Sports will never die. We human beings, for whatever the diluted reason, care about scoring touchdowns, slamming dunks, and hating Yankee fans with all of our Berman-ballistic hearts to ever let them die. People spend days on end memorizing statistics and collecting cards, watching their team win, lose and tie.
This same passion and dedication is seen in videogame culture. Just like baseball card collectors, this breed of being has been known to hoard collector’s item systems, special edition Zelda titles, and first-issue Nintendo Power magazines. Videogame fans know their favorite levels, favorite songs from their favorite levels, and even their favorite versions of their favorite level-lodged songs.
Combining the two creates a potent speedball of fandom – sports gaming. NHL Hitz, Tony Hawk, SSX Tricky, NBA Live, and many more athletic titles were mutant offspring addiction to me. Growing up, I loved playing sports and I loved playing videogames. Michael Jordan meant as much to me as Mario and Bowser. I was as much a Wizards fan as I was a Pokemon nut.
Yet, there is a pinnacle to this combination. A game my hands haven’t had more fun playing – NFL BLITZ 20-03.
Blitz is one of the few games I can return to effortlessly. The brooding Y2K-level of distorted guitar chords, the volatile cheerleaders, and the crisp arcade gameplay are stitched into my skin. Sometimes I will be walking the dog and my mind tangents to pixelated players on virtual gridiron grass.
The reason I love this game so much is because it simply is a game. Sports games nowadays rely too much on tightly wound graphics and making things look as real as possible for the player. All these gaming companies do is produce basketball, football and various other console releases through a high-definition ESPN network lens.
Whenever I play Madden, I always end up bored by the third down. Why? Because sports games used to transport me to a gridiron while all they do now is strap me down to a Dorito-stained couch. Although the game is faster than ever and contains enough drops of photo-realism to keep Jean-François Millet alive and well, it is a game inside of a Television inside of your TV. To enjoy it is to have meta-fun.
The metaphysics of Madden and NBA 2K limit the capacity of childlike wonder possible for this generation of sports fans. I can see kids disagreeing with me now, telling me that they love these popular titles for the same reason I can’t stand them. They love the idea of being Peyton Manning for a while. They anticipate the next Lebron James-selected soundtrack 2K is cooking up.
While I cannot sway these diehard videogamers, I can explain why NFL Blitz 20-03 is the last great sports game humankind has produced. In Blitz, there are no Tom Bradys or Peyton Mannings, just poorly-put together players with Brady and Manning jerseys. There is no ultimate soundtrack of Drake and Kendrick Lamar songs, just background horns and a few good guitar lines. The reason this game is the Muhammad Ali of Gamecube titles is because you become the player the second that controller is in your hand.
You are the one that is sacking the QB on the electronic gridiron! You are the coach that calls a HAIL MARY with six seconds left! You are the guy playing in a stadium of seemingly cardboard cutout fans! NFL Blitz gives you the feeling of professional sports while simultaneously lifting you away from extra content that doesn’t effect playability. When I play, I am not just a faceless, nameless blur of a quarterback who presses “B” to score a touchdown – I am the greatest virtual athlete the world has ever known.