Arcade1Up has a reputation for bringing beloved games and franchises back from the dead with solid home arcade machines. Its latest nostalgia-fueled cabinet is arguably its most exciting yet. Arcade1Up NFL Blitz Legends reintroduces the football classic to players after more than a decade since its last installment. This is classic Blitz, compiling the first three (and best) entries in one place. It has some alterations with regards to some of the over-the-top violence, but the core gameplay that fans remember remains intact. NFL Blitz Legends is an awesome throwback with a solid build that'd be a nice addition to any game room.
Similar to Arcade1Up's NBA Jam cabinets, NFL Blitz Legends supports up to four players locally. It has a wider control deck that extends a fair amount beyond the width of the cabinet itself. This means that it does take up more space than the average Arcade1Up cabinet, despite having similar cabinet dimensions as the manufacturer's other three-quarter scale machines, including the familiar 17-inch display. That said, you will have to scrunch up very close to your buddies if four people are playing. It's more comfortable as a two-player machine, and it's also just more fun to have total control over your team instead of splitting it with someone else. Still, the option for four is there, which is a neat bonus so more people can play at the same time.
Each player has three action buttons: jump/tackle, pass/change player on defense, and turbo--as well as a start button. If you have experience with Arcade1Up's other cabinets, these buttons will be familiar. They get the job done and feel pretty good, especially when you consider the price point.
The joystick design is where the cabinet excels compared to previous Arcade1Up cabinets. It's touted as a 49-way joystick, which essentially gives it the same range of motion and precision as an analog stick on modern controllers. It makes sense that Arcade1Up went this route. Football relies heavily on precise movements, and these games would likely feel clunky with a traditional four or eight-way joystick. Those worked fine in NBA Jam, but that game doesn't feature the same all-directions movement of Blitz.
In addition to allowing for realistic and accurate movements in any particular direction, the speed of your player directly corresponds to how much you move the joystick. For instance, as you move the joystick further forward, your player accelerates to attain higher running speeds, much like a gas pedal.
Another similarity it shares with the NBA Jam cabinets is the physical design of the joysticks. It uses bat-tops rather than the traditional ball-tops found on a lot of Arcade1Up's cabinets. This design mirrors the original NFL Blitz home arcade machine.
As far as the actual look of the cabinet goes, the overall design is great. With NFL legends like Jerry Rice, Dan Marino, and Terrell Davis on the sides, it definitely looks like a fitting ode to that era of football. Unfortunately, Brett Favre is also present, but you don't have to look at him as long as you put that side of the cabinet near a wall or another cabinet that doesn't feature the most overrated QB of all time who also happens to be an awful person.
Brett Favre's inclusion aside, it's one of my favorite Arcade1Up cabinets from a looks perspective. It has two decorative molded coin slot panels on the front, a nice matching riser with logo graphics, and a colorful control panel.
The light-up marquee is the only design disappointment here. It looks a tad washed out. It might be related to the lights being too close to the front of the marquee. Some cabinets feature lights mounted in the back of the cabinet, whereas the lights and acrylic front panel are one piece here. Other Arcade1Up cabinets have had underwhelming light-up marquees, too, so this issue isn't exclusive to Blitz. Regardless, it stands out compared to the rest of the build.
Of course, the big concern for most fans are the changes. It's important to stress that these games hit the market during an entirely different era of the NFL, before player safety and the reality of the long-term risks--like CTE--that playing football poses to the brain were widely publicized. The NFL skirted around those critical topics until the mountains of research and media attention forced the organization to make player safety a focal point.
So, as an officially licensed NFL product, NFL Blitz Legends ditches late hits. Everyone who has played a Blitz game probably has fond memories of bulldozing and belly flopping your opponent after the whistle blows. The original versions of these games intentionally gave players a few seconds to beat up on your opponent before the playbook popped up. With NFL Blitz Legends, all three games go directly from the whistle to the playbook. There are no late hits to speak of, and the cheat code specifically aimed at late hits has been removed (other codes I tried worked).
The removal of late hits does not compromise the integrity of the gameplay at all. The quirks of Blitz that actually contribute to the result of the game are still here. This is still very much the silly arcade football game you remember, with tackles that throw players five yards like ragdolls and the ability to tackle receivers before the ball hits their hands. There are no penalties to speak of, just how NFL Blitz should be.
Even though the omission of some of the over-the-top features doesn't hurt the game in the slightest, it does seem a tad comical. After all, NFL Blitz isn't remotely realistic to begin with. Attaching it to the actually serious topic of chronic brain injuries is, well, strange. This was obviously a requirement to get the NFL onboard; thus, the cabinet almost certainly wouldn't exist without the removal of late hits. Yet, when you consider how long the NFL waited to take player safety and the long-term health of retired players seriously, the whole situation feels hypocritical. NFL Blitz is a borderline satirization of football; no one thinks it mirrors the actual game, and no one would think the NFL is glorifying reckless on-field behavior by allowing polygonal, disproportional avatars to drop elbows on your buddies for laughs.
All three games feature the vast majority of real players who were active in the NFL at the time of release. The original stadiums and playbooks are included as well. NFL Blitz, Blitz '99, and Blitz 2000 all have the same general feel and gameplay experience, but I imagine most players will spend the bulk of their time with Blitz 2000, simply because of its minor improvements and technical advances that make it the pinnacle of the franchise.
You're getting three games here, but this cabinet is similar to NBA Jam in terms of variety. As you'd expect, the included games are very similar, which means this three-game compilation is essentially a one-game cabinet. That's not a bad thing for those who love NFL Blitz, but keep that in mind when comparing it to other Arcade1Up cabinets. Also, just to clarify, you're getting the "Gold Edition" of Blitz 2000. This is the version that originally appeared in arcades and closely resembles the gameplay of the console versions.
NFL Blitz Legends captures the pick-up-and-play mentality well. Games take no more than fifteen minutes, so it's great for quick sessions. It helps that the core gameplay has held up remarkably well. NFL Blitz is still as fast, fun, and unpredictable as I remembered. I've played a ton of games already, and the loop remains exciting.
Multiplayer with friends is where NFL Blitz gets its legs, and Blitz Legends includes both local and online multiplayer as well as leaderboards. Despite the cabinet being out in the wild for months, online servers just went live recently in beta testing. Though it appears some users have been able to play matches without a problem, I can't find a match, so I haven't been able to assess online performance. Since the online mode is in beta testing, it's obvious that it's a work-in-progress. Hopefully it starts running smoothly soon.
The bottom line
Arcade1Up's NFL Blitz Legends cabinet does for football fans what the NBA Jam cabinets did for basketball fans. It's a nostalgia trip that serves as a reminder as to why these games were so popular to begin with. With the help of a wonderfully designed joystick, NFL Blitz is still remarkably fun two decades later. Though four-player multiplayer probably won't be super comfortable for a lot of people due to the compact size, this is a great cabinet for those looking for a fast-paced and easy to learn arcade game to play alongside family and friends. The online mode is still in its infancy and isn't reliable at this time, so you may want to hold off if you're particularly interested in it for network play. Like other recent Arcade1Up cabinets, the retail price is steep at $600--though the cabinet has already been discounted by $100 at Best Buy--and the team-branded stools are sold separately for $100. This is one of those Arcade1Up cabinets that will appeal to a very specific group of people. If you loved NFL Blitz back in the day, you probably won't be disappointed.