Though I’m not the world’s biggest fan of virtual football, the real game is something I’ve loved since I was a kid. Unfortunately, EA Sports’ year-in-year-out schedule of production for the Madden series makes it even more difficult to get excited for a video-game version of one of America’s favorite pastimes. Does this latest addition to the line-up change all that?
If you played last year’s Madden offering for the Wii, you’ll likely recognize the visual style, as well as much of the gameplay content included in this package. Madden NFL 11 doesn’t do a whole lot to freshen up the locker room, and quite frankly, it’s a game that may be a tough sell for fans still enjoying last year’s roster. That being said, folks just getting into the game for the first time, or back from a series hiatus, will find a solid football experience here worth checking out.
If there’s one thing in particular I appreciate about this latest Madden for the Wii, it’s the simplicity of the game’s presentation. As far as gameplay is concerned, there’s still plenty of depth to discover; however, the menus, gameplay systems, and options make the game surprisingly accessible to newcomers and casual players. There’s certainly room for improvement in terms of clarifying various football concepts, but overall, Madden NFL 11 for the Wii finds a nice balance between catering to long-time fans and newbies.
As per usual, folks can jump into a quick game with Play Now, and the Franchise mode is where you’ll kick off your career. These are your two main options when it comes to single-player, though you can also include friends here as well. Franchise offers a Sims-like experience in which you’ll oversee everything from your team’s finances, to the buzz of your fan base. Much of the decision making can be left up to the A.I. with mostly positive results, and interactions between you and your advisors consist of running through brief flashes of text and still images. Managing your team isn’t a terribly engaging process, but it is a fun diversion from the main game.
When you’re ready to make your mark, you’ll lead your favorite team out onto the field to go head to head with the NFL’s finest. There are three play styles to choose from: Gameflow, Arcade, and Conventional, and two options for control. Gameflow is a nifty addition to this year’s Madden that will likely be a boon for more strategic players who want to track all of the action on the field. Audible lines are tied to each individual player, and the pacing of the action allows for a more methodical approach to each play. Weighing the play styles side by side, however, I preferred the Arcade style, which allowed me to quickly set up plays and keep the action moving at a steady clip.
Upon first jumping into the fray, I instantly took to the controls for playing offense, but it was hard for me to wrap my head around an effective defense. Once I managed to get over the learning curve, I had a surprisingly good time with the game. Though the mechanics themselves are deceptively complex, there’s a lot of fun to be had here once you settle into the experience.
Not all of the Wii extras are appreciated, though. You can gesture with the Wii Remote to juke, swipe passes, and kick the ball, but I quickly strayed away from these options when not a requirement. Field goals and punts are straightforward, but tossing a short pass to a receiver, not so much. Thankfully, a simple point-and-press approach allows for more precise and reliable plays that are satisfying to execute. The only drawback with the point-and-press controls are you have to wait until the ball reaches the area of the target player before you can successfully select that player for control. Still, everything comes together with a generally fun ebb and flow.
After you’ve built up a sweat in Franchise, you can take a break with the Mini-Games mode. There are eight mini-games to choose from, each with a focus on teaching the player the basics. Mini-games such as Pocket Presence and Chase & Tackle do a fine job of conveying their respective gameplay mechanics, while other mini-games only served to further confuse me about how to approach a particular position.
Lastly, there are the multiplayer modes and online play. Multiplayer consists of Road to the Super Bowl, a co-op component for up to four players, ; Madden Showdown, where you compete for showdown points, ; and Huddle-Up, a co-op option in the vein of Super Mario Galaxy that allows a buddy to zap opponent team members in order to give you a clear path to the end zone.
In spite of a few rough patches, Madden NFL 11 is a completely solid package. EA Sports could still stand to do a better job of easing newcomers into the experience, and again, there’s not much actual new content here. The online gameplay is almost non-existent; the lobby menus were completely empty during my testing of the online experience, and I experienced significant lag when I finally did manage to find others to play with. Local play, however, is rewarding and fun, and in light of past entries into the franchise, this latest addition is generally more accessible.
Though the presentation isn’t perfect, the visual style serves the Wii well. Sure, the players look more like high school athletes than pros, but the animations are smooth and authentic looking. Aside from a few hiccups during transitions, the framerate holds up well during local play. The backgrounds are plain and the crowds look terrible up close, but vibrant colors and smart camera pans make Madden NFL 11 on the Wii feel like an exciting football experience.
The music was my only real disappointment in terms of production values. Crazy Train? Really? The song selection is crusty, and the variety is sparse. Luckily, you won’t have to listen to any of it during actual gameplay, but in the Franchise mode where you’ll be tinkering with team management, the few tunes on offer here grow old fast. The announcers, however, do a bang-up job of keeping the actual gameplay interesting, and the cheers and crowd noises from the stadium are a convincing addition to the presentation.
I enjoyed my time with Madden NFL 11, but then again, it’s not a vast improvement over last year’s offering. The multiplayer and Franchise modes are fun and built to last, but players likely won’t get much mileage out of the online component. It’s been touched on before, but perhaps it’s time EA Sports consider a new way to deliver updated content for big franchises like Madden. The updates and tweaks to Madden NFL 11 would make great downloadable content. As a full retail product, however, it doesn’t quite satisfy.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Luckily, the devil isn’t the details with Madden NFL 11. Though many individual elements are poorly rendered, the overall look of the game is quite pleasing. 3.5 Control
The gesture mechanics feel tacked on, due in large part to a lack of tactile feedback. Point-and-press controls, however, work well and feel satisfying. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Depending upon your taste, you may actually enjoy the licensed tunes on offer here. Regardless, the audio associated with gameplay is enjoyable and authentic. 3.5
The measure of value for Madden NFL 11 is dependent upon whether or not you already own last year’s game. What’s on offer here is pretty darn fun, though it may feel like mostly recycled goods for many folks.
3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.