In the hearts and minds of many NFL fans, there’s only one word that matters when it comes to virtual football: Madden. Since beginning its meteoric rise that started in the early 90’s, Madden Football has developed a substantial following that demands authenticity, realism, and most importantly, a strategy-laden fun experience. The cultural impact of Madden Football can be felt everywhere, from real NFL athletes posturing to be on the game’s cover to real life tournaments where thousands show up to compete for the yearly title. For the first time ever, this mammoth of a franchise has arrived to the iPhone with Madden 10. BOOM!
Madden 10 brings an impressive array of features for its initial foray onto the iPhone. For starters, all 32 licensed teams, rosters, and real life stadiums are included, so you’ll be able to embody all of your favorite players and play in gaudy stadiums like Raymond James and the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium. We’re bummed there’s no franchise mode (the ability to play multiple seasons consecutively) in this year’s edition, but there is a Season Mode complete with real schedules, stat tracking, season awards and a huge free agent pool.
Madden 10’s biggest innovation developed exclusively for the iPhone comes from its ‘Action Control Time’ mechanic. This is a huge linchpin feature that affects all three phases of the game (offense, defense, and special teams), so it’s important that you’re clear on how it works.
Yeah, I could go for some burgers. Roethlisbergers!
The huge fundamental challenge with bringing a deep franchise like Madden to the iPhone is the touchscreen control interface. On traditional console versions of Madden, both analog sticks and all 10 buttons are put to use throughout a game. Considering that the iPhone doesn’t have any buttons, EA has developed an efficient and elegant way to get around this challenge with its Action Control Time (ACT) solution.
Simply put, ACT is a user selectable option that initiates a ‘bullet time’ slowdown effect on any given play, offensively and defensively. From scenarios like trying to convert a 3rd and 10 while facing a Baltimore Ravens blitz to a 4th and 1 to stop Adrian Peterson from getting a first down, ACT slows down the action to an epic crawl while enabling contextual options for special moves like jukes and power tackles. The beauty of ACT is that it’s completely optional, so experienced players can play at full speed without interruption. But for Madden newbies, we can’t think of a better feature to indoctrinate them to the world of Madden. With that brief administered, let’s jump to gameplay.
Offense is a lot of fun to play in Madden 10. With over 200 offensive plays sprinkled throughout a variety of real NFL formations, you can get to work leveraging your usual strategies. Though the amount of selectable plays is impressive, it’s a bummer that the Wildcat offensive formation popularized by the Miami Dolphins is not included.
The running game takes some time to get used to. Controlling your ball carrier is done through a virtual joystick that resides in the bottom left corner of the screen. Available evasive moves include both a turbo boost and a spin move. Triggering ACT opens up additional moves like jukes and trucking maneuvers, too. The effectiveness of the extra moves is debatable, but the options are there to play around with. The biggest thing to get used to is the player momentum. Some folks may be turned off by the reality that players don’t turn on a dime, but we think it adds a sense of realism.
The lonesome kicker.
Throwing the leather around is satisfying thanks to the color-coded passing system. Using the Red-Yellow-Green construct we all know from traffic lights, it’s easy to identify which receivers are covered, somewhat open, and completely open. Nothing’s money though, as QBs will sometimes throw errant passes or get their balls batted down by rushing lineman. We love the ‘Hot Route’ system that makes clever use of the iPhone’s touch screen. With the tap of a receiver pre-snap, you can draw a new route based on the coverages you’re seeing pre-snap. With the unfortunate exclusion of audibles on either side of the ball, executing offensive hot routes is your only method to mix things up on the fly.
Equal thought and consideration was given to defense. Once you’ve got a feel for player momentum, making highlight plays on defense is absolutely possible. You can switch the defenders you’re controlling by either tapping the designated on-screen button or touching a player directly. Triggering ACT opens up options to dive for a tackle, attempt a power tackle, or go for an interception. Our biggest quibble with playing defense is the lack of package previews for the CPU’s offensive play calling, so you’ll be calling defenses without having any idea of how many receivers, running backs, or tight ends are in the CPU’s selected play.
The kicking game in special teams borrows the excellent swing meter from the iPhone version of Tiger Woods. A fast swipe down determines your kick power, and a straight swipe up determines your accuracy. It’s a great mechanic, but it’s a little easy to consistently achieve maximum power and accuracy with punts and field goals.
For all practical purposes, Madden 10’s UI is excellent. The team at EA used a cover flow-inspired method for selecting plays, and it works very well. Depending on your comfort level with Madden, there’s both novice (e.g. play types) and advanced (e.g. real formations) options for picking plays. On top of that, you can also flip the direction of your plays to take advantage of where you’re positioned on the field. Unfortunately for seasoned Madden players, some advanced options you’re used to didn’t make it in. Things like formation sub-packages, recommended plays, and aggregated recent plays you’ll just have to live without.
Madden 10 delivers great production values for an iPhone game. We were extremely impressed by the fact that all the real-life stadiums are faithfully represented. The player models aren’t the most detailed, but there are 22 of them flying around each play. With performance optimized for the highest denominator, you’ll want a 3GS to enjoy butter-smooth frame rates and fast loading times. Older hardware will have a tougher time maintaining optimal performance, but the game remains completely playable.
You’ll hear all the typical Maddenisms that the franchise is famous for, but the play-by-play commentary is mediocre. Tom Hammond and Chris Collinsworth assume the booth duty, but their commentary doesn’t come close to feeling organic as you’ll never hear them mention player names. Licensed music from a variety of rock acts are in the game, but users can play their own custom soundtracks, too. Custom soundtracks aren’t perfect, though, as playing your music disables stadium sounds and on-field action. We’re hopeful that gets patched down the road.
While there’s lots to love about Madden 10, the biggest disappointment with the whole package is the lack of any multiplayer modes. With a huge segment of the Madden population that exclusively plays against human competition, the lack of head-to-head play will not make them happy. We can understand EA’s focus in developing a fundamentally solid football experience for Madden’s debut on the iPhone, but the omission still hurts. With Madden’s competition promising to deliver online multiplayer later this fall, we’re hopeful that this feature shoots to the top of EA’s priority update list.
It’s a bit unreal that Madden has successfully landed on the iPhone with many of its trademarks intact. We’d love to see Madden 10 continue to evolve with updates for hardcore guys like us that want audibles, formation subs, and other under-the-hood improvements. Even in the unlikely event that Madden 10 doesn’t get a single update, Madden 10 is the iPhone’s best football game with considerations that will please both casual and experienced fans of the franchise.