NFL Rivals iPhone Review

Posted September 12th, 2011 at 9:15 am

By Brian Sipple
With EA Sports’ exclusive console deal with the NFL not ending until 2014, and no present news of any other interested parties, it’s easy to forget that mobile gaming is still an open range for NFL licensing. So far this has given us NFL branded titles like Gameloft’s NFL 2010 and NFL 2011, however both received average reviews and never managed to take off commercially.

Natural Motion’s Backbreaker has been the only other football title to “go mainstream” but now the developer has licensed NFL teams and uniforms to create NFL Rivals. Before jumping into Rivals I half expected a fresh, unique NFL experience or simply to be met by a virtual clone of Backbreaker: Vengeance. The reality was somewhere in the middle, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Part of Backbreaker’s allure has always been its demonstration of the sharp visuals that traditional 11-on-11 titles are unable to match. Not only do they look even better since we last saw them in Backbreaker: Vengeance, but it’s really cool seeing players in real NFL uniforms playing in such stark clarity on a mobile device. Additionally the physics engine on the top of its game as you would expect. With the exception of some trifling suction I continued to be impressed by the animation detail and the continuity of motion throughout each interaction.

The gameplay of NFL Rivals is identical to what’s found in Backbreaker: Vengeance. Quality controls are once again backed by tilt-based motion and an onscreen button layout exists for special moves. It goes without saying for anyone who has played Backbreaker that these are some of the best controls in the business.

Offense and defense modes both return and are featured alongside the new ‘Gameday’ mode. All three play out with the user fighting through increasing waves of defenders/blockers in a series of stages that manifests as 2011 NFL schedule. This intuitive use of the NFL license is where Rivals starts to separate itself from the pack.

First you’re prompted to select your favorite NFL team and introduced to the game’s system of supporting that team online. Every action taken, be it winning a level or sending a score E-mail to friends, earns points towards your team’s global score. This is similar to the online team formula being introduced to games like FIFA 12, and is an ingenuous addition to Rivals.

The best aspect of Rivals’ online connectivity is the new ‘Gameday’ mode that gives you a chance to earn double points for your team against their present real-life opponent. It’s set up the same way as a 5-wave stage in offense or defense (offense for the home team, defense on the road).The only twist is that, much like an NFL game, you only get one shot. Fail miserably and you won’t be able to make up for it until the week of your respective team’s next game. This pretense makes for an exciting five minutes that can’t be found in any other game.

While the online team system translates well throughout each game mode it’s backed up by an exceptionally clean menu interface. Detailed leaderboards are used to tally both individual and overall team rankings and update on the hour. Furthermore, Rivals contains a set of in-game achievements that can be earned via Game Center, and a leveling system that increases your capacity to earn points rounds out the role-playing aspect of the game.

NFL Rivals is essentially Backbreaker better realized due to its obvious concept. Keep the big hits, bright lights, and fun arcade-style action. Then give players the real NFL teams they care about and allow them to connect through leaderboards and Game Center while turning every action into a points battle.

The core philosophies that made Backbreaker a hit are still there, and even without any new gameplay features NFL Rivals is more than capable of standing on its own two feet. At a price of $2.99, and with a royally poor handheld performance by Madden 12, it’s worth a strong look for any NFL fan as the new season gets underway.