Did you toss the football around over Thanksgiving? If so, did you take time to read the playbook and set your audibles? Thought so. That's the spirit behind EA Sports's Madden NFL Arcade, the bite-size complement to its full franchise.
Sports sims' increasing complexity and granular game management decisions can be off-putting, even intimidating, to players who just want to wing the ball down the sidelines or blitz the QB. Sometimes even diehards want to play a game without turning it into a film session on Edge NFL Matchup. But stripping a sport down to just its fun parts is risky in its own right. Like, is it still fun?
Pick Up and Play: Despite its limitations (below) Madden NFL Arcade does a good job of luring you back in for just one more game. The singleplayer games go quickly (although, some multiplayer contests were epic in length), they have all the boring stuff stripped out, and the singleplayer achievements are challenging enough to keep you trying. Even now, I've got 15 minutes to kill before I have to make a phone call and I'm thinking about taking the Patriots out to kick the Browns' ass. Or vice versa. In singleplayer, the ratings are not so overbearing that you can't win with the Lions or Redskins, if they're your favorite teams (and God help you if they are, but that's beside the point.) Online, you'll have to resort to cheese and dirty tricks to win with lesser teams, but that's in real Madden too. Bottom line, Madden NFL Arcade is video game potato chips; even if they aren't my favorite flavor, put a bowl in front of me and I'm a-scarfin'.
Lack of Variety: Madden NFL Arcade succeeds at delivering a uncomplicated shootout-style football game akin to what you play in the backyard, but doesn't go much further than that. While I don't need a full playbook, two sets of passing routes per play is not enough, and the deep pass fly patterns are too easily defended. The game just begs for hot routes or an audible to a basic run or pass. Just give me one play I can put in at the line of scrimmage. The cartoony players are built on three body types, some looking a little out of character. Colts safety Bob Sanders (5-8, 206) gets a linebacker's tank body but Ravens safety Ed Reed (5-11, 200) looks like Merton Hanks, giraffe-neck and all. The game-changers are a nice touch but two of them, which do nothing more than slow down or speed up the players, are unimaginative, mostly useless, sometimes even helpful to the offense if called by a defense. The rosters, ratings and team attributes are all built on beginning-0f-the-year models from the full Madden title, so Cincinnati, a division leader in real life, is a weak team in the game. Finally, the game begs for stats. Somewhere, even if it's just a boxscore. If this game's supposed to inspire trash talk, stats - beyond your multiplayer win-loss - are necessary.
Game Changers: I wanted to like these, but the gimmick really under-delivers. I won more with playcalling and execution than I did doing things like freezing a defender (or receiver), turning off someone's passing icons or assuring their ballcarrier fumbles when he's hit. The game randomly selects a game-changer cheat for you each play (or gives you nothing), which you may hold over until you really need it (the extra-play for fourth down, for example). You don't get a changer on every down, which is good, but the rotation over-seeds the more useless ones, doesn't bring up bona fide game changers often enough, and the ones that are valuable are useful only in very specific situations (fourth down, or inside the red zone for "make-it take-it.") You can turn the game changers on or off; I would have liked greater control over how many and what quality you get. Sure, against a computer, you don't want to flipflop the score every other down, but among friends, bombing each other with douche moves would add some good-natured spite and revenge to the bragging-rights contest.
Madden NFL Arcade is not boring but it does come off a little bland at times. You've got cartoon players performing the same animations of the real-world sim, for example, and it could really benefit from a little more zaniness, especially in the hitting. For those who want to play some chuck-and-duck football without setting aside time for an hourlong game or learning the finer points of an offense, it'll satisfy your gridiron cravings. Potato chips are a snack; a cupcake is a treat. Madden NFL Arcade is a football snack.
Madden NFL Arcade was developed by EA Sports and published by Electronic Arts for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on Nov. 25. Retails for 1200 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live Marketplace, $14.99 on PlayStation Network. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played about three dozen games, single and multiplayer, on varying difficulty settings using multiple NFL teams. Shut out the Patriots with the Lions. OK, that one was on rookie difficulty.
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