2004 was a different time. Widespread awareness about player safety in football didn’t exist - instead of gasping and wincing at the big hits in football, we roared in approval when a player got decked. It was the year that the now defunct brand EA Sports Big released “NFL Street,” an extreme football game that acted a six year-late response to Midway’s “NFL Blitz. ”
Like “NFL Blitz,” “NFL Street” isn’t your standard sports game, though it never really tells you what “street” is. Nonetheless, the game is a seven-on-seven slugfest between players wearing “street” clothing versions of jerseys and playing in venues that range from a standard football field, to a beach, to the rooftop of a building, etc.
There are no penalties, so when you see a defensive player grab the facemask of another player and slam him into the ground, don’t expect a flag. Just expect a lot of trash talk on the field between players - though it strangely never progresses beyond family friendly language. I guess showing a man slamming another man into a wall and taunting him is more acceptable than a few curse words?
The controls are simple enough to learn. Along with standard passing and rushing dynamics like the “Madden” series, you also have the ability gain style points for each cool move you pull, whether it’s juking your opponent out of their cleats or making a behind the back pass. Get enough style points and you can get a Gamebreaker, which essentially makes your team unstoppable at either end of the field you’re playing (offense or defense) for one drive before you have to fill up your Gamebreaker meter again. They’re pretty awesome.
Before you get into it though, you have to understand that the game’s tendency to “rubberband” whoever is in the lead - ala a game like Mario Kart - can be incredibly frustrating. I don’t have any definitive proof for this, but it feels like whenever you get anything more than a two-possession lead (12 points or more) in this game, you’re likelier to turnover the ball the next time you’re on offense. It’s one thing if you make a bad decision that leads to an interception, but what about when your top-rated running back fumbles the ball four drives in a row?
This might be hilarious when you’re playing against a friend, but the game’s single player modes are filled with so much of this nonsense. For example, I have taken 28-point leads before, only to have my opponents come back to tie the game because my players fumbled or blew basic assignments on a play. It’s even worse in the main single-player mode, “NFL Challenge,” where you assemble a group of low-level custom characters and try to improve them over the course of completing different challenges and beating every other team in the league.
Actually playing against the computer is “Pokemon Stadium” levels of unfair. It will pull every grimy trick in the book, from doing completely unpredictable things on offense to causing almost every crucial turnover whenever they need it. Your goal isn’t to actually learn the game - it’s to learn how to manipulate the AI.
This essentially strips you of creativity, player interactivity or any kind of strategy. It’s similar to playing a fighting game where you’re playing a frame-perfect opponent that will never mess up execution, but can be randomly exploited by a few moves. There’s very little strategy or skill curve - just degenerate and tedious cheese.
Don’t get me wrong though - I liked playing the game during my childhood and still love its soundtrack, which might be the best I’ve heard in a sports game. I also enjoyed replaying “NFL Street” during my first semester in college, when me and my best friends actually had a mini-league during our first and second semesters. Shoutout to Jose Suriel, who I’m pretty sure is unbeatable with the game’s version of the Miami Dolphins.
“NFL Street” holds up pretty well as a casual experience, but for the love of everything good in this world, please don’t take it too seriously and stay the hell away from its unbearably difficult single-player mode.