Madden NFL Football review

Expecting much from a system-launch Madden is usually a bad idea. Add in the dreadful history the series has had on Nintendo handhelds, and we were more than a little wary of what Madden NFL Football on the 3DS was going to be. At first glance, we were pleasantly surprised by the sights, sounds, and relatively easy-to-play style. However, it didn’t take a long for us to realize that this Madden is simply a cross between a tech demo and a kids’ game.

There’s a solid foundation for some good football, that’s for sure. The split-screen design is nice; the action unfolds on the top 3D window while your play selection, audibles, and self-drawn adjustments are managed on the bottom. It’s intuitive, and anyone who’s played a recent football sim will feel right at home. Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth provide surprisingly on-point commentary, and the crowds get into it with chants and cheers that liven up the experience.

The 3D effects are a kick, so long as the slider is set somewhere near the middle. Our eyes almost crossed when we bumped the 3D to the top level; not a pretty sight. To be frank, the 3D really doesn’t complement Madden tactically or strategically. It’s simply a little eye candy.

On the field, the action leans toward an arcade-y look and feel modeled on the latest Wii version of the game. It’s basic, and it works. You’ve got the option to use Gameflow (a setting that will help choose plays for you), but if you do, be aware that the ability to call your own plays will be severely hampered. There’s only a second or two between the end of a play and the next one getting picked; our recommendation is to turn Gameflow off if you plan on participating in the decision-making. Games fly by, too, which is probably a good thing for commuters but a bad one for stat-mongers; getting big numbers from your players won’t happen very much.

That’s where the stark reality of this Madden starts to sink in. Take away the 3D visuals and you’re left with a shell of a football game that just won’t appeal to a large group of players. Hardcore fans will be immediately turned off by the lack of any semblance of a multi-season franchise, and everyone will bemoan the fact that there are no multiplayer options at all. That’s right, none. Zippo. Zilch. Nada. At its core, Madden has always been built on playing against a buddy; without that, it loses much of its appeal.

The limited modes you have are Play Now or Season with either a traditional 11-on-11 matchup or a 5-on-5, a stripped-down version that removes most offensive linemen and tight ends from the equation. The field opens up quite a bit, but there are only four downs to get the ball in the end zone. It’s a throwaway mode that barely held our attention.

Everything about Madden 3DS is curious, from its timing (released well after the end of the NFL season) to its design (no multiplayer, no franchise) to its price ($40 when it should be half that). Our cynical side thinks it’s an attempt to cash in on the excitement of a new handheld device, while our naïve side prefers to think of it as an honest attempt at meeting a deadline and having to prioritize. Either way, we’re hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone other than NFL-obsessed youngsters with nice parents; we’ll wait for a (we hope) much more fleshed-out version later this year.

Apr 4, 2011

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