I think by now, you’ve all noticed that I have a football problem. When Madden NFL Arcade was announced, I immediately began recollecting the golden years of the Nintendo 64, and all the great times I had playing the original NFL Blitz with friends. It only took a few minutes of playing Madden NFL Arcade for those same feelings to come back, and even though this game isn’t anywhere near as no-holds-barred as Blitz was, it’s still a great deal of fun to play alone or with friends.
Madden NFL Arcade takes the core mechanics of Madden NFL 10 (Pro-Tak, Hit/Juke Stick) and combines them with some different twists to make this $15 title a different, more accessible football game. Right off the bat you’ll notice each team only makes use of five players on either side of the ball. You’ve got two receivers, or a tight end, a running back, a quarterback, and one lineman when you’re on offense, while on defense you’ll get three defensive backs, a linebacker, and a defensive lineman. The field has been shortened to only 60 yards, but the game still feels much more open with so few players on the turf. Playbooks have been streamlined to just four plays for both sides as well, which harkens back to the classic Tecmo Bowl-style of calling a game. Calling the short pass coverage on defense when you’re opponent has called the short pass play won’t always result in a stoppage, but you’ll be in a better position than if you had called one of the other three plays, and vice versa. Cutting the playbook to so few plays may seem like sports game blasphemy in an age where realism rules, but by placing an emphasis on a more frantic pace (you’ve only got four downs total to try and score), high-scoring games, and easy to grasp controls, Madden NFL Arcade shows that there’s still quite a bit of mileage in less authentic gameplay experiences.
Perhaps the feature that will make Madden NFL Arcade stand out the most from its more technically advanced brother is the Game Changers. There are thirteen randomly drawn modifiers both teams can get ranging from silly (Fumblitis – big hits lead to big fumbles), to heart breaking (Make it, Take it – score on that play, and get possession again), to pointless (Flying Blind – remove button indicators for passing). None of them are annoying, and since they’re randomly drawn, there’s never a clear advantage for one team over another. While I could have done without the score swapping power-up, there’s a bit of strategy involved in knowing when and where to use a Game Changer. Once you draw one, you have it until you use it, or your offensive/defensive drive is over. Use it right away, and you’ll have the possibility of earning another one. Hold onto it too long, and it may go to waste if you turn the ball over before reaching the end zone. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve burned an Entourage (earn a full offensive/defensive line for one play) on a running play, only to be tackled in the backfield because my opponent had Frostbite (random player on opposing team is frozen for one play). Occasionally, there will even be Duds, but you won’t know until you try to activate the power. All in all, it’s an interesting twist that truly helps the gameplay stand out from what could have been a fairly boring affair.
Of course, the game isn’t perfect. In fact, you’ll find there’s quite a bit missing once you’ve played the game for an hour or so. The only gameplay modes you’ll find are Play Now or Xbox Live. Sure, you and three friends could sit around and play endlessly, but leaving out even the most simplistic of Season modes is pretty sad. The multiplayer, where you’ll likely be spending most of your time, is a blast, and I haven’t encountered a single bit of lag online. There’s absolutely no weather involved whatsoever. It couldn’t be that difficult in this era to implement snow or rain effects, especially when you consider just how much more fun a game would be when players are sliding around all over the place in the mud. I enjoy the fact that the rosters are limited, but it seems strange that you can’t pick who you want to play from a full roster, like you could in EA’s NFL Street series. I’d likely pick the same five guys anyway, but the option for more customization would have been nice. Perhaps my biggest gripe is the lack of any stat tracking. I get that they’re going for arcadey. Hell, the word “arcade” is in the title. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to see what kind of yardage we’re racking up, or how many TDs our backs have run for. Even Blitz tracked statistics, and that game’s more than ten years old.
When it comes to style, Madden NFL Arcade has definitely got its own look and feel. That is, if you haven’t already seen Madden NFL 10 on the Wii. Borrowing heavily from the artistic stylings of the Wii version, Madden NFL Arcade presents its players with a bright and vivid palette, with caricatures of professional players roaming the field. Linemen are hulking, lumbering beasts, while receivers and d-backs are speedy string beans, able to make cuts on a dime. Running backs fit into a few different molds depending on whether they’re a bruiser or burner, and QBs are all basically the same medium build character. Stadiums, for the most part, look like their real-life counterpart, with only a few tweaks to make them conform to the game’s aesthetic standards. You’ll hardly ever see them though, since the game’s camera rarely pans away from the ¾ over the top view. Animations are running on Pro-Tak, so everyone looks great in motion, and you can expect to see many of the same tackling and broken tackle animations as you did in Madden NFL 10. Musically the game leaves much to be desired, and there is no commentary, so it’s clear the developers were more focused on the action than they were the peripheral atmospheric additions. It would have been nice to see team fight songs make an appearance as the soundtrack depending on who the home team was, but for $15, it’s not that bad.
When it comes to ways to play the game, your options are fairly limited, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had when playing this game with a friend or two. Madden NFL Arcade provides a nice break from the more serious Madden NFL 10, and even though it’s not without its share of minor issues, none of them are detrimental to the overall experience. I’d rather be playing this than sitting through another boring half-time show on a Sunday, or while waiting for a few friends to come online to play Left 4 Dead 2, and I’m looking forward to hitting the gridiron again.