Just as football fanatics welcome their sport with open arms during the fall, football video game players welcome the latest releases in the NFL Blitz series. Known for its blend of standard football rules and violent gameplay, NFL Blitz is the fan favorite alternative to the standard fare of the Maddens and Gamedays of the world. In keeping with this tradition, last year's Dreamcast release of NFL Blitz 2000 was an unqualified success, but a number of visual and gameplay issues hindered its attempt at immortality. Thankfully, Midway is back this year to set things right, offering up a multitude of adjustments and additions in its latest release, NFL Blitz 2001.
The Dreamcast version of NFL Blitz 2001 is rife with features. As a licensed NFL product, the game contains all 31 NFL teams and current season rosters with more than 200 real-life players. There are also a number of hidden players to unlock, ranging from popular Midway game characters to NFL radio and television personalities. Should these stock warriors not suit your needs, there are create-a-player and create-a-team editors that allow you to alter players' abilities, names, and jerseys. The game's modes - arcade, season, and tournament - offer gaming for any skill level. Arcade mode incorporates CPU assistance and cheat codes, ensuring that games are never too one-sided, while season and tournament modes eschew assistance and power-ups for a more pure football experience. As pure as football can get with zero penalties, two-minute quarters, and 30-yard downs, anyway. You can also challenge human opponents in one-on-one, two-on-two, or one-on-two matchups. Further, the game tracks season progress for multiple players, meaning there's no reason to shut friends out on the road to Super Bowl glory. Unlike its Nintendo 64 and PlayStation brothers, the Dreamcast NFL Blitz 2001 is also adequate in the stats department, recording 17 team and 48 individual-player statistics across six categories, including league leaders.
More important than statistics, the comprehensive playbook editor from last year's game returns in NFL Blitz 2001. The editor gives you the ability to outfit your arsenal with 36 offensive and 18 defensive plays from a stock of 60 predesigned battle plans. Some plays will seem familiar, as many of the more popular ones from last year - such as the cross zip - lay in wait for you to use. Should these default strategies not suffice, you can add extra pages containing nine additional slots for any defensive or offensive plays you've created. As another added Dreamcast perk, the DC NFL Blitz 2001 editor provides a decent amount of player positioning and movement options, in addition to the standard man to man, zone, and rush choices. Thus, you can designate not only general strategy, but precision player movements as well.
A new addition offered by NFL Blitz 2001 is the party games section, which includes such diversions as first-and-goal frenzy, goal-line stand, and QB challenge. The first minigame, first-and-goal frenzy, places you on the ten-yard line in an attempt to score a touchdown in four downs or less. Should you succeed, you'll then try from the 20, then the 30, and so on. The second minigame, goal-line stand, is the exact opposite, as you must prevent your opponent from scoring touchdowns The final minigame, QB challenge, is where true excitement lies. You're hiked three balls and ordered to pass to three receivers, each of which is following his own route down the field. The order in which you must pass to them and the routes they run are chosen by the computer milliseconds before you throw. You get almost no time to think, and since there are multiple attempts, the result is a "Simon says" game as frustrating and addictive as Konami's Beatmania.
Despite the addition of minigames, NFL Blitz 2001 doesn't feel that much different than last year's release in terms of gameplay. The CPU AI is still excellent - the opposing defense challenges you at every turn in such a way that you'd think you were facing a clairvoyant bunch of seasoned professionals. Rushing, passing, and play calling are all easy to perform, with directional pad choices and the B button handling the brunt of your on-field maneuvers. Holding down the left trigger gives you a boost of turbo, while tapping it lets you spin to shake off opponents. Should you need to leap or perform a defensive tackle, the A button lets you take flight with relative ease. Once again, the addition of fire mode is a welcome feature. Perform two consecutive tackles that stunt the opponent's movement and you'll catch fire. As long as you don't allow the opponent to make progress or get tackled yourself while on offense, your players will run faster, fight off tackles better, and catch more passes. While all of this is the same as last year's game, it is worthy to note that the Dreamcast NFL Blitz 2001 seems better balanced in terms of difficulty than the PlayStation and N64 releases, as cheap turnovers and CPU cheating occur only in moderation.
If anything, NFL Blitz 2001's most noticeable gameplay adjustments are in the areas of play calling and rushing. Even more so than in last year's Blitz, correct play choice is crucial. Even in human matchups, the CPU-controlled players execute plays with militaristic precision, leaving little room for error. If you choose a quick dish and the opponent's thinking suicide blitz, you're in for a world of hurt. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your point of view), the amount of fumbles, turnovers, and other sorts of contrived wackiness seems to have increased this year. It isn't uncommon to see five or six fumbles per two-minute quarter, and single plays with multiple turnovers aren't unheard of. Indeed, you can use the jump and spin buttons to make your way downfield, but remember that they'll also increase the odds your opponent will knock the ball loose. In fact, you can almost count on it. To the game's credit, its 36 stock offensive and 18 stock defensive plays offer much in the way of strategy, while the ability to set real-time audibles enables you to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage should you choose a poor play from the playbook. Being able to hide, flip, and choose plays via the VMU screen is also nice touch, especially in games with human opponents. Furthermore, the Dreamcast NFL Blitz 2001 garners extra kudos for allowing a greater degree of post-play player control, which is excellent for those occasions when you absolutely must deliver a flying elbow drop to a fallen opponent.
Visually, last year's NFL Blitz 2000 exceeded the arcade release in every possible way, with an increase in frame rate, greater onscreen player detail, and minimal stadium choppiness. This year's game builds upon that precedent, while also fixing a few minor gripes. The most siginificant of these is the increase in frame rate, which is now a steady 60fps. Taken along with the boost in player animation and field detail, this frame rate increase puts NFL Blitz 2001 on par with Sega's NFL 2K in terms of visuals, especially with the presence of four adjustable camera angles. Sure, it's no NFL 2K1, but with flying helmets, limping players, name-imprinted jerseys, and superman-style leaps, NFL Blitz 2001 is pretty nonetheless. The 3D playbook screen is also a welcome change from the flat, bland playbooks found in previous Blitz titles. Especially nice are the game's weather effects, which transform the gentle flurries and falling raindrops of last year's game into blowing blizzards and terrible thunderstorms. In tandem with these visual niceties, the game's audio is solid as well, with a diverse variety of announcer comments and player quotes supporting an already bone-crushing experience.
Truthfully, there isn't much in the way of competition for Sega's NFL 2K1 when it comes to Dreamcast football titles. However, NFL Blitz 2001's quirky gameplay, rich features, and drool-inducing visuals make it an excellent alternative. If anything, the removal of penalties and strict NFL rules makes the game more accessible to less devout sports fans, which in turn makes impromptu human matches a much easier endeavor. Thanks to the addition of player-creation features and better stat tracking, NFL Blitz 2001 for Dreamcast is a worthy update and a giant step above the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 versions of the same name.