In the current economic climate, with studios suffering layoffs every other day, many publishers have stated a preference for sticking with established IPs that are almost guaranteed to sell well. Simulation sports games launch on an annual basis, but as EA found with 3 on 3 NHL Arcade earlier this year, a downloadable PlayStation Network/Xbox Live Arcade game is a relatively low-risk way to bring in some revenue between those yearly releases.
Madden NFL Arcade (PlayStation Network [reviewed], Xbox Live Arcade)
I enjoyed my first few games of Madden NFL Arcade. But the more time I spent with it, the more I noticed an increasing number of flaws that accumulated to lower my opinion of the overall experience. The five-on-five action bears the hallmark of a traditional arcade game: even if you’re losing badly, you never feel like you’re out of the game because things can turn around so quickly. That’s helped greatly by the powerups, called “Game Changers.” There are 12 in all, and their use involves a good amount of strategy, which gives the game some much-needed depth.
Of course, some Game Changers are much more useful than others, and one -- Entourage -- is by far the most powerful, especially on defense. Entourage adds players to your team to give you a full (five-man) offensive or (four-man) defensive line. As you might imagine, four D-linemen versus one O-lineman pretty much guarantees a sack, and even if you don’t get to the QB, you force him to rush his throw, which often leads to an interception. (The game engine was clearly designed for 5-on-5 play: the frame rate takes a hit when Entourage is engaged, and it’s particularly choppy if both teams use Entourage at once.)
Much of the satisfaction comes from the strategy in using Game Changers. You can activate them either immediately before the snap, or at any time during a play. Some, like Flying Blind, are much more entertaining (and effective) when they’re sprung on your opponent in the middle of a play. Since you can see the powerups that both players have available to them before plays are selected, even the threat of a Game Changer can work to a team’s advantage. For example, if my opponent has Entourage on defense, I’m certainly not going to call a run; instead, I’ll probably go with a short pass so I can get rid of the ball quickly. My opponent has thrown me off my game by severely limiting my playcalling. It’s this kind of inner chess match that brings skill into the fold: yes, getting Game Changers is a matter of luck, but knowing when to use them makes all the difference.
Ultimately, though, most of my reservations with Madden NFL Arcade stem from its $15 price point. Fundamentally, the game offers a similar amount of content to 3 on 3 NHL Arcade (playing the computer, playing a friend, playing online), but it costs 50% more, and the most logical assumption I’m left with is that EA figured they could charge an extra five bucks just because the hallowed Madden name is attached to this product. Madden Arcade isn’t bad, but I would’ve had a much easier time recommending it if it were priced at $10.
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