More than a decade ago, when NFL Blitz first burst onto the scene, it represented a preposterous exaggeration of professional football. With the strobe-like flash of its overworked scoreboard, quarterbacks routinely throwing for 400 yards, and running backs relegated to pass blockers or short-legged receivers, it was a sharp contrast to sims.
Who could have foreseen that this arcade-style football game would be so prescient? NFL Blitz's wide-open offensive systems and comparatively small defensive impact have since been infused in the real sport. And though the latest NFL Blitz is virtually a mirror image of its forebearers, it lacks the savage spark that embodied the original games. It's not just the removal of late hits that's the problem. Aside from online play and a couple of new modes, NFL Blitz is identical to games released more than a decade ago, and the lack of modern ideas makes this feel like a dusty relic. NFL Blitz is showing its age, but the excitement inherent in a hard-fought competitive match still makes this exciting.
NFL football has a rule book hundreds of pages long that no mere mortal could dare hope to decipher. In NFL Blitz, the rules have been narrowed down considerably. Only seven players line up on each side of the ball, and though it takes a whopping 30 yards to gain a first down, frequent big plays ensure you score early and often. And penalties? Who needs 'em! The easiest way to force an incomplete pass is to knock down the receiver before the ball arrives. Turbo-fused hits, leaping throws, and spectacular catches are all represented in the same manner as in the earlier games, and even the playbook is nearly identical to what you remember. Like throwing the ball deep? Select Da Bomb so your receivers sprint down the field. Or maybe trickery is more to your liking. Split Back lets you toss to a player in the backfield who can then throw a pass of his own downfield. The pace is crazy and frantic, but you never feel out of the contest since points are so abundant
There's an undeniable pull on your nostalgic senses that makes NFL Blitz immediately welcoming. The players have been updated, and the visuals are now in high definition, but the surrounding elements are eerily similar. Firing up a contest is like returning home again. The high-flying, back-and-forth draw that made the original so endearing is well realized here. But like most reunions, this one isn't as rosy as you might remember. Quirks buried in your subconscious are unearthed in frustrating sequences. You yell in anger when your player drops the football like it's a wet seal. You gasp in horror as your forward pass is inexplicably ruled a fumble because your receiver was behind the line of scrimmage. You scream in frustration when your offensive line turns into a sieve at the worst possible time. And you shake your head with disappointment when your receiver walks out of bounds instead of turning upfield. Considering there are so few enhancements to the core of the game, it's a shame these foibles weren't ironed out in the many years since Blitz's inception.
The on-field action is as fun (though flawed) as ever, and a variety of modes give you plenty of different ways to take part in it. Blitz Gauntlet is as good of a place to start as any. Here, you compete in a tournament against progressively more difficult teams. Taking on the Redskins or Seahawks is certainly entertaining, but the main draw in this mode is the fantastical players you square off against. Teams composed entirely of robots, pirates, gladiators, and other non-football players serve as the boss fights, and though the action is mostly the same, the comedic impact cannot be denied. Yes, a pirate might not have the benefit of shoulder pads, but wouldn't a hook help in defensive matters? There's no clear answer, but it's certainly fun to ponder. Power-ups also litter the field in these boss battles. Freeze the clock or create an earthquake by nabbing an icon at an opportune time, and though these don’t have a huge impact on strategies, they do help mix things up from the norm.
Blitz Elite steers away from the cartoonish and veers into simulation territory. Here, you build your team by purchasing (with in-game money) playing cards. It's a concept borrowed from the Madden franchise, and it gives you something to strive for in the long term. You may have to purchase many packs before your favorite players are unlocked, and tweaking your roster so you're more competitive is appealing for a little while. The most thrilling application of this feature comes in the risk/reward matches against an online foe. The winner gets to choose any card from your pile and nab it as his own; the loser has to watch. Granted, unless you have an emotional connection to your players, it won't matter much when you lose someone, but don't expect your wounded pride to heal as quickly.
The last mode is Blitz Battle, which is the most engaging of the three. Collecting cards and battling bosses are entertaining for a little while, but Blitz is still at its best when you're squaring off in the classic competition. In Blitz Battles, you choose a state to represent and then take on players around the country in online matches. Perform well, and you move up a class to face even tougher competition. Struggle, and you get sent back to the minors. Moving from rookie to elite status is empowering, and as you move from state to regional and national competitions, you feel as if you're making tangible progress. You can start a game with an online friend if you like cooperative play, though it's much harder to find a match in this mode. Blitz is at its best in one-on-one action, and that's why Battle is the most exciting way to experience this downloadable game.
Ranking up in Battle, unlocking cards in Elite, and fighting bosses in Gauntlet give Blitz a surprising amount of longevity. You could spend hours in each mode trying to gain access to everything, so there's plenty of content here for 1,200 Microsoft points ($15). But even though it's still fun to unleash lunging tackles and 70-yard touchdowns, the whole experience feels antiquated. You can pile on all the extra modes you want, but if the core action is unchanged, it's hard to shake the feeling that you've done this all before. Don't expect NFL Blitz to have the same impact it did so many years ago, but this is still a satisfying way to rekindle a nostalgic flame.'