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NFL Blitz 2000 (N64) Review

Publisher: Midway
Release Date: Fall 1999

Background Info

N64 Screens(4)
Following in the footsteps of the highly successful NBA Jam (and the somewhat less stellar Wayne Gretzky Hockey), Midway's NFL Blitz proved a smash arcade hit; last year it also enjoyed a strong initial showing in home console versions. Enter the inevitable sequel, with new features designed to attract repeat purchasers, win over the skeptics, and seduce a broader audience. Has Midway repaired some of the initial edition's shortcomings? Are the additions incremental or transformational? Is this a case where the original was so appealing that all that was needed was a little tweaking here and there? With there ever be an end to these questions?

Presentation/Graphics : 88
You've got your stadia--a number of them--your weather (fog, snow, and so on), and (of course) those pumped-up players. Great stuff. The colors are vibrant, as loud as the rest of the game. The animations are smoother than those in the original console Blitz, and the players are a tad faster than in the original. The stylized representation of players is fine; there are even more postplay animations; the camera moves around after plays to show off both the player and the stadium. The menus are vivid and sharp. The sum total is impressive, and an improvement on Blitz's first console incarnation.

Presentation/Audio : 86
Once more Midway adds to the atmosphere of a slam-bang battle with a good array of sound effects. There are your grunts, your swooshes, your taunts, and other on-field chatter; your loud music and pulsing countdowns (which add to the sense of urgency--call a play now!); and your all-too-excitable and caustic play-by-play man. No worry about a lot of names (the N64 can't hold them anyway). Again, more sayings, more sounds, a little more than the original Blitz.

Interface/Options : 90
The fundamentals of the game controller remain the same--a basic three-button game where buttons pressed singly or in combination lead to various moves, actions, and so on, with the ever-present "turbo" button there to jazz things up. Nothing fancy here-it's what you do with the simple tools at hand that counts. Also, you can assign functions to new buttons.

New to this year's edition is something called "Blitz Passing." Using the left, right, and up C buttons, you can zip the ball to a receiver instead of using the control stick to select a receiver. However, this is not really icon passing, for the button assignments do not appear above the receivers as they run their routes (and the buttons are dedicated to different receivers, crossing you up when it comes to crossing patterns). If the button assignments appeared on screen during a play, this option would be more useful. Also new is a more complicated punting interface (before you simply chose punt and the CPU did the rest).

Players may compete in arcade mode (playing against a series of CPU-controlled opponents or with up to four human players) or an NFL season (based on the 1999 NFL schedule); this time players may also compete in a tournament with up to eight participants. On offense in multiplayer games, players will alternate each series between serving as quarterback and a wide receiver. Other people will be drawn to the expanded play editor. You may create both offensive and defensive plays (as well as a fake punt) and refashion playbooks; you may also select and save audible preferences. And, of course, there are the numerous codes that are accessed by pressing various combinations of the Z, A, and B buttons. The memory card (yes, this is another game that will cost you an entire card) stores your playbooks, career records, game options, and current season/tournament.

Gameplay : 85
The original Blitz was rather easy to get into; early victories lulled unwary players into exhibiting a false sense of confidence that was shattered as the competition became more intense (and the cheating AI went to work). You know the drill: seven-man teams, four downs to cover thirty yards, outlandish animations and trash-talk described by an announcer with attitude. This year's game offers a more competitive environment right from the start. Of course, that may turn off players used to the gradually increasing difficulty, but that's life. Otherwise, the game plays very much like its predecessor, although dedicated Blitzers will detect some minor changes. There is a new "on fire" feature that rewards either three consecutive receptions by one receiver or two straight sacks by elevating team play a level--simulating momentum--that makes the blazing team even harder to stop.

Success in Blitz 2000 depends on one's ability to develop a passing game and to execute it without fear--as well as learning when to play it safe. Most games will hang in the balance until the last series (unless you insert the cheat that denies CPU assistance--I would). A good running game depends on misdirection; solid defensive play calls for you to make contact early and often (and please remember that pass interference does not exist). In multiplayer games, receivers should follow the laws of survival in the secondary--hit before you are hit; push before you are pushed; knock someone down before they knock you down; in short, do unto others before they do it to you.

Finally, at the conclusion of each arcade contest there is a trivia game. Some players make like this; others may prefer looking for more cheerleader shots (the airbrushed cyberbabes of last year have been replaced with photos of real women, as in GameDay). Next year I expect Lara Croft and Xena to make appearances.

Replay Value : 80
Blitz offers an exciting, fun-filled initial experience. The outrageous hits, the taunts, the over-the-top plays, and the energetic environment is extremely enticing--at first. However, as the novelty of all that fades away, whether what remains continues to be compelling may not be clear to everyone. As one progresses through the game, you learn that to prevail against the CPU, you will limit your choice of teams to the elite franchises; the cheating AI becomes even more evident in an effort to provide an escalating challenge. As in the original game, some players will respond by becoming more conservative in their playcalling; others will throw caution to the wind and go for broke. Others may find one team (aided by the AI) offers too much of a challenge, and throw up their hands in disgust. These outcomes are as predictable as they are inevitable in this series; frankly, I'd rather face an evolving AI challenge involving improved playcalling and execution by the CPU on both sides of the ball than a heightened incidence of turnovers. Others, however, take great glee (as opposed to my grim satisfaction) in prevailing on an increasingly tilted playing field. Such problems, of course, are not part of multiplayer head-to-head contests, but many people want to see how far they can go against the CPU.

Everyone loves watching their names go up on the standings for offensive and defensive production, overall performance, and so on. That vanity helps explain why so many people come back to play one more time (again and again). And yet the game could have been richer and deeper. After several editions, the Jam series finally grasped the idea that players might want to create their own teams and athletes. Even the second edition of Gretzky Hockey included a limited trade feature (available through a cheat in the initial edition). However, Blitz has not followed this road, limiting the number of teams that one may use with a reasonable expectation of competitive play over the long term. So, for example, if you are a fan of the New York Giants, you are out of luck, both in real life and in Blitz; grit your teeth as you choose the Cowboys or 49ers (or even the Jets!) instead. A player/team creation model (perhaps based on the notion of developing players by gaining performance points as you win, as in the NHL Breakaway series) would be a welcome addition: if you can craft your own plays and playbooks, why not your own teams and players?

There is a larger replay issue connected with NFL Blitz 2000--haven't we seen this before? To a large extent, we have. Midway has gained quite a reputation for offering new editions of games that do not always offer marked strides over their predecessors--as its Gretzky/Olympic line demonstrated. Not all editions of NBA Jam (or College Slam) moved that franchise forward very much. Devoted Blitz players who welcome the expanded options, updated rosters, and multiplayer play will rush to buy the game; people who generally play against one opponent (human or CPU) and who are not die-hard fanatics may want to think carefully before paying for this new edition. This edition marks an improvement in some ways over the first, but the old Blitz still offers a good game.

Overall : 87
If you are a Blitz fanatic, go and buy Blitz 2000--but you've probably done that, anyway. And if you don't own Blitz but find the game intriguing, I'd recommend this version over its now-discounted predecessor (others may see the price difference as more important). For those people who simply don't care for the concept, enough said--for this is the sort of game for people who like that sort of game, so to speak. It's a solid, challenging, exciting experience--as was its predecessor. That's both its best characteristic and the major reason buyers might pause. For this new edition could have been so much more (and some of its features should have been in the original). Will this series fall victim to the trap of incremental changes, as have some of its peers?

By: Brooks S. 10/7/99

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