NFL Blitz, one of the best sporting video games ever created, is finally making a comeback in a remastered form thanks to the home arcade company Arcade1Up – marking the first new entry in the wider Blitz franchise since 2012, and the first re-release of the 90s classics since 2001.
Blitz really is something special. I suspect some of the readers of VG247 may not have even been alive when these games first released, but they’re basically the ultimate in arcade sports, alongside NBA Jam (which happens to have been headed up by some of the same development staff).
In short, Blitz takes the sport of American Football and dials everything up to 11 – making it faster, sillier, and more full-on. It was designed to provoke intense competition between friends in the arcade. And also, of course, drain you of your coins. There were a few iterations in arcades and on console between 1997 and 2001, but later entries lost much of what made the originals special.
Arcade1Up is bringing the classic Blitz games back in a new three-quarter sized cabinet. That means it’s five feet tall, making it significantly smaller than the original cabs and more suited to a home installation – with the cabinet built from a flat-pack. That size means you get a 17-inch screen, which isn’t huge but should also be pretty serviceable.
Included is the original NFL Blitz, plus NFL Blitz ‘99 and NFL Blitz 2000: Gold Edition. The three games are similar at their core, with minor differences between releases. For my money, Blitz ‘99 is the best of the three.
Impressively, all three games will be playable both in Local Multiplayer – with the cabinet featuring four sets of controls across its expanded control deck – but also through WiFi, meaning you can challenge other Blitzers from around the world. There’s also online leaderboards. These are features Arcade1Up has established with games like Street Fighter and NBA Jam, so we know how they work well enough.
The cabinet looks the part, resembling the original cabinets but with new artwork that features a range of period-appropriate NFL legends from the game’s original era. Also featured are original team logos and uniforms from the age, making it authentic to the original cabinets rather than featuring recent team rebrands.
There’s catches, though. There always is, right? The first is the price: like most Arcade1Up machines, the NFL Blitz Legends cabinet carries a $599 price tag, which makes this not exactly a purchase for the faint of heart. I’ve seen original Blitz machines going for only a few hundred bucks more than that – but those machines are much larger, and carry with them the upkeep worries and costs that retro arcade hardware always does.
The second catch is more of a deal-breaker, though. NFL Blitz is famed for being an over-the-top version of the sport, as previously mentioned – which means no penalties, and a bit more violence than the modern sport accepts.
All this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, like drop-kicking a player after the play is technically over, cursing, and celebrating in ridiculous ways. Crucially, the players being suplexed also aren’t real players, but just generic video game characters. But the modern NFL, dogged by criticism around player wellbeing, has decided it can’t have anything to do with it – so this version of the machine features ‘remastered’ versions of the games... where ‘remastered’ means those features have been removed.
As such, some tackles and late hits have been edited or outright removed “to support the NFL’s current Player Health & Safety initiatives,” as per Game Informer. So these won’t be the games exactly as you remember them.
Honestly, this is ridiculous. This should be a perfect release for people like me – fans of both the NFL and of classic arcade games – but changing these games in this way just strikes me as silly. Nobody is confusing NFL Blitz for reality, where the NFL arguably does have a problem with injuries and horrific, life-altering CTE injuries. The issue has been such a sensitive subject that it has stood in the way of Blitz revivals in the past, however - and the league has really only gotten more sensitive to it over time.
It’s silly. Back in the day, people at the NFL seemed to know it, too. “This is like the Road Runner,” Gene Goldberg, then NFL’s vice president of consumer products said in 2002. “[NFL Blitz] is not what goes on when players are on the field. This is a cartoon.” Despite this, Blitz would get watered down year-after-year with subsequent entries – and now this plague has spread to a re-release of the original games.
It’s hard to know exactly how to feel. Part of me is annoyed and frustrated that the NFL’s answer to the problems is to focus on PR exercises like removing ‘bad’ moves from video games rather than simply putting more time and money into supporting players struck down by injury in real life. But part of me is just thrilled to see NFL Blitz freed – delighted at this cabinet, but also hopeful that this could be the first step towards Blitz making a return elsewhere, softening up the license holders for a console re-release.
I’m thrilled to see Arcade1Up get the Blitz license and work with the NFL, and as a home arcade enthusiast I’m excited every time I see the company level the playing field with their smaller, more manageable, and readily available re-releases of classic cabinets – even if the price still feels a little steep. But the NFL really needs to get over itself. It’s just a video game, guys.
Despite my annoyance with the NFL-enforced changes, as a Blitz enthusiast I admit I’m rather in love with how this machine looks - and though expensive, Arcade1Up stuff does tend to be of a decent quality. It’s no substitute for a real machine, but with three real arcade cabinets in the house already, there’s no chance of fitting another behemoth in. This might fit the bill nicely.