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NFL Blitz 2000 (PSX) Review

Publisher: Midway
Release Date: Fall 1999

Background Info

PSX Screens(29)
Last year, NFL Blitz saved the videogame football season, in my mind. I'd suffered through a buggy Gameday and a sluggish Madden and had almost given up hope when I discovered that the PSX version of Blitz, though blocky, played just like the arcade, which meant that it was great. Easy to pick up, fast, and fun, it was a breath of fresh air. This year, rather than try to port over the year-old Blitz 99 from the arcades, Midway decided to take the classic Blitz formula and try to make it a bit more appropriate to the home market, and they've only managed to make a great game better in Blitz 2000 (B2K).

Presentation/Graphics : 90
Last year's Blitz looked OK, but played great, so it was easy to forgive the blockiness of the players. B2K has players with a decent amount of detail, but also much less blockiness than its predecessor. Of course, we hopefully all understand that the PSX is old hardware and can't compete with the graphics of the arcade machine, but the improvement from last year is noticeable. Player animations are great, as usual, and the overall feel of the game hasn't changed. You will recognize animations that were reused from last year, but Midway has also added some really cool, over-the-top pro-wrestling style moves which look and sound brutal (of course).

There are now grass and turf fields, as well as more than one stadium to play in. Of course, these are only fictional creations, and offer little more than a change of scenery. A nice bit of detail that doesn't really have a bearing on the overall game.

Presentation/Audio : 80
B2K sounds very much like last year's version. The same cheesy (in a good way) announcer is used, and many of his phrases have been recycled, though there are new additions. The music is identical, as are many of the taunts. But let's face it, Blitz isn't about music or even the announcer, so I'm not greatly disappointed that a whole slew of new bells and whistles haven't been added to the mix. The new stadium p.a. announcer is a nice touch and sounds very good, and Midway added subtle crunching noises to the already huge-sounding hits that make them seem even more brutal than before. As I mentioned, subtle, but very cool.

Interface/Options : 95
The B2K manual is standard fare, and provides the basic info you need, nothing more, nothing less, but with a game like Blitz, I think that's good enough. The game's menus and overall style are very similar to last year, which is to say they're still based very heavily on their arcade big brother. Load times are decent, and pretty standard for the PSX - long enough that you notice, but not so long that you complain. The basics of getting around in the game and selecting the options and game you want to play are very straight forward and to the point.

You really need a Dual Shock controller to get the true Blitz experience. Digital is possible, of course, but it doesn't replicate the arcade very well. Those already familiar with this franchise know that we're talking about 3 button gameplay (well, 4 really, if you choose icon passing) at its finest. The controls are such that almost anyone can pick up a gamepad and be competitive within a relatively short period of time.

One added feature that's a nice option is icon passing. If you tap the L2 button, passing icons will appear beside the receivers for a short period of time, meaning that passes can be made with a simple button press. Personally, I prefer the "classic" method of pointing the stick to highlight the receivers, but I'm sure that many will find the new method a welcome, and more precise, option.

Gameplay : 90
If you're not familiar with the Blitz brand of football (I suppose it's possible), the basics include seven man teams, 30 yards for a 1st down, huge players, bigger hits, and fast, exciting, over-the-top action. Last year's version received high praises, but its longevity, especially as a one-player experience, was ultimately questioned. Not unusual for arcade-to-home conversions.

With B2K, Midway has addressed these issues to some extent, and in my mind they've been very successful in making this feel more like a game produced with console play in mind. The options are still very basic compared to what "sim" titles offer - arcade, tournament, or season play, but they fit with the overall nature of the game by keeping things simple.

A noticeable improvement this year is that 3 pages of plays are available on offense, but each team has a customized playbook. Of course, the overall pool of available plays isn't huge, but it's nice to have some variety. The standard single page of defensive setups is available, and again each team has its own set pulled from the overall selection. But here's what's really cool: you now have a play editor to create your own offensive and defensive plays.

You can either start from scratch (based on various formations), or edit an existing play. The editor is very intuitive and easy to use; if you're not too obsessive about it, a play can be created in just a few minutes. Of course, creating plays that actually work isn't as easy as it seems. You can add jukes, fakes, pauses, blocking, speed bursts and as many direction changes to routes as you could possibly want, and while these choices are few enough to not be daunting, they are numerous enough that you can easily create a horrendous mess. You even get to name the plays yourself. I'm sure you'll be duly impressed if you ever come up against my brilliant Booger play. (I never waste an opportunity to express my juvenile tendencies whenever a game allows me to name something.)

The basic gameplay in B2K is essentially the same as last year, but Midway has tweaked the AI to make the computer much smarter than last year, and they've done a pretty good job of replicating different teams' basic style of play. For example, if you flush Kordell Stewart out of the pocket, he's going to take off down field most of the time. As far as the AI goes, even on the Easy difficulty setting, defenders will step in front of ill-advised passes and intercept them. One aspect that's still there I'm sure, but feels much less obvious, is the "catch up" AI. Much like NBA Jam of old, the trailing team gets a bit of help from the CPU so that the games remain close. With B2K this is much less evident, and in fact it's more difficult to score in general so that the games remain close without a host of frustrating "miracle plays" in the favor of the team that's behind.

If you like Blitz, then B2K is a welcome update to the series because it provides more of a challenge and retains the classic feel of the game while also giving it just a bit more "believability" - scores tend to resemble something seen on an NFL Sunday, and are much less akin to those of the Arena League. I certainly don't mind this, and it gives the game more longevity for the single player. They've also added the ability to call audibles, which any football fan will appreciate.

An area that I wish Midway had addressed was the stat-tracking. I don't mind so much that the stats are extremely basic - after all, it's an arcade game. But the stats just don't add up, much like last year. Blitz is not a rushing game by any means. Runs are possible, and a good idea in general, but when the stats show that the team leading the league in rushing has about 600 yards to your 60, it's a bit ridiculous, and doesn't fit into the default 2-minute quarters of the game. Same with pass attempts and yards - it seems that the other teams are playing 15-minute quarters, based on the number of plays they run.

Another pet peeve of mine is that Midway should have included a coin-toss this year. You can't choose if you want to kick off or receive at the beginning of the game (as usual, in the one-player game, you automatically receive). This is a choice that most football fans would probably like to have.

Replay Value : 90
Blitz is a great party game, and now it has 4-player capability with a multi-tap. With standard Arcade, Season, and Tournament modes, there's plenty to do and Midway has built in a good challenge. I never really got tired of last year's version, and B2K has enough that's new and improved to make the experience seem at least a bit fresh. I suppose the longevity of this title is based on how much of a Blitz fan you are, but to me it doesn't really tend to get old as long as the CPU puts up a good fight.

Overall : 90
Midway has added enough to B2K to make it a worthwhile upgrade. The game looks better and plays a more satisfying version of football than the original. As a huge Blitz fan, to me this is a no-brainer. Hopefully the stat-tracking issues will be addressed at some point, and a coin toss will be added. Otherwise, B2K is a great game, and a worthy update to one of my favorite franchises.

NOTE: while reviewing this game, I encountered a problem with loading a saved Season - I would get an "invalid data" error. I contacted Midway about this, and they said that they've heard about this from some consumers, but haven't been able to replicate the problem with their own copies of the game. They suggested that I try a different memory card (I'd already tried 3). We asked around and this doesn't seem to be a prevalent problem, but if you encounter it I can only suggest that perhaps an exchange for a different copy of the game is in order.

By: Andy L. 9/16/99

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