Madden NFL 10 offers the best iPhone/iPod Touch football experience…relatively speaking

Posted: September 9, 2009 in Sports

EA has taken a fair share of knocks since the iTunes store opened for making games that aren’t optimized for the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Whether or not the criticism has been deserved, one thing is for certain: Madden 10 is the best football experience you can have on the platform. However, the game has enough quirks that prevent it from being the best game that it possibly could be.

Madden 10 has two game modes: quick game and season mode. Quick game is for those times when you have a football itch to scratch, and Tinactin just won’t do. But Season Mode is really where the fun begins especially with the team management capabilities. Because Madden 10 has all of the NFL players and their stats, teams and even stadiums, the team management component allows you trade and alter your roster according to your preferences. For whatever reason, EA adopted a one-size-fits-all approach because it does not offer a difficulty setting which is arguably an oversight.

The animations and graphics are what you’d expect for the platform with a nice variation on the different player body types. In other words, they don’t look like carbon copies of the same 350-pound lineman. Having said that, even with the smooth animation on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0, most will notice that the animations jagged. They look borderline strange as does the animation tied to tackling, but they’re more than adequate and on par with Gameloft’s NFL 2010. The surrounding stadium environments are visually appealing, and a camera button also provides different views of the playing field. The menus have that typical polish you’d expect from EA and aside from that, the game auto-saves game progress and allows playing your own music.

Speaking of music, the game also offers in-game John Madden commentary which is about average since there are a lot of repetitive phrases. The color commentary in general is nicely done, but unfortunately, the in-game music tracks can be downright irritating…maybe I’m just not into all that peppiness.

No matter the genre or category, controls make or break games. You can have a visually great looking game with a ton of content all easily ruined by poor or difficult to use controls. Fortunately, Madden 10 incorporates responsive controls along with some nice additional touches that set the game apart from the competition. The core controls consist of a virtual joystick scheme for maneuvering along with a set of action buttons on the opposite side that control passing, kicking, and run direction for example.

Similar to NFL 2010, when passing, colored icons appear over receivers indicating their status for the pass, and intuitively tapping an icon will pass the ball to that player. However, and this is where ease of use comes in, Madden 10’s controls are much easier to handle than NFL 2010 at least based on my experience. NFL 2010 has arguably more of a learning curve and can be frustrating initially, while the controls in Madden 10 are designed more for the pick-up-and-play crowd. One innovative addition is the Action Control Time button which literally slows the game down to half speed. It’s a nifty option that comes in handy on offense so you can spot open receivers and on defense for planning tackles or interceptions.

While my initial thinking was that this simplified the game by slowing it down, I view it as more of a new element, something I call precision tactics. Why? The playbook and the 300 plays it contains and significantly more than NFL 2010. If it were simply a huge amount of different pre-set plays, Madden 10 would be worthwhile. But, the game takes advantage of the touch screen by allowing you to easily and smoothly draw routes, aka Hot Routes on a play so you can change draw up your own plays. Using Action Control Time, I found I could experiment more freely to see if my strategic mind was up to snuff. One small nitpick is that you can’t save plays you’re drawn up which is a bummer, but you can’t have everything.

The kick controls are also easy to use and accomplished through a meter down the right side of the screen. You simply draw down to set the power and flick up to kick, and accuracy is determined by the angle of the flick.

Gameplay is only as good as the AI, although this is always subjective based on individual skill levels. One of things that I’m a bit disappointed with is the lack of a play clock which I’m sure purists will find to be a glaring omission. Part of the allure of the game is the pressure of calling and implementing a play. To keep things fair, I would strong suggest you lay off the Action Control Time as much as possible. Playing offense, defenders seem pretty aggressive and close in on receivers quickly. Defense on the other hand, can be tougher because defense is inherently about anticipation with AI receivers and running backs jetting in all directions. The controls are responsive enough that you can do what you intend, although the results will still be based on your ability to anticipate. One shortcoming is that the game doesn’t have multiplayer functionality at the current time, although this would be ideal.

Overall, Madden 10 has better playability than NFL 2010 in terms of controls, the depth of the playbook and the full NFL rosters. Caveats aside, Madden 10’s use of Hot Routes and Action Control Time are innovative, and the gameplay make it the best relative football experience you can get on the platform.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (recommended for football fans who want depth and playability and for those who don’t have Madden 10 on PSP; innovative touches such as the Action Control Time and Hot Routes need to be balanced with the lack of difficulty settings, no play clock, quirky commentary)

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