
The audio/visual presentation does leave a bit to be desired all around. The game moves at a silky smooth 60 frames-per-second at all times and the character models are non-distinguished but far from flat out dreadful. The much discussed (and resented) NFL sanctioned change to this modern entry is the removal of "late hits". After the whistle fourteen man dogpiles of the first few titles in the Blitz series were pure aesthetics and had no barring on the actual gameplay. Yet, their absence in this entry is palpable. Often times a receiver will land flat on their back after a difficult jumping catch. The opposition now merely runs near them to end the play, instead of the aforementioned elbow drop from earlier entries. It is really anti-climatic and happens at an alarming frequency.
The once iconic one man commentary stylings of Midway Games' legendary Tim Kitzrow is replaced with a two man duo of Kitzrow and actor Brian Haley. Like in the recent NBA JAM reboot, the commentary can get ramble-ly and attempts at comedic punchlines are often nauseating. Despite NFL Blitz featuring players with names clearly displayed on the backs of their jerseys, I cannot recall a single use of a player name from either commentator during my hours with the title.
Online multiplayer functions as advertise, though I did run into many high latency matches that made some plays (and button inputs for onside kicks) near impossible. Competition can be a bit scarce as of the time of writing. This may make some features, like the "Blitz League", near useless in the short-term future. It nearly goes without saying; local multiplayer for up to four players on a single console is present in nearly all game modes and will be, undoubtedly, the best way to experience much of NFL Blitz.
At the core, NFL Blitz's first foray into downloadable game territory is a scratch to a nostalgic itch that will be instantly familiar to any arcade pigskin stalwart. To them, I recommending grabbing a few friends and bask in the occasionally frustrating glow of nostalgia that NFL Blitz 2012 emits. There are just too many caveats with game design and uncertainty regarding online longevity for the blanket recommendation.