My experience with NFL Blitz goes back to 1997, when it was introduced into arcades everywhere. I remember watching players complete 60-yard passes on offense and deliver some brutal hits on defense that I only thought Id see on a pro wrestling telecast. I had heard that Blitz was the brainchild of Mark Turmell, the same Midway programmer who spearheaded Midways other immensely popular sports title, NBA Jam. When I played my first game of Blitz, it was quick, intense, and exciting; in fact, I wound up coming from behind by completing a long pass for a touchdown with no time left. From then on, I was hooked, and I spent countless tokens on Blitz. Its now been five years since Blitz arrived in arcades, and after successful console conversions for platforms including the Sony PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and Sega Dreamcast, NFL Blitz 2002 has arrived for the Sony PlayStation 2, promising the same kind of action and excitement that the arcade original delivered and more.
For those of you reading who haven't heard of it or played it before, Blitz is not a game for football purists. Players need thirty yards for a first down, as compared to the standard ten yards in an actual football game. Blitz has no penalties, so pass interference is encouraged; defensive players can tackle receivers before they catch the ball, which adds a new twist to the passing game. There are lots of big plays that can happen during a Blitz play session. If the defense records two tackles for losses in a row, or a receiver on offense can make three catches in a row, that team can catch fire and become nearly unstoppable. Long passes downfield are the norm, and there tends to be plenty of scoring. Games also tend to be close most of the time, thanks to Blitz'scatch-up AI. Players cannot rest on their laurels if they have a huge lead the AI will assist the team that is behind by allowing for seemingly impossible turnovers and big plays on both offense and defense.
Visually, Blitz looks quite good; in fact, it could almost pass for an actual arcade game. The football players look like real football players. The stadiums are fair representations of their real-life NFL counterparts, although there isn't as much detail as can be seen in a pure football simulation like Madden 2002. Occasionally, games will take place in the rain or while its snowing. These weather effects look decent, especially in the rain as droplets are seen to individually splash on the turf from time to time. There are some occasions in which the skies appear to be clear, and yet it is still raining... I cant be sure why this is, but it strikes me as odd. Stadiums are filled to the rafters with lively crowds. The animation in Blitz is silky-smooth, and the game camera always seems to follow the chaotic action on the field without a problem. There are a wide variety of vicious-looking hits that players will see during a play session, including elbow drops, spears, backdrops, and more. These hits add a sense of attitude to the experience, and are quite amusing to watch. There are also replays from time to time that will recap a touchdown run or a great catch. Aside from some infrequent instances where entire sections of the crowd will disappear from view while the camera is swinging around, Blitz is solid in the graphics department.
Blitz employs a two-man commentary routine to help describe the action on the field. Veterans of earlier Midway sports titles will recognize the play-by-play man, but the color commentary is something that Midway has not tried before until now. The running commentary between the two men is purposely silly, with comments like, If he gets into the end zone, they're going to put some points on the board. Gee, do you think so? The banter is occasionally funny, but I could have lived with Midways standard one-man commentary. I grew tired of the silliness, especially during tense situations when I was trailing and trying to come back against the computer. Blitz's sound effects include lots of bone-crushing hits and a fairly lively crowd. The hits are the star of the sound show here, and some sound particularly painful. Add some player chatter with lines such as, I think its broken, and I want my mommy, and it becomes a pretty funny experience. The music is really nothing to write home about, although its gotten away from the NFL Films kind of theme that earlier Blitz games had. Obviously, the game only needs so much realism since there are so many far-fetched changes to the rules of football, but I always thought that the earlier music fit the action better and got players ready for football.
In order for any game to be a success, especially a game that has a lot of action like Blitz, the play controls must be accurate, intuitive, and easy to learn. With a standard three-button setup, Blitz is easy to pick up and play. Passing is as easy as aiming the directional pad toward a receiver and pressing a button. If players double-tap the Turbo button, the ball carrier on the screen will do a spin move. With only three buttons, Midway manages to incorporate a fair amount of play control options. There is also an option for icon-based passing if the "point-and-pass" feature isn't as accurate as players would like. The initial controller button assignments can also be adjusted if they don't feel quite right. Blitz actually handles and executes like an arcade game; and for me, that is one of the best things about it.
Blitz offers several different modes of play and has its fair share of secrets to unlock. Blitz's exhibition mode plays like the arcade games, as players must defeat all of the NFL teams, one at a time, in order to win. Season mode lets players take a team of their choice and play through the 2001 NFL season, Blitz-style. Tournament mode allows multiple players to see who is king of the gridiron by way of an elimination setup. Players can uncover new teams, stadiums, and playing conditions by entering codes on a pre-game screen that pops up. Just by randomly entering codes, I was able to unlock a new team and set a condition that allowed for no first downs, making the game more challenging. I believe that there are close to 50 codes in all maybe more.
If it seems as though I really like Blitz, you're right. I certainly do. There is, however, one nagging problem with Blitz that veterans of the series (or of Midway sports games, in general) know about, which again rears its ugly head here: the dreaded catch-up AI. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for having some sort of handicap system to keep the playing field level at times, but this Blitz feature is always on and takes away from the enjoyment of the game slightly. A player can have a 31-10 lead in the fourth quarter and still lose more often than not. Why? The AI forces turnovers and bad plays on the team in the lead and allows the trailing team to complete some big plays without much resistance. This feature can be turned off via a code like I mentioned earlier, but it never really shuts down. I'm sorry, but if I'm playing against the computer and have earned a huge lead going into the fourth quarter, I should still win by a wide margin in many cases. If Midway had decided to give players the option to toggle this feature on or off, I would not be griping, but alas, its the one big issue that keeps me from giving Blitz a higher score.
NFL Blitz 20-02 is a solid arcade-style football game that looks, sounds, and feels as though it should have a coin slot of its own. Its action-packed with lots of scoring and big plays that add up to some exciting football. I found Blitz to be highly entertaining in spite of the flawed catch-up AI and a few minor graphics glitches here and there. Midways sports games have been improving with the likes of Blitz and their hockey title, NHL Hitz 20-02 Im certainly anxious to see whether Midway can keep their modest winning streak going.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.