Since the series debuted in 1997, many have complained that NFL Blitz is merely a vague caricature of football and nothing like the real sport. Now, even fans of the Blitz series have something to complain about, as Midway's NFL Blitz 2002 for the Game Boy Advance isn't just a mere distortion of football, but a botched imitation of NFL Blitz itself.
The game begins innocuously enough. From the main menu, you can select exhibition and season gameplay modes, as well as five different minigames and an options menu. The season mode puts you in charge of a single NFL team during a full 17-week season, while the exhibition mode lets you choose one of 32 NFL teams for a quick pickup game. Don't let the presence of the minigames fool you. The first two are an in-game rule book and an in-game playbook, while a third is a multiple-choice NFL trivia game. The last two minigames are uprights and 4th-N-Goal, and, as you can imagine, they allow you to practice a number of field goal and goal-line situations. Backing everything up, a password save--yes, passwords--tracks your season progress.
Once you've pored over the passing, line, and defensive statistics for all 32 teams and chosen your own squad, you're thrust onto the field. It is here that NFL Blitz 2002 rapidly unravels. The problem isn't in the controls, as the programmers have successfully mapped Blitz onto the GBA's available buttons: The A button handles passing and tackling, the B button selects players, the L button triggers a turbo boost, and the R button enables leaping dives and tackles. As is common in NFL Blitz games, NFL Blitz 2002 also lets you input cheat codes prior to each game that enable all sorts of goodies, such as constant turbo, super passing, and zero interceptions.
The problem with NFL Blitz 2002 is that it's just not Blitz--and it sure isn't football. Although you're able to select from 36 different offensive plays and 18 different defensive plays, the coded CPU response and collision detection make the majority of plays bear similar results--a whopping 50-yard gain. Even though the Blitz series is based on 30-yard down markers and 40-yard throws, NFL Blitz 2002's propensity for lengthy, turbo-assisted offensive gains far exceeds that of any previous console or arcade release of the game. On rare occasions, the CPU will come out of nowhere to tackle you, or your blockers will simply ignore the CPU's defenders, all in a show of haphazardly coded AI. You can't land any post-tackle hits, either.
Speaking of haphazard coding, the game has a few glitches that are just too frequent to be mere coincidence. When tackling a CPU player, the player will sometimes continue running downfield, often to the total confusion of the CPU's AI routines, which then launch into goal-line plays--even from its own 40-yard line! There are also times when the game calls the end of the quarter too early, usually by only a few seconds, but sometimes by 20 or more. Combined with the various other gameplay shortcomings, these infrequent, albeit not uncommon, quirks sully an already mediocre game.
Not only does the game fail to replicate the sheer visceral excitement of NFL Blitz, but it also has the unhealthy distinction of being the most graphically defunct of all currently available GBA games. The field is a single 16-color image that scales and rotates into a pixilated mess as your team wanders up and down the field. The players themselves are tiny, four-color character sprites that possess only basic animation. There are a few frames for running, a few for breathing, and a couple of post-play showboat gestures--that's all. There is also an overall sheen of aliasing and flickering to contend with that at best is unpleasant and at worst is eye-straining. Even less flattering--if that's possible--is the fact that the game attempts to emulate weather by simply varying the colors of the single included stadium. The move backfires, as the ultra-blue tinting of some stadiums makes the football, and even players, nearly imperceptible.
In the midst of all this feebleness, NFL Blitz 2002 does make a bit of a splash with its audio. There isn't any in-game music or player speech, but the selection of color-commentator sound bites and stadium announcer snippets is impressive. In all, the color-commentator has more than 20 different exclamations, such as "Oh, whatta catch!" and "Whoa, did ya see that one?!" while the stadium announcer's repertoire consists mainly of "first down" and "fourth and goal" notices--all of which are crisp, dramatic, and perfectly audible. The only thing preventing Blitz 2002 from earning a lofty audio score is that while there are a few tackle, snap, and spectator sound effects, there are also far too many instances of dead silence.
Although you could blame NFL Blitz 2002's shortcomings on poor coding, that might not be the whole story. From the presence of a password save, it's obvious that Midway took the budget route with the game. Perhaps with more space, the developer could have included better AI routines, more Blitz-like gameplay, and better visuals. Perhaps not. It's all speculation, but one thing is fact: NFL Blitz 2002 for the GBA is a stinker.