The trickle of holiday video games has almost always started with Madden. No matter the year, no matter the generation, Madden NFL is the de facto groundhog for the gaming industry. And even as we move to digital and year-round indie releases, you can still feel something in the air after Madden hits shelves. But there are no current alternatives to the football giant and no greater one than Blitz: The League and its sequel. They are fine examples of what football can be outside of the Madden machine and should make a comeback in the modern era.
Blitz: The League Madden alternative | Going into overtime
The year is 2005. The ink was still drying on EA’s exclusive partnership with the NFL, a deal that would send many football developers spinning. This put Blitz in a unique position because they had a selling point beyond authenticity and real players. Although later day iterations of NFL Blitz had gotten away from it, the original few games were founded on over-the-top cartoonish violence. With Midway no longer able to produce something that represented the real sport, the company went back to its roots with a game that combined silly nonsense and realistic graphics.
Before there were Mortal Kombat X-Rays, you could see a poor Blitz: The League player break his leg in gruesome detail. The cutscenes weren’t dynamic in any way, but they were grisly in their detail. The cutaways showcased everything from fractured fingers to an eruption of the genital triangle. It wasn’t just a passive detail either. You could mash a button to aim for specific body parts and knock out players for longer with more serious injuries. You could more force behind your tackles and pull off ridiculous wrestling moves like suplexes and clotheslines. It’s as glorious as the franchises’ glory days, and that’s saying something.
Blitz: The League Madden alternative | Let the bodies hit the floor
There was also a campaign mode with a story that stretched across both Blitz: The League titles. Written by the team behind then-hot ESPN football drama Playmakers, it depicted seedy locker room goings-on in the same way that the action depicted the game of football. You could famously hire hookers and send them to your opponent’s locker room to make your day easier out on the field. You could choose to use drugs to fight your way through injury. These narrative choices certainly set this release in a very specific mid-aughts frame of mind.
However, they’re also interesting mechanics for a genre that can be dry at the best of times. Even if it was trying to be more “realistic” than the days of “He’s on Fire!” and other catchphrases, Blitz never really wanted players to take it seriously. It’s a football game in the vein of MAD Magazine, joyously laughing from the sidelines at real-life problems.
That is what Blitz: The League was. The football was pick up and play, although it wasn’t as sharp as any of its contemporaries but it didn’t matter to most casual players. Midway always got why someone who wasn’t a fan of sports would want to play a football game. It put dynamic plays in front of you and turned up the action to 11. They put on a show that you can’t help but take notice of. These football games were always a fun video game first and foremost, and a potential marketing tool for a sport second. When Midway lost the license, it lost a reason to do anything but deliver the most fun Blitz experience possible.
Blitz: The League Madden alternative | Get the Blitz out
Madden hasn’t always held its significance either as EA’s football franchise has been going since the days of the Sega Genesis. For most of that time, it was just one of many football franchises. Sports fans could pick from 2K’s excellent offerings, Microsoft’s NFL Fever and even EA’s own NFL Street. Blitz: The League made its mark by being a violent alternative just like those other titles made their marks in their own special ways. But Midway had something even more special in its juvenile interpretation of football.
Of course, Midway folded in 2009 and its assets scattered to the winds. The 2008 release of Blitz: The League 2 would be one of the last major games Midway published, pushing it out of many’s memory as time goes on despite its improvements over the original. Electronic Arts would end up going after the Blitz name, releasing an XBLA-sized NFL Blitz in 2012. That game and a pair of NBA Jam games were some of the last arcade sports titles EA would ever put out. The market had spoken. The genre was dead. The world only needed one football game.
But that’s crazy talk. No matter how accessible you make it, Madden is never going to be a game for a player like me. There are far too many systems, far too much focus on players and presentation aspects that I, and many other non-football heads like me, have no connection to. Arcade sports titles like Blitz: The League should deliver to a wider audience because they’re welcoming to all styles of player. Perhaps that’s where the games went wrong, inching closer and closer to simulation just as the Maddens of the world did. Whatever the case, they’re certainly a missed presence in the industry even if violence in real-life football is increasingly becoming a hotter topic.
There will be a time when arcade sports rise again. All genres ebb and flow as the years go on, all playstyles have their comebacks. While there are contenders out there beating the drum in 2019, the popular consciousness has settled elsewhere for the time being. That’s a shame. Sports games have never felt more separate from the general gaming populace, and that leads to some companies taking advantage of players and being the premier title on the market. Whether you spend days watching the draft every year or just tune in for the Big Game, there should be an even playing field on a game console. Until that happens, it’d be better just to keep an old copy of Blitz: The League handy.