Midway scored huge in 1993 with NBA Jam, proving that the arcades were still hungry for good sports games. The company fed that appetite again in 1997 with NFL Blitz, a 3-D game that applied all the “no holds barred” attitude of its earlier hit to the arena of American football.
Once more, Midway had signed a licensing agreement with a professional league—in this case, the National Football League—allowing gamers to play as real-life gridiron idols like Emmit Smith, Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders, Reggie White, John Elway, Derrick Thomas, Junior Seau and Darrell Green. But despite the familiar names and faces, this was not exactly the same game fans watched on any given Sunday.
To start with, each NFL Blitz team had only seven men on the field at once. But the extra players weren’t the only ones missing… In this game of ultra-fast, ultra-violent football, as the promotional materials explained, there were “No refs. No rules. No mercy.” Late hits, roughing the kicker, pass interference and even body slams weren’t just legal; they were encouraged.
Like NBA Jam before it, NFL Blitz liked its sport raw. Players taunted their fallen victims, and the off-screen announcer had a clever quip for every long bomb or nasty hit. And again like NBA Jam, players lit up “on fire” after converting a fourth down on offense or sacking the quarterback twice on defense, giving them extra juice without the limitations of the temporary “Turbo” button.
Another switch from traditional rules was the length of both the chains and the game. Teams had to earn 30 yards for a first down (usually not a problem with NFL Blitz’s high-powered offense). Quarters only lasted two minutes of game time, with each additional period requiring another credit to keep on playing.
Differences aside, NFL Blitz was still at heart a classic football game. Players selected from 27 offensive and 9 defensive plays, all patterned after real NFL playbooks. For all the body slams and arm twists, the game had its share of familiar moves and tricks, including spins, stiff arms and on-side kicks. And in true rough and tumble style, games were never, ever cancelled on account of rain (or even fog or snow, for that matter).
Every one of the NFL’s teams was represented in the game, each rated in five categories: Passing, Rushing, Linemen, Special Teams and Defense. Players could also keep track of their own stats, entering a four-digit PIN before every game in order to be recognized by the machine. The save feature also allowed players to enter “season mode,” recreating an NFL season as their team drove on toward the Super Bowl.
NFL Blitz continued the proud arcade sports tradition at Midway, living up to the lofty reputations of NBA Jam and NHL Open Ice 2 on 2 Challenge. It came as no surprise, then, that the company followed up with a sequel, NFL Blitz ‘99. What was surprising was the number of new treats the sequel offered. One of these was obvious from the layout of the machine itself: Blitz was now a four-player game. But that was just the beginning.
The game also featured a new “Play Editor,” which actually allowed gamers to design their own offensive playbook. But beyond that, NFL Blitz could even accept plays designed at home. A special slot in the side of the cabinet enabled gamers to insert their Nintendo 64’s “memory pak,” downloading home-built stats, plays and teams. Hard-core gamers could now work on their skills until the wee hours of the morning, then return to the arcade the next day to spring new secret plays on unsuspecting challengers.
NFL Blitz 2000 didn’t offer as many radical changes, but the updated version did pack a few new surprises. Rosters were updated, new plays were added, along with new moves, taunts and end zone dances, but in addition to all this, the game created a few new field conditions: Dirt, Mud and Asphalt (ouch). And to the delight our friends in the Dawg Pound, the Cleveland Browns were back on the scene.
Midway’s sports games may not have taught kids the best lessons in sportsmanship, but there’s still something to be said for big, angry fun. Millions of smack-talking arcade gamers can’t be wrong.