The last “Tecmo” football game wasn’t even made by Tecmo. It was made by Midway, and it was called NFL Blitz.
By the end of the 1990’s, the NFL had grown into a licensing machine, jealously protective of its intellectual properties. The cost of doing business with the league was going up. Fast. Meanwhile, Madden football had built itself as a brand, selling millions of video games across multiple platforms year in and year out. Tecmo’s final licensed NFL game, Playstation’s Tecmo Super Bowl, hit shelves in 1996. The game received lukewarm reception.
Advances in computing endowed home consoles with processing power to rival the arcades. With Madden entrenched as “the” console football title, it seemed the time for an arcade-style, grab-and-go NFL football game had come and passed.
Then came “the best football game ever made,1” NFL Blitz. Having hit massive success with NBA Jam, Midway acquired license to make an NFL football game. VICE Sports has a wonderful account of the game’s development, appropriately titled “How in the Hell did NFL Blitz Get Made?2” The short of it reads like something straight out of the Tecmo playbook: “include everything people [love] about football and take out the things they don’t.”
To wit: Midway distilled the NFL experience. Where Madden ’97 featured multiple formations and page after page of plays, NFL Blitz offered a spare 18-play playbook. Extra points were automatic. Madden had evolved to focus on strategy and realism. Blitz, on the other hand, stressed fast and fun. NFL Blitz pared down teams from 11 to 7 players. Instead of graphical accuracy, Midway drew their gridiron gods as with big, chunky polygons. The linemen are fat bowling balls, the receivers little rails. It hearkens back to the fat goon and skinny scorer in NES Ice Hockey.
Bigger players? A limited, yet varied playbook? Focus on fun over perfect simulations? Touchdown animations? Add a “Ready! Down! Hut hut hut” and NFL Blitz is NES Tecmo Bowl on ‘roids.
NFL Blitz truly earned its infamy, though, by melding WWF3 wrasslin’ and NFL Football. Blitz linebackers just don’t tackle the QB, they suplex the poor sap. Defenders literally pick up and throw receivers. Post-whistle, tapping the tackle button causes the defender to throw Randy Savage elbows and Hulk Hogan leg drops onto their fallen foe.
Like Tecmo Bowl, Pass Interference and Unnecessary Roughness penalties simply don’t exist in Blitz. Opposing players explode away in violent collisions. For old-school Tecmo players, this was nothing new. Take away Blitz’s pro-wrestling moves, and players can easily see echoes of Christian Okoye popcorning hapless defenders.
Just as Tecmo Super Bowl for NES captured the essence of LT and the Primetime Cowboys, NFL Blitz mirrored the NFL’s hyper-masculine, cult of personality at the turn of the Millennium. Both feature touchdown celebrations, despite the the NFL’s crack down on entertainment and fun. If the NES had an N64 CPU, certainly Bo Jackson’s touchdown spike would have been animated much like Blitz’s wobbling, invisible horse-riding celebrations.
Strip away the superficial differences caused by the NES’s relatively undersized processor–chunkier graphics, limited sound and less complexity–and we have two remarkable similar pick-it-up and enjoy the ride arcade-styled football titles. It’s like looking at your brother from another mother.
NFL Blitz may be the best Tecmo football game ever made.
3 I Don’t care what the panda-huggers say, It will always be the World Wrestling Federation to me.