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My dad encouraged me to try different sports as a kid but in the end it wasn’t the path for me. I played little league when I was five or six but that was short-lived. I like sports but I don’t watch them religiously. However, I do have my favorite teams, at least in baseball and American football, and I do enjoy hockey but I don’t really follow it. Growing up I would play Madden with my dad on the Super Nintendo and we would also play Triple Play 98 on PC. When I eventually got a Dreamcast my parents bought me NFL 2K, NHL 2K, and NBA 2K. I’d play them all but never finish a season since I would always try to emulate actual game lengths and seasons which was just too long for me to ever finish in one sitting. Over the years I’ve collected random Madden games and I still check into that series every few years just to see if the newest game is worth playing. I also have one of the NFL GameDay games, I eventually bought NFL 2K5 because everybody says it’s the best football game ever but I have yet to play it, and for the longest time, I wanted to check out the NFL Blitz series. Developed and published by Midway, NFL Blitz was released for the Nintendo 64 in 1997 and PlayStation in 1998. This is an arcade style football game with altered rules to emphasize the most exciting parts of the sport, which means a big focus on violence. If you fear your child ending up with CTE later in life from playing football, well this game won’t change your mind.
NFL Blitz was actually an arcade game ported to consoles and a lot of people say this is the best one in the series. Some prefer the actual arcade version and I imagine it’s because some stuff was lost in the translation to consoles but I really don’t know. The game includes three difficulty modes – Easy, Medium, and Hard – and two modes to play, Season and Arcade. Before starting a game, you can adjust various options and that’s where you may notice one of the differences compared to the actual rules of football. Every game still consists of four quarters but they will not be fifteen minutes each. You can change the length of the quarters to one minute, two minutes, four minutes, or six minutes. This means the games are going to be short which is probably good for me since I could never finish long games as a kid anyway. You can actually create your own plays with an easy-to-use editor and save them into a custom playbook but, unfortunately, the custom playbook can only be loaded into a Season and not the Arcade mode. One thing I don’t like is how the saving works. The game utilizes the controller pak but you have to enter your name and a pin each time you want to save and load your Arcade progress which just becomes tedious.
The Season Play mode allows you to work your way through the standard NFL schedule and I’m assuming it’s the actual 1997 schedule. You need to win enough games to make it to the playoffs and possibly the Superbowl. Throughout the season you can view your schedule, standings, and stats including wins, passing yards, sacks, pass completions and attempts, rushing yards and attempts, and return yards. The Arcade Play mode has you playing random teams if you don’t save any records to the controller pak but if you do decide to save records, you play through different tiers of teams. Whether you choose Season or Arcade, first you need to choose your team and they all have different stats in passing, rushing, linemen, defense, and special teams. And the teams include the real player names of the time which is nice touch. Unless you have a second player, I do not like how you can’t choose the opposing team in the Arcade mode, or I just haven’t figured it out because a lot of options are hidden behind cheats. You can’t really change much about the actual game unless you use cheats of which there are tons and many of them must be entered right before a game starts. There are cheats to change weather effects, play night games, big heads, hyper blitzing, no punting, interceptions, or fumbles, power up team mates, and many others. If you enter specific names for record saving, you can play as secret characters like Raiden and Shinnok from Mortal Kombat for example.
The actual gameplay is where things get interesting. Both offense and defense contain seven players on the field as opposed to the standard eleven. There are no penalties, the clock stops after every play, it’s thirty yards to a first down, the quarterback can only throw a maximum of sixty yards, and there really is no running game, or at least real running plays. NFL Blitz is all about passing. You have ten seconds to choose a play but you can disable the play timer. On offense you have two pages with nine plays each and the plays can be flipped. There’s only one page of defensive plays and they cannot be flipped. During a play, you press the turbo button to run faster and when on offense you can double tap the turbo button to spin but spinning a lot yields a higher chance of fumbling the ball. Using turbo also drains from your turbo meter. While holding turbo and pressing the jump button you can leap over tacklers, but this also risks fumbling the ball. When running the ball you can stiff arm opponents and when on defense you can execute tackles and strong tackles which are more likely to cause fumbles. When on offense, you can lateral the ball to other nearby players which can then pass it if they’re behind the line of scrimmage but there’s no real plays that involve a hand-off hence why I stated there’s no running game or plays. When on defense, you can switch between players at the press of a button, jump to intercept balls, and, of course, tackle opponents. It’s the switching between players during a play that always gets me. You always end up switching to the player nearest to the ball and I always react too quickly, usually moving my player in the wrong direction. On offense you can pass to any of the wide receivers but you need to highlight which one you want to pass to by moving the analog stick in a specific direction. It’s very finicky, and I would end up not throwing to the right receiver often. You kick field goals manually but extra points after a touch down are automatic. However, you can also choose to go for the two-point conversion if you want. Now I don’t like that there’s no coin toss at the start of a game in single player or, as far as I can tell, anyway to choose which team receives the ball first. It always seems to be the opposing team so you’ll never get to receive it at the start of the second half.
What makes NFL Blitz unique and more arcade-like is the fact that there’s no penalties. That’s actually big deal and really changes how the game is played in some ways. For example, there’s no pass interference and late hits are allowed. You can tackle opposing players at any time and the tackles are more like wrestling moves. You’ll see players picking up opponents and slamming them to the ground, they’ll throw each other around, and even what looks like guys straight up punching opposing players. Now I’m convinced this game is rigged which would make since it was originally an arcade game. I’m probably not that great at this game but there’s way too many times where I was ahead and all of a sudden the opposing team is intercepting every other pass, or I’m fumbling the ball a ridiculous amount of times. Hell, opposing players will often just spear straight through my defenders and fend off every tackle attempt while marching straight to the end zone. It’s just obvious the game is cheap. I won a few games, lost some because I suck, and lost others because the game clearly didn’t want me to win.
Visually, the game definitely looks dated but it has does have that nineties charm. The game is colorful, the player models contain the important details, including visible numbers and team logos on the helmets, and the animations are smooth. Now on the audio side, there’s no real music other than the catchy but repetitive tune heard at the main menu and the song heard during half-time. The commentators say very basic things about what’s happening on the field. They don’t really provide any insight or anything helpful, quite frankly. They’re only purpose seems to be making everything sound exciting. Players will taunt each other during a game, you can hear them pounding each other into the ground, in addition to there moans, grunts, and screams. There’s stereotypical crowd noises, and I guess I would say the audiovisual presentation is what you would expect from an arcade style football game. On the technical side, the game can be very fast-paced at times and, thankfully, there aren’t too many issues. The frame rate dips when there’s a lot of players on the screen and I would suggest avoiding any cheats that change the weather effects because snow and rain will really tank the frame rate and for the entire game.
NFL Blitz aims for fun and excitement and I would say it nails both. I really had a lot of fun. Even though the AI is downright cheap if you’re winning, it’s still a good time. The games are fast-paced, short, and highlight many of the exciting aspects of the sport. I do wish the game included more customizable options. There’s no create a player, or create a team, no franchise mode, or anything like that. This is just a straight up arcade football game and it actually feels somewhat refreshing considering the NFL Blitz series is kind of dead now. I don’t think the NFL approves of the series, hence its downfall, and I heard the latest game, released in 2012, lacks what makes this series great to begin with. But I’ve never played it so I can’t really say. However, this game is a lot of a fun, it has an addictive quality, and even plenty of replay value.
Ultimately, I would recommend NFL Blitz to football fans or anybody remotely interested in the sport. Beware that it doesn’t reflect how the actual game is played. It’s an arcade game at heart so it can be really cheap at times but if you don’t take it too seriously, you should be able to have fun regardless. The lack of some options is questionable but if you just like playing the game, it’s very easy to jump into. NFL Blitz is also kind of refreshing just due to the sheer fact that the series has kind of flat lined and other games based around the sport are mostly simulations. NFL Blitz needs to make a comeback. But I don’t see the NFL approving any football games with extreme violence anytime soon, especially with all of the recent CTE stuff going on. NFL Blitz represents a different time and is still highly playable today.