In the days when NFL Blitz was the lunch-time craze for ’90s high school students with a penchant for pizza, soda, and cartoon violence, games—especially arcade games—were a lot simpler. Not necessarily easier, mind you, but with fewer flashy distractions to gild the gameplay. NFL Blitz wasn’t meant to be a complex football simulator; it wasn’t even meant to be a realistic football experience, what with the lack of fouls, the ability to activate “big head mode” or to throw 70-yard Hail Mary passes at will. Instead, it was a pared-down, ramped-up collision between seven-on-seven teams that played two-minute quarters, needed 30 yards for a first down, and who had the ability to leap halfway across the width of the field for a turbo-powered flying tackle. If Superman had lowered himself to playing football, and had a mean streak, the result would be NFL Blitz. And it was fun—well, at least for a while.
The problem with an unrealistic football franchise is that it’s not as iterative as, say, Madden; if the players on the team hardly matter, and you’re limited to a playbook of 15 offensive and nine defensive plays (along with one “special” play for each individual team), then there’s little to distinguish the ’97 version from any other. And once you’ve figured out how to properly juke, spin, and call an audible to avoid a blitz, CPU opponents become a joke. And that’s exactly the problem that the new and improved “HD” version of NFL Blitz faces: It feels like a polished emulation of a briefly fun game, and once you’ve fed your nostalgia for a few hours, the game leads little to be desired.
For the record, the makers of NFL Blitz seem aware of this too: Why else would they incentivize players to return to the game’s (as yet lackluster) online mode, Blitz Battles, by offering additional Blitz Bucks for each consecutive day played? The offline mode, Blitz Gauntlet, allows you to earn “fantasy teams” (like actual cowboys, or unsettling zombies who throw a football made out of meat), but if you want to earn the money necessary to redeem cheat codes (or an endless gallery of cheerleader pictures), you’ll have to jump online.
Things are even worse if you’re considering joining the so-called “Elite League”; it’s neat that you can assemble your own team (fulfilling a personal dream, say, of putting Peyton Manning on the Jets), but in order to do so, you’ll have to purchase “player packs” that randomly give you an assortment of the 12 “players” (the offensive and defensive lines are included) on each of the 32 teams, as well as “power-ups” that can be used to throw things further in your team’s favor. In turn, by collecting an entire team’s worth of players, you can unlock that team’s “prop” player—and for unlocking an entire division, you can purchase “ultimate” players. At least Blitz Battles put everyone on equal footing: Elite League matches tend to be blow-outs, and their touted “Risk and Reward” system, in which you can risk one of your cards to earn one of your opponents, are not only unnecessary (given the high percentage of non-duplicates in each player pack), but rather foolish to gamble on.
The crack-like and Pokémon-esque method of earning players aside, NFL Blitz’s biggest fumble is in its extremely flawed match-making experience. It’s one thing to force players to feed the online arenas, as a game like this is only as robust as the multiplayer support, especially once you’ve mastered the AI (and have understood that it literally cheats in order to create closer and more exciting games), but to constantly match rookies against elites? No matter how brief the game (the average is around 20 minutes), there’s nothing quite so frustrating (or rage-quit inducing) as being on the wrong end of a 40-0 rout. Although each win moves you up through Rookie, Pro, Vet, and Elite boards (on a Local, Regional, and then National board, at the end of which you can “retire” to the Hall of Fame and start all over again), the game either makes little effort to match you with players of comparable skill and records, or is unable to, due to the limited number of experienced players on the server.
Ultimately, NFL Blitz, which should be a light and breezy distraction, ends up turning into a lengthy and repetitious grind. While it’s foreseeable that the challenge might eventually rise to a point at which you’ve got to throw more than two types of passes and run more than one type of defense, the current game feels as rushed and incomplete as a hurry-up offense, closer to an arcade version of training camp than an actual season.