With Midway having recently taken NFL Blitz away from its arcade roots in favor of a more simulation-based direction, there has been a gaping hole in the arcade football genre--one that EA Sports is now more than happy to fill with the newest addition to its arcade sports lineup, NFL Street. Developed by longtime Madden NFL Football house EA Tiburon, NFL Street borrows numerous core elements from EA's other Street franchise, NBA Street, and attempts to implement them into the game of football. Considering the success EA has enjoyed with the NBA Street franchise, it seemed only natural that at some point the company might get it in its head that branching the Street name out into other professional sports could prove interesting. However, this fact seems all too obvious at times when playing NFL Street, because in some ways the game feels more like a marketing maneuver than a legitimate football game. Still, on the whole, NFL Street can be quite fun, and if you're a fan of arcade football, you'll certainly find things to like about it.
NFL Street lets you experience a different brand of football--one that goes heavy on showmanship and light on rules.
At its core, NFL Street is a seven-on-seven game of football, much like Midway's old Blitz titles. However, beyond this basic comparison, there actually isn't much about Street that can be compared to Midway's NFL games, because the two play much differently in most every way. For starters, games in NFL Street take place outside of real football arenas, occurring instead in various urban locations scattered throughout the country. As such, EA Tiburon has taken some liberties with the basic rules of football to compensate. Downs are measured by specific down markers spread 10 yards apart across the playing field. So, for example, if you run for a first down but also gain an extra two yards past the down marker, you'll actually accrue that yardage on the next set, so you'll start at 1st and 8, rather than 1st and 10. Additionally, extra point conversions after touchdowns are handled differently, since there's no kicking game in NFL Street at all. You'll start a few yards out from the end zone, and by running the ball in, you can gain one point, or by passing it in, you'll get a two-point conversion. Because there is no time clock, the winner of the game is based on a set winning score determined at the beginning of the game, so, depending on what you set the winning total to be, you'll have to strategically pick your point conversions throughout the game to come out on top of your opponent.
Since you'll actually have only seven players total on your team at any given time, players have to play both offense and defense, which makes picking your players an interesting challenge in itself. Every player in the game has specific stats in the categories of passing, speed, blocking, agility, catching, run power, carrying, tackling, coverage, and defensive moves. The key is to pick a balanced roster, though if you want a team that is especially proficient at, say, pass defense, you may want to load up on defensive backs and linebackers that excel in the coverage category. Or, if you want to have a team that runs the ball especially well, get a tough running back and some solid blockers for your O-line. This method of player selection is sort of a neat nod to playground-style football, and in the context of the game, it works well.
NFL Street's gameplay is arcade through and through, focusing heavily on fast-paced action and frequent turnovers, without worrying about silly little things like penalties or injuries. Whether you're running or passing the ball, much of your success weighs on your ability to master the game's moves system. Offensively, players can juke, spin, jump, or power their way past defensive players, as well as pitch the ball away to a teammate. The pitch function is probably the most useful move available when you're in possession of the ball, since the game is set up in such a way that performing this move will allow you to theoretically keep a play going for as long as is necessary to make your way to the end zone. When on defense, you can try to rip the ball away, catch and deflect passes, dive tackle, or try to weave your way past blockers. There is also a turbo button that gives your controlled player a solid burst of speed when needed, on either side of the ball. All of these mechanics are pretty rudimentary for any football game, but they're set up in an appropriately exaggerated fashion, so tackles are much more ridiculously hard hitting, jukes and fake-outs are similarly crazy, and turnovers are incredibly frequent, to the point where fumbles and interceptions are almost an inevitability. However, two elements more than anything else in the game set NFL Street apart from your average football game: style moves and gamebreakers.
Style moves are essentially the spiritual counterparts to NBA Street's ultrastylish dunking maneuvers. When possessing the ball, you have the option to press the style button to perform a taunt move while moving the ball. These stylish taunts let you juggle the ball in the air, spin it on one finger, or pull off some unique dance moves when running, and when passing, you can also do some nifty no-look or behind-the-back passes. The downside to style moves is that when executing them, you're much more prone to fumbling while running, and passing is much harder when doing a style pass--the upside, however, is that doing these types of moves earns you style points, which, in turn, increase your gamebreaker meter.
Seven-on-seven football is what you'll be playing in NFL Street, and you have around 300 current and classic NFL players to choose from.
When a team fills up its gamebreaker meter, pressing a button will enact the gamebreaker, which, in effect, makes your team near unstoppable for a full possession. Gamebreakers may be executed when you're on offense or defense and are equally effective on either side of the ball. On offense, it becomes near impossible for the other team to stop you from scoring; on defense, your team will become incredibly strong, able to force a turnover on most plays. Gamebreakers are an interesting wild card, and managing them adds a bit more strategy to the game. Unfortunately, the style moves themselves don't fare as well. While the taunts are amusing the first couple of times you see them, that's about all you'll get out of them. They just aren't anywhere near as interesting as they could be, and in actuality, they present a perfect example of one of NFL Street's biggest problems--its contrived sense of style.
Much of NFL Street's perceived style is derived from the basic urban, hip-hop-themed style that NBA Street created, but in an NFL setting, it just doesn't seem to work quite as well. Essentially, the game's methodology for making the players of the NFL more "street" is to give them baggy clothes and maybe a visor or a backward baseball cap and have them trash-talk one another with some pretty silly dialogue. Everything, right down to the names for some of the style point moves, like "movin' da chains" and "bring tha noise," and some of the game's unlockable teams, which feature artists from the game's soundtrack, like the X-ecutioners and DJ KaySlay (along with some other NFL players who are already available on their respective teams), seems like a rather forced attempt to cram a little more feigned flavor into the mix. Though none of this is really all that different from what NBA Street has done over the years, something about the way NFL Street puts it all together just feels rather disingenuous by comparison.