NFL Blitz; now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. It’s been more than 10 years, to be exact. The last NFL Blitz was released on PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade in January 2012. Even then, it was considered a retro revival title developed by Madden studio EA Tiburon. Before that, we hadn’t received a proper NFL-licensed Blitz title since Midway’s NFL Blitz 20-03 on PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance. Despite EA Sports acquiring the license from Midway during its 2009 liquidation, the NFL has largely seemed averse to the hard-hitting arcade-style gameplay of the Blitz series.
In August, Arcade1Up, the company behind various arcade replicas, including other Midway classics like NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat, announced the franchise’s return through NFL Blitz Legends. This replica arcade cabinet features three classic NFL Blitz titles in one four-player cabinet: NFL Blitz, NFL Blitz ’99, and NFL Blitz 2000 Gold Edition. These arcade classics are brought forward and remastered for the first time since their initial releases in the ’90s. When this announcement was made, I was overjoyed by the idea of having some of my favorite football games available in a modern way. Arcade1Up sent over a cabinet to build and test out to see how it stacks up to my memories.
Before you can jump into any Arcade1Up machine, you need to build it. These processes are usually straightforward but slightly time-consuming. The NFL Blitz Legends cabinet is no different. This is the fourth Arcade1Up cabinet I’ve assembled on my own, and it is perhaps the most involved by a small margin. Still, thanks to well-laid-out instructions and clear illustrations, I ran into minimal speedbumps and didn’t need to provide any of my own tools outside of a Philips-head screwdriver.
The build itself is sturdy, and among the highest quality of the several Arcade1Up cabinets I’ve played; this cabinet doesn’t have any of the shakiness, uncomfortable edges, or the inconveniently placed marquee of cabinets like the Capcom Legacy Edition machine I bought earlier this year. The tactile front coin slots are a nice touch over the painted-on slots of past machines. I also love how this cabinet is slightly taller than past Arcade1Up machines. Honestly, the worst thing I can say about the physical product is that the CPU is just a tad louder than the other cabinets when you’re playing a game, but it’s hardly distracting when you have the sound on. I also appreciate that this cabinet has a 3.5mm headphone jack for when you want to hear the action but need to keep it down.
Once you fire it up, you can choose between the titles mentioned above on offer. Each game feels similar but with different rosters and some slightly different features/presentational elements. No matter which you choose, this Arcade1Up cabinet does an admirable job of recreating the experience of finding one of the original cabinets in the wild, including rosters full of legends ripped straight from the era. The gameplay of each title holds up surprisingly well for sports games from a quarter century ago.
This machine supports up to four players locally thanks to the wider deck, or you can play online using the machine’s Live WiFi functionality (once the servers go live). Over the course of a couple of pre-launch online multiplayer sessions, my experience was silky smooth, with no network stutters and seemingly minimal latency. My preferred way to enjoy multiplayer on replica arcade cabinets will always be locally, but I love that the online components are becoming more commonplace in these Arcade1Up releases. Outside of simultaneous play, the online functionality also allows for online leaderboards for each title, showcasing the best players globally and among your friends. As of this writing, the leaderboards are live, but the online play is not available in the retail build of the software.
However, with the release of a game originally built on the idea of “What if the NFL had no rules?” comes some concessions in 2022. In the time since the original NFL Blitz games, the National Football League has focused more on player health and safety. As a result of this increased emphasis on the real-life NFL players’ safety, the virtual representations of these players in NFL Blitz Legends cannot perform some of the more brutal tackles and hits present in the original games.
While this makes sense overall, it feels like revisionist history on the NFL’s part and also like we’re focusing on the wrong thing: Who really cares if virtual players are getting hit after the whistle? I understand it’s an image move and a changing of the narrative on the NFL’s part, but at the end of the day, nobody is actually harmed when a highly polygonal Ray Lewis delivers a late hit on a highly polygonal Vinny Testaverde. Thankfully, it doesn’t detract from the core gameplay – which, to be clear, is still an absolute blast – but it does feel frivolous to make that change but not revise the previous name/logo of the Washington Commanders.
Regardless of these minor changes, NFL Blitz Legends is an excellent package if you’re as big of a fan of the old-school arcade-style NFL games as I am. Thanks to smooth WiFi functionality and a solid three-pack of games on offer, this feels like the best, most modern way to enjoy these titles in 2022. Now, hopefully, this combines with Arcade1Up’s previous NBA Jam cabinet to inspire EA Sports to revitalize both of those beloved brands once again.
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