We’ve previously covered NaturalMotion’s ‘breaker’ series of sports games and have liked the way each title seemed to extract the core gameplay elements of each sport to create a series of enjoyable objective-based missions. NFL Rivals [$2.99], NaturalMotion’s latest title, operates very similarly to its Backbreaker Football series, taking the basics from those games and infusing them with the official NFL license.

For those new to the series, the goal of NFL Rivals is to score as many points as possible by hitting all the objectives, dodging any players coming at you as well as a variety of obstacles, and building up your swagger as much as possible before scoring the touchdown (or in the case of defense, taking down your opponent). Your player is controlled via tilt for directional and acceleration controls, while a few on-screen buttons provide the rest of the controls.

If you’ve played Backbreaker Football, NFL Rivals is probably going to look very familiar to you. Both the offensive and defensive modes make a return, putting you in the role of either a running back dodging the defense while heading for the end zone or as an actual defensive tackle looking to stop the offensive player from scoring. Also making a return is the star-ranked scoring system, along with the ‘swagger’ system and zone-objectives.

As was the case with Backbreaker Football (and its sequel), NFL Rivals offers a solid gameplay experience due to its responsive controls, impressive visuals, and fun scoring mechanic. Also, there's something fun about the 'swagger' mechanic - which allows your player to showboat and earn more points, but at the cost of possibly having a defensive player take you down before you hit the end-zone. I found myself repeating missions several times in order try different routes in the hope of beating my own score and earning more “NFL Points,” the currency earned by making plays and scoring points which is used to rank you among other NFL Rival players.

Where NFL Rivals looks to differentiate itself is with its NFL License and social gaming features. As evidenced by its name, NFL Rivals has access to the names, colors and logos to all 32 teams in the National Football League. Don’t expect to find any actual NFL players in this game however, as it looks like that license wasn’t acquired. It’s also not necessary since at the onset of playing, NFL Rivals has you create your own player on your team of choice, which you will level up through completing objectives and levels.

In addition to creating your own player, NFL Rivals forces you to choose your favorite NFL team.  Once you make a selection, every NFL Point you earn will go towards that team. This is where the social gaming aspect comes in: you (and your NFL team) are constantly in competition against everyone else that is playing and scoring points for their respective team. It doesn’t really affect gameplay much, but I can appreciate the additional motivation of wanting to continually play and do well in the hopes of driving your team up the rankings.  In addition, earning NFL Points will level up your personal player card, but this is mostly for show. It’s important to note that the only way you can switch NFL teams is if you reset your entire player and give up any points you’ve already earned.

I thought NFL Rivals did a great job just incorporating all aspects of the NFL license into its game. When you pick a team, their 2011-2012 NFL schedule becomes your single player roadmap. The main menu screen is also populated with an NFL ticker that shows the latest NFL news; a feature that I thought was a nice touch. In addition, playing your team’s current weekly matchup earns extra NFL Points. I’m a bit curious why the NFL schedule ends at week 10; hopefully NaturalMotion continues to add in the rest of the weeks along with additional content.

Since NFL Rivals is very similar to Backbreaker Football, the biggest question becomes whether it’s worth it to pick up this title if you already own those other football titles. If you’re a diehard NFL fan, the answer should be in the affirmative. That goes double if you’ve never played a Backbreaker Football game. The question becomes a bit tougher if you don’t particularly care for the NFL license and you already own the other Backbreaker titles. NFL Rivals certainly adds new social gaming features as well as a fresh coat of paint in the NFL license and an upgraded graphics system. However, in the end, the gameplay is nearly identical to Backbreaker Football and may not be worth your while.

TouchArcade Rating

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NFL Rivals Reviewed by Eric Ford on . Rating: 3.5