? NFL Blitz
Midway Home Entertainment
$69.95 Nintendo 64; $39.95 Sony Playstation and PC
The technology involved in sports video games continues its mad development. Each generation of games is more detailed, more authentic and, ultimately, more dizzying. From actual playing strategies to the facial expressions of your favorite players, the games are super-realistic. They unfold in the familiar rhythm of a television broadcast, complete with announcers such as Dick Enberg and Keith Jackson. But amid all this virtuosity, something has been lost. Playing some of these games is like taking apart a Swiss watch—impressively complex but not all that much fun.
NFL Blitz is the happy exception to this trend. Blitz reminds us that even though realism is nice, a fun game is even better. The premise is simple: NFL football with a playground feel. There are seven players on a side, and only a handful of plays for offense or defense. There is none of the intricate strategy called for in a more traditional football game. Blitz is a run-and-gun, fast-twitch-muscle experience.
It's common to rack up 500 yards of total offense in an eight-minute game of Blitz, and that's why it's so enjoyable. The ball flies. Receivers leap and catch and spin out of tackles. Defenders fly from sideline to sideline, trying to decapitate anything that moves. Players periodically taunt their opponents (though in fairly inoffensive terms, such as "I can take you."). Late hits cause the announcer to wonder, "Is that legal?" It is all legal. There are no rules in Blitz. It's a cartoonish version of football, and it's a blast to play.
The home version of Blitz does an astonishingly good job of replicating the speed and graphic quality of the arcade version. In fact, it actually surpasses the arcade's in some respects. Most notably, a player with a force-feedback controller (sold separately) will feel it shake when he gets hit (or hits someone else) on the screen. This force-feedback technology can be annoying in other games, but in Blitz it adds to the adrenaline rush of playing.
Midway has also come up with an innovative feature that ties together the home and arcade versions of Blitz. A player can design a new play—with its pass routes and blocking schemes—and save it in the memory pack of his home game. At the arcade the NFL Blitz console has a slot for the memory pack, allowing a player to load his own plays and run them in the arcade. Unfortunately, this option is only available to players with Nintendo 64, but the company is working on adding it to the other platforms. It should keep players sketching out schemes in their notebooks for months.
For players who prefer a more traditional football game, there is NFL GameDay '99 ($40, 989 Sports, for Sony Playstation and PC). GameDay is a beautifully detailed game that will keep the hard-core football geek playing until his (or her) thumb falls off.