Review: Madden NFL Arcade

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If traditional Madden football is too complex and time consuming for you, Madden NFL Arcade may be the game of virtual pigskin for you. EA Sports’ downloadable football game, available now for 1200 MS Points on Xbox Live Arcade and $14.99 on PSN, forgoes all the rules and complexities of simulation NFL football – penalties, pre-snap audibles, time limits, first downs, special teams and Encyclopedia-sized playbooks – in favor of simple 5-on-5 arcade football any one can pick up and play.

All 32 NFL teams are represented in Madden NFL Arcade, each equipped with their five best offensive players and five best defensive players, and with your favorite squad you can head online for head-to-head competition or play in quick offline games by yourself or with up to four players locally.

On the field, the game is exceedingly simple, which can be seen as a good or bad thing depending on your tastes. On offense you have four downs (by default) to move the length of the shortened, 60-yard field and score a touchdown, otherwise you turn the ball over on the spot, and should you score a touchdown you have the option to take an automatic extra point (there is no kicking) or try for a two-point conversion. There are no quarters or time limits either. To win you simply need to beat your opponent to a certain point total (30 is the default, but the score limit can be set anywhere between 6 and 48).

Play calling is limited to only four choices on both sides of the ball – on offense you can run or call short, medium and deep pass routes, and on defense you can blitz or line up for short, medium and deep passes attempts – and before each snap a slot wheel spins to determine which “Game Changer” power-up you have available for the play (or plays) ahead. Game Changers include things like turbo speed, freezing an opposing player, turning off passing icons, raising the probability of fumbles, and calling on an entourage of extra linemen to provide better QB protection or a gang of unblockable rushers to put pressure on the opposing QB.

Two control schemes are also available to cater to players of different skill levels and gaming IQs. For players only interested in instant accessibility, the Arcade controls limit your options to the basic abilities of snapping the ball, passing, tackling, sprinting, juking and so on. However, for more seasoned players with greater controller dexterity, the Standard control option opens up expanded abilities such as defensive strafing, pump faking, laterals, and swim moves for shedding blockers.

Whichever scheme you choose, Madden NFL Arcade plays and controls great. The pacing of the gameplay falls snugly between pure Madden simulation and the completely over the top style of the old NFL Street games, and all of the tackling animations and player movements look and feel very Madden-esque. The game’s visual style straddles a similar line too, with the player models rendered out like believable caricatures of their real-life counterparts – body sizes are exaggerated, but not in a way that is completely ridiculous or off-putting.

Madden NFL Arcade is, in large part, a fun game to play, however two things hold it back from being the definitive, must-own game of arcade football it could’ve been. The most noticeable flaw is the lack of content. All you get for $15 is offline exhibition matches and online play, and I’m sorry but that is hardly enough to justify what is a fairly high price by downloadable game standards. I don’t think it would’ve been too difficult for EA to whip up some form of a single-player career/challenge mode or at least adapt some of the training mini-games from the main franchise. Hell, even something as simple as a playoff tournament mode seems like a no-brainer. But we get none of that.

Something else that bothered me about the game is how much luck seems to determine the outcome of games, particularly online against live competition. Since there are only four play options, there is little strategy involved in play selection, and even if you do call a favorable play against the opposing defensive alignment, whether or not the play works still feels random. The implementation of Game Changers also plays into this feeling of randomness. Getting the right Game Changer at the right time regularly turns out to be the difference between winning and losing, and which Game Changer you receive is all based on luck of the draw.

So yes, Madden NFL Arcade is a cut-down, no-frills arcade adaptation of the Madden franchise — “Madden-lite,” if you will — squarely targeted at casual players looking for a game they can jump in and out of with ease and multiplayer gamers who enjoy the thrill of online competition. It succeeds as a game that is fun, quick and easy to pick up and play, but ultimately the lack of play modes and gameplay variety make it impossible to outfight recommend. Practice around with the demo first and go from there.

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Pros:
+ Simple, accessible arcade football
+ Good control options
+ Appropriately cartoonish graphics

Cons:
– Not enough play modes
– Luck determines outcome too often
– Play selection is too simplified for its own good

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSN, also available on XBLA
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: 11/24/09
Genre: Sports – Football
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!