Blitz is back!

Even with all the safety precautions in the modern NFL, it’s usually the most brutal moments that permeate our collective memories. Whether we’re thinking back to fullback Jon Ritchie’s perpetually bloodied forehead or Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s infamous leg-breaking hit on Joe Theismann on Monday Night Football, it’s this gridiron grit that draws us into the game. Of course, no one wants to really see anyone get hurt—except me, ’cause I’m sadistic like that—so what if we could get all the bone-crushing hits without anyone actually having their bones crushed? Well, it looks like a reinvigorated blast from the past may just have that fix we’ve all been waiting for.

The new NFL Blitz looks to return the franchise to its arcade roots, and from what we’ve seen based on our hands-on time, it looks like this was an easy score for EA. Aside from 30-yard first downs and 2-minute quarters, you’ll see post-play elbow drops, players launching themselves across the field like missiles to make unbelievable tackles, and guys just getting the ever-loving stuffing beaten out of them without a single yellow penalty flag in sight. Of course, the guys at developer EA Tiburon (the same folks behind Madden) are also offering some gameplay upgrades, like the collision system and each team getting their own individualized special play on offense in the universal playbook—like my New York Giants’ “Big Apple” play.  It’s all part of the new experience that is NFL Blitz.

And that’s really what NFL Blitz is stressing this time around—the experience.  With elements like the pregame fanfare and Blue Angels flyovers, along with legendary NBA Jam announcer Tim Kitzrow coming onboard to do play-by-play, the over-the-top arcade feel carries over into every aspect of the game. So, even when you’re not pressing buttons or “on fire,” you still get the feel of Blitz, even in the menus.

Speaking of menus, this definitely ain’t your daddy’s Blitz, because this new version includes countless game modes beyond your standard exhibition—and the biggest change probably starts with the customization features. We all like to play with our favorite teams, but we’re also probably painfully aware that many of them have at least one—if not several—deficiencies at key skill positions. Now, by earning Blitz Bucks via the online versus modes, like Blitz Battles against friends, or the Elite League (more on that in a bit) you can buy packs of football cards that feature cheerleader loading screens, cheats for classic features like Big Head mode, power-ups for online versus (again, more on that shortly), or actual players. Once you get a card of a player you’re looking for, you can go buy them and add them to a customized roster. Want Megatron—spectacular Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson, for those of you not up on your football nicknames—to play in Chicago? Want punishing Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to play on the Bengals? Or how about Colts QB Peyton Manning (pre-neck injury) to play for the Giants instead of brother Eli? You can carry this roster customization through every other mode, which really helps even the odds against some of your tougher opponents—or when taking on the Gauntlet.

So, I’ve mentioned Blitz Gauntlet a couple of times now, but what is it, you ask? Well, some old-school wrestling fans might know that a Gauntlet match is when one grappler has to take on all comers in several consecutive matches without stopping. In that vein, Blitz Gauntlet sees you taking on several teams in a row without stopping. The further you go, the more Blitz Bucks you can acquire to buy football packs. Beating Blitz Gauntlet is also how you unlock the special character teams you might remember from old-school Blitz—as well as a few new ones thrown in for good measure. Zombies, Spartans, Hot Dogs, Lions (as in actual lions, not the ones in Detroit), Bigfoot, and more will be available in your exhibition modes if you clear Gauntlet enough times.

But NFL Blitz’s biggest addition may well be its online versus modes and all their various nuances. The draw for many fans of the original Blitz was the competition factor—and being able to brag to your buddy about how awesome that last touchdown you scored was, or that he needs to get his crappy offense out of your house, because they’re not scoring in your end zone today, no way, no how. With the new versus online modes in NFL Blitz, you can talk trash across the country—or, if you’d prefer, join a regional Elite League broken down by state. The leagues offer various competency tiers as well, so you can advance or regress in different divisions based on your skill level.

Another interesting versus-mode wrinkle: the Mario Kart–like power-ups that you can choose to include in the on-field action, such as speed boosts for that extra “oomph” after your turbo bar runs out. Much like your player cards, these come in card packs—and you can play several at a time if you wish or stockpile them for those really high-ranking opponents. If you’re not much of a smack-talker but still love to win something for beating your competition, versus mode also includes an option to risk the cards you currently have in your collection. Lose, and watch as your online opponent sifts through your collection and takes your favorite power-ups or a key running back. Win, and maybe fill that void you’ve had at strong safety by picking your opponent’s pocket.

All in all, NFL Blitz looks to be back and be bigger than ever—and just in time for the real-life NFL playoffs. So, let the smack-talking commence!

What do you folks think? Are you excited for Blitz to be back? Were you fans of the original Midway versions? How about going back to the NFL license and moving away from Blitz: The League? Are you amped for the online play? Let us know your thoughts with comments below!