Yesterday brought word that NaturalMotion, the makers of the popular Backbreaker series of games for iOS devices, had landed a licence to make an NFL game. It released today. NFL Rivals, for $2.99 (iTunes), combines the offence and defence games of Backbreaker and Backbreaker: Vengeance with authentic NFL uniforms and schedules, and adds some bragging rights.
In NFL Rivals you will select one of the league's 32 teams as your side to play both in the one-off offence and defence modes and in a "GameDay" mode that you may play, once per week, against your team's upcoming real-world schedule opponent. You'll then give your football player a name and number for the back of your jersey; no real NFL players seem to appear in the game.
Once on the gridiron, the game plays identically to the iPhone version of Backbreaker Vengeance, which offers both offence (in which you elude defenders and run to the endzone) and defence (in which you avoid blockers and tackle the ballcarrier). Your player will accrue "NFL Points" that both rank him up and add to his team's overall global total.
The idea is to play the hell out of the game to keep your team visible atop that leaderboard, if that's important to you. As of launch morning, the New England Patriots were first with 231 fans, no one else had more than 78. So the Pats' overall 21,505 points, to second place Carolina's at 1991, shouldn't be a surprise either.
On its own, I already had a high opinion of the gameplay in Backbreaker: Vengeance, and all of that is brought over here, with some slight modifications. "Showboat," the high-step antics you can perform on the way to the end zone, is now called "Swagger," and the more extreme celebrations seem to be missing, which fits the character of an image-conscious NFL. You will play in one of the stadiums from Backbreaker, not a real NFL arena, but they still feature NFL branding and billboards. It won't necessarily be a generic arena, either. I played Chargers at Patriots in the Backbreaker Philadelphia stadium. Also, in your achievement set your schedule's games are called "fixtures", a term used in UK English, not American, but big deal. It's an insider nod to the game's across-the-pond origins.
I tried out "GameDay", a five-wave offence-only mode which featured San Diego versus its real-world week one opponent, the Minnesota Vikings. I seemed to reap a bigger bonus of "NFL Points" for my performance in that mode, ranking my player up to Level 6 after finishing. I can't play GameDay again until Monday, which is kind of a bummer, and I couldn't immediately see what it delivered that the play-now mode doesn't. The game's documentation says GameDay showdowns against rival teams will count more when you play them.
Play-now at first only features 10 unlockable levels, matched to your favourite team's first 10 opponents on the 2011 schedule. I haven't finished all of them, so I don't know if the rest of the schedule unlocks in play-now after you beat the 10th. They increase in challenge the deeper you go, so the difficulty corresponds to the level number, not your opponent's real world strength.
One last note: Both teams are in home uniforms only, somewhat of a disappointment. But given the one-on-one nature of Tackle Alley and Vengeance, having both sides in solid colours doesn't present any visual confusion. You also can't choose your opponent but then, you couldn't either with the fictitious teams in Backbreaker. If you don't like the team you picked for your player, or his name or number, all of that may be changed at any time, so fair-weather fans need not worry. But you will reset your game data in doing so.
NFL Rivals is $2.99, where Vengeance is 99 cents, so much of that extra $2 covers the league branding. Pairing the waves of Backbreaker with the real world NFL schedule is a shrewd design choice. Strict gamers won't care much for the social networking aspect of it, though the ranking mechanism for your player (purely cosmetic) is nice feedback.
NFL Rivals [iTunes]