In honor of the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons clashing on the real-life gridiron, this week’s Throwback Thursday showcases one of the most under-appreciated football games of all-time.
EA Sports BIG saw immense success with NBA Street. The NFL Blitz franchise had similar success for Midway, but with a dwindling presence in the football game industry, it made immeasurable sense to apply NBA Street’s attitude and arcade gameplay to the country’s most popular sport.
Competition was strong for the 2005 NFL season. In a banner year that would see one of the highest-rated entries in the Madden series (as well as some no-name ESPN-branded NFL 2K5 that no one has ever heard of, let alone played), EA Sports BIG had to pack NFL Street with content to make it worthwhile. Midway decided not to make a NFL Blitz game in 2004 after 2003’s NFL Blitz Pro, leaving NFL Street with a rare opportunity to be the biggest the alternative football game available.
NFL Street was released in 2004 for the 2005 NFL season as somewhat of a super gourmet version of NFL Blitz with an informal pick-up game feel. The only players to wear jerseys were the unlockable legends, and even those were untucked and draped over cargo shorts. No arenas had traditional football fields. Divisions’ fields included a rooftop, a beach, and a snow-covered alley, each of varying sizes. End zones and sidelines existed in bright overlays, and the games truly felt like a pick-up game with friends.
What Made It Great?
Every Throwback Thursday post highlights how important gameplay is in these classic titles, but it is your humble author’s true belief that NFL Street‘s gameplay was perfect. MVP Baseball 2005 finishes in a VERY close second-place, losing out because of how easy it is to hit home runs. NFL Street was basic at first, but it was a strategic marvel for veterans.
Offensive and defensive play diversity puts NFL Street‘s strategy into an entirely different upper echelon. Fumbles are far less frequent and truly feel random. Passing, rushing, blitzing and covering all felt smooth despite the cartoony characters and presentation. It is your humble author’s opinion that pass defense was at its video game perfection in NFL Street. Passing had to be perfect, as players were punished for careless deep throws and passes into coverage. Tipped passes bounced around and, if timed correctly, could result in absurd diving catches.
Players lived up to their statistics, and since they played both sides of the ball, the seven-player roster construction had to be absolutely perfect. Otherwise, players could find themselves with Tiki Barber blocking Richard Seymour, and nine times out of 10, the results were disastrous.
NFL Street‘s season mode came in the form of NFL Challenge. Players took a collection of fully-customizable miscreants and played real-life NFL teams in pursuit of experience points. While deafeningly stupid from a story perspective, NFL Challenge was wholesomely engrossing due to an evolving difficulty level, a vast variety of challenges and a rewarding ladder of NFL divisions to defeat. Players were unable to progress to the next division without fully defeating their current one (and their subsequent Division All-Star team), leaving players with no choice but to power through the match-up until they won.
NFL Challenge’s lack of a traditional season was offset by its extremely deep customizable suite. Players could truly create just about anyone they could think of — your humble writer had the same Stone Cold Steve Austin at linebacker on every NFL Challenge tour.
Others have tried and seen scattered success, but NFL Street figured out how to translate the pick-up game to consoles There was the normal Pickup mode with randomized rosters to select from, presenting a clean and often peculiar slate every time. All NFL Pickup allowed players to pick from the game’s entire NFL roster, which was a deserved treat unlocked only by the completion of NFL Challenge.
And who could forget the star-studded soundtrack with Killer Mike, Three Six Mafia, Lil Flip, Nas, Lil Jon, and, of course Good Charlotte? (After hours of exhausting research, the resident experts at OS could not reach a unified conclusion explaining Good Charlotte’s inclusion on the soundtrack.)
What Today’s Games Could Learn From It
Arcade-style modes in AAA simulations are not an unheard-of concept. The NHL series tried it with an NHL 94 mode in NHL 14, Blacktop has been a staple of the NBA 2K series for years, and even MLB The Show is breaking out an old school Ken Griffey mode for its 2017 release. NFL Street was an EA property from the very beginning, and football is arguably the sport in most dire need for a refresher. Why not bake NFL Street into a future Madden release? Later entries in the series saw the addition of online play, and the last “iteration” of NFL Street was NFL Tour for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2008. It was panned for being surprisingly basic and void of features, and we have not heard from the series since. It is time for NFL Street to reign again.
How Does It Hold Up Today?
Even almost 13 years later, NFL Challenge is an incredibly refreshing twist on a traditional season mode and remains a formidable single-player experience. The unbridled joy of scoring a touchdown when the defense has an Active GameBreaker to win a one-possession game is on par with any of gaming’s achievements. Use the deep customization suite to create seven of your favorite NFL legends, current NFL stars, celebrities, or classic teams and enjoy the thrills of evolving them. Then, once you have All-NFL Pickup unlocked, grab a pal for fluke fumbles, homemade jukes, and some of the most gripping local multiplayer ever created.