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Review #482

Madden NFL ‘13
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 11/18/2012

I’ll be honest; I’m not much of a football gamer. If you asked me what my three favorite football games were you would get Mutant League Football, Tecmo Bowl and Joe Montana Football. In fact, out of the 481 games I have reviewed over the last decade before this one, only one was a football title: the disappointing Tecmo Bowl Kickoff for the Nintendo DS. The last two football games I really enjoyed were ESPN NFL Football 2k4 and 5 respectively. I haven’t touched a Madden game since EA got exclusive rights to the NFL license until now, and that’s because I was the only one on staff that had a WII U at the time the game came in. By the time you are reading this, Wii U launch day, we’ll have two others on hand, but for now, I was the only one on tap to do this. The good news is you’ll be reading a Madden review from a fresh perspective and you won’t hear the common “same game but with a roster change,” because let’s be honest – it might not seem like there are many changes from year to year, but for someone whose last Madden was 2k4, a lot HAS changed. So sit back and get a fresh perspective from someone who hasn’t touched the franchise in a decade and whether or not they were able to get into the game. For those looking for a veteran Madden player’s perspective, you can always read Aaron’s review of the PS3 version.

First up, I will state that Madden NFL ‘13 is pretty user friendly. The game goes out of its way both in the manual and in-game to explain how to play via the GamePad, which is far different from any Madden game yet. At times I felt like I was playing a “Football Manager” game similar to the coach sims you find for various sports games on the PC. While not as crazy awesome as Out of the Park Baseball, I really enjoyed how the game played on the Wii U and I honestly think sports gamers that sit down and play a few games via the GamePad will find this a more strategic and immersive experience than with the run of the mill controller. I will say though that as it has been some time since I’ve played a Madden title, I would hve liked to be able to have the manual while playing the game. Unfortunately, for Madden NFL ‘13, you have two options. The first is to hit the Home button while playing the game and then select the manual option, which really takes you out of the game. The second it to view the manual online at https://help.ea.com/tag/manuals, but when you go there, there aren’t any Wii U manuals available, and if you try just “Madden 13,” all that comes up are PS3, Vita, and Xbox 360. So learning the game could have gone a bit smoother, but for veterans of the franchise, it should be quite easy to pick up except for the gamepad bits, which are new to everyone.

So what all can you do with the GamePad? A lot actually. First, you’ll notice how awesome the pad is for play selection. It’s too bad the system doesn’t come with two Pads, as it would let players make play choices without letting either one have an inkling about what the other is going to do. The pad also lets you sort plays by things like formation or play type, so for younger gamers or more casual players, you can find things a lot easier. It also makes it easier to test out wacky plays instead of scrolling throw the huge long list of options. You can also use the GamePad in a similar manner for substitutions. Tap the “subs” button on your controller as you select your formation and a list of available players to sub in comes up. Just tap the choice and the change occurs without any loading times or long pauses. This does makes the game go by a lot faster than back when I was playing on the PS2 or original Xbox. You can also use the GamePad to make scrimmage line adjustments. Things seem to be more natural and quicker when using a touch screen over a controller, especially when changing plays on the fly. You can draw a new running path for a receiver to counter your opponent’s defensive plans. I’m so used to old school football games where the receivers would always run is specific paths and not deviate at all. With the GamePad, you have total control over the paths they will try and nothing is preset in stone. One great example was taking good ol’ Joe Montana (who might be a bit saddened to learn now Nintendoes what Sega don’t).

Finally you have Detached Mode, which lets you play the full game on the pad so people can watch TV or do something else when you’re wanting to catch some pigskin fever. The catch is that touchscreen options don’t work in Detached Mode and you can only access it before starting a game, so you can’t move over if your Super Bowl is going into overtime. As well, you can’t switch back and forth between detached and the tv screen. You have to finish a game first. So this mode isn’t as exciting as you might first think, but it’s still useful.

So none of these new implementations are really going to change the landscape of how someone plays Madden. That said, I really like all the new touchscreen features and the ability to have Detached mode. If given a choice in the future, I’ll definitely take the Wii U version of the game over either the PS3 and 360 version if only for the extra options that make the game both more comfortable and more fun to play.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the various modes of Madden NFL ‘13. The big one is Connected Careers and it’s basically the football version of “WWE Universe” mode that you find in THQ’s wrestling games. You can play online or offline, as a player or a coach and the goal is to achieve the Hall of Fame. Don’t like where your particular career is going? Then retire and start over. The league keeps all the changes made in your previous career, so you can play as multiple players over and over again in an ever-changing landscape. Playing as a coach gets your more content, like post/off-season bits while a player just has the games themselves. Coaching is a far more immersive experience and so it just depends on if you want to play football or micro-manage every aspect of the game, from draft picks to training. It’s very cool and it’s the best Sports RPG I’ve encountered since MLB Power Pros. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t permanently cripple Michael Vick, but at least I could fire him from the Eagles. My personal favorite was putting Joe Montana with the modern Seattle Seahawks (my favorite team from Tecmo Bowl) and watching them go crazy together. About the only thing I don’t like about Connected Careers is the Virtual Twitter, but it’s just because I find that form of social media annoying. It’s well done though.

I’m quite impressed with the graphics here in Madden NFL ‘13. I haven’t played the 360 or PS3 versions, but from looking at screenshots, I’d say the visuals on the Wii U are on par with them. Uniforms, fields, weather conditions and everything else are highly detailed. Animations are fluid without any slowdown or frame rate issues. There are a few bugs, like players colliding or walking into each other that would never happen in real life, but that’s more an engine problem than a graphics one. There are also a lot of neat pre-game show pieces which really add to the realism of the game- at least if you are an armchair quarterback. The visual style of Madden NFL ‘13 is really trying to replicate the feel of televised football rather than “right there in the arena.” This is neither bad, nor good – it all just depends on your personal preferences.

Soundwise the game is fantastic. The commentators are Jim Nants and Phil Simms, and they do a pretty good job. There is a lot of audio recorded so although you will eventually hear the same bits repeatedly, it’s nowhere as bad as in previous years, which I really like. The crowd sounds realistic instead of canned filler. According to the reviewer guide EA sent with the game, there are two different recorded crowds to really make each game feel distinct and alive. I can honestly say the crowd is really noticeable this time around, although I would have liked a Philly based crowd that heckles and jeers just about everything.

I was impressed by the sheer amount of voice acting and sound effects in the game. Twelve actual NLF quarterbacks provided their voices for the game and a plethora of sound effects came directly from NFL Flims. Again, the overall experience I had was that this is the most realistic football experience I’ve had yet. Of course, I prefer acrade-y style football games to a more realistic game, but this still blew me away and was a lot of fun to listen to as well as play.

Then there is the engine itself. Madden NFL ‘13 on the Wii U is compatible with the GamePad as well as the Wii’s Numchuk/Wiimote tandem and the Classic Controller. Each version has their own ups and downs, but I think most gamers are going to go for a controller over the Wiimote setup. Still, it’s fun to try a few games with these. I’m, just glad EA went out of its way to provide different control schemes instead of JUST focusing on what they could do with the GamePad.

Gameplay-wise, EA Sports seems to have really made strides towards accuracy in how the game feels. This can be best defined by the new Total Control Passing aspect. With your gamepad, you use the left analog stick to direct where you want the pass to go and then to throw it. This can be used to create your own plays like fakes as well as make sure the ball gets to the most open receiver on the field. For a person like myself who prefers an arcade style football game, this along with the two dozen pass trajectories is a little too much. However, I can definitely see while people who purchase yearly Madden releases will get a kick out of this. So you have a lot more options and you have to concentrate a lot more instead of what we used to have in the 8 and 16 bit era. Again, this is both good and bad. It just depends on how you like your football. Of course, this is all you get these days with the NFL license, so if you want something a little more Tecmo Bowl-ish, you’re out of luck.

The game has also added receiver awareness. What this means is that the game’s A.I. has to be watching where the ball is as well as where it is going. So if a player isn’t expecting the ball and you huck it at him, expect an incomplete pass or worse, a fumble or interception. The game will alert you as to who is on the ball, and receivers only going a short distance will be ready for the pass quicker than those going way back. The way around this is to switch to control of the receiver after the pass is made and make the catch manually. This requires a little bit of timing and skill, but you’ll definitely be able to get the hang of it. Try it on a lower difficulty setting at first and then at no time, you’ll be able to make the switch from passer to receiver with no problem.

What else did I find in my time with Madden NFL ‘13? Well, remember it’s been eight years or so since my last Madden, so I’m not sure if any of these are actually new or just new to me, but here goes. There seems to be more emphasis on fake passes and punts than ever before. It’s easier to abort a play. In older football games switch a play after you chose it from the menu ended up looking like a mess and more often than not, your attempt to switch things on the fly fell apart horribly. Here, it’s just a click of a button (ZR) and the pass is instantly aborted into a passing situation. This was great for when I was first getting hang of the controls and was up against teams that had insanely good defense. Quick short snap shovel passes until I knew what I was doing. Defenders don’t seem to be on auto-pilot any more either. What I mean by this is that defenders won’t magically get an interception or a tackle when you do some crazy audible that they weren’t expecting. You can get your drop on the defense by being creative, even on All-Madden. There isn’t that instant “beeline for the guy with the ball” that has always been commonplace but unrealistic in football video games. No more magical interceptions by players who wouldn’t have noticed the ball in real life but who magically turbo sped up to the receiver and cock blocked them. On the other side of things, it is harder to tell if defense is in man or zone formation before the ball is snapped and defensive backs seem to have a lot more options open to them similar to the increasing control of passing.

That’s pretty much the game. I can’t talk about online as it didn’t appear to be up whenever I tried to go online here. It should be the same experience as on the PS3 or 360 just without the online pass (another reason to choose Wii U or the 360 or PS3 version) and so longtime fans of the franchise can do their Madden On-Demand and everything else. Although gameplay far more in-depth and I really liked all the things that could be done with the GamePad, it’s still the basic Madden formula we’ve had since the 90s. Most importantly, it still works. While this isn’t a series I could see myself getting every year simply because I’m not a big football fan, it WAS fun to give this a whirl and see how the franchise had progressed. I went in skeptical and came out quite pleased with Madden NFL ‘13. Add in the enhanced gameplay through the gamepad and the lack of having to deal with the Online Pass that is becoming increasingly prevalent (and increasingly annoying), The Wii U version of Madden NFL ‘13 is the game to get if you’re a football fan. Of course, most football fans already own it for the PS3 or 360, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Wii U version fans in terms of sales, if not critically.

The Scores:
Modes: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 7/10
Control and Gameplay: 6.5/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 7
Originality: 6
Addictiveness: 6.5
Appeal Factor: 7
Miscellaneous: 7
Total Score: 69
FINAL SCORE: 7.0 (Good Game!)

Short Attention Span Summary
Madden NFL ‘13 is the definite version of the classic football franchise this year. Unfortunately most people that want a football video game have already picked up the 360 or PS3 version of the game. It’s too bad because this version offers the same quality visuals and audio with enhanced gameplay and a personal preference of not having to deal with an online pass code, thus making purchasing the game used more appealing to gamers with limited disposable income. If you’ve been waiting for the Wii U before picking up this year’s rendition of Madden, you made the right choice. It even made me forget my grumpiness over losing the ESPN NFL series all those years ago; it’s that good.

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