No holiday season is complete without its fair share of pigskin gaming. While visions of sugarplum fairies dance in gamers’ heads, so do big hits, oversized heads, and a peculiar series of in-game upgrades to include turning opposing players into giant ice cubes. Welcome to ‘Madden NFL Arcade,’ a ‘NFL Blitz’-esque version of the console legend for ¼ the price.
‘Madden NFL Arcade’ (‘Arcade’) is a 5-on-5, fast paced take on its bigger brother counterpart, likewise featuring fully licensed NFL players and teams. Available for $15 on the PSN, ‘Arcade’ is homage to Midway’s classic ‘NFL Blitz’ (‘Blitz) series while adding a few new twists of its own.
Firing up a match in ‘Arcade’ literally takes seconds in either offline or online gameplay modes. Teams are represented by an overall – and occasionally questionable – talent score, with a solid selection of players to service them (noting limitations of having only 10 players per team to choose from). Online, automatic roster updates was a pleasant, accompanying surprise. Related, finding opponents online was a snap. (Oh, clever punnery) Last, there are three levels of difficulty at your disposal, with ‘Rookie’ quite challenging in its own right.
Gameplay occurs via two control modes selectable at startup: arcade and standard. There’s admittedly little difference between the two, with only the diving and jostle functions standing out on the latter mode. Unlike its bigger brother, however, controls – even on standard - are both intuitive and as smooth as an Adrian Peterson run off tackle. Case in point: Most of ‘Madden NFL Arcade’ can be played using two buttons and the left analog stick, and amazingly never feels neutered.
Playbook selection is limited to four items: blitz (swapped for ‘run’ on offense), short, medium and long pass. All are executed at the line of scrimmage by a one-button press corresponding to its respective play. Flipping plays occurs via a right shoulder button, with pre-play routes and coverage areas displayed via a separate shoulder press. Easy-peasy.
Game changer upgrades – granted at random before each play to both offense and defense – mix things up nicely. Fast passes, fleet foot, freezing opponent players, doubling line presence, etc., create a need to strategically match upgrade to upgrade or get burned. Even more so since ‘Arcade’ length is determined by a finite number of possessions. Ditto on decisions whether to save these upgrades for 2-point conversions after touchdowns (versus automatic extra points).
On offense, press a button to snap the ball, and you’re on your way. Passing occurs akin to big brother Madden, with receivers assigned to face buttons. Passing dynamics – soft touch for soft pass, vice-versa for longer ones - works well. Teammates block fairly well on run plays, [finally] making this a viable playbook selection. This is an imperative point as each team only has 4 plays (no first downs awarded) to get into the endzone. There are no field goals.
Playing defense, however, is a mixed bag. In ‘Arcade,’ an option quarterback will drive you batty, as hypersensitive turbo controls leads to defensive players overrunning players left and right. With tackling limited to making significant contact with the ball carrier, expect many a frustrating moment playing angles with multiple players to avoid getting ‘Vince Young’ed’ to death. (I learned that lesson very quickly online.)
On the flipside, however, pocket quarterbacks throw lightning strikes, possession receivers catch bullets most others drop, top tier running backs equate to open field monsters. Defensive player disparity is not as evident.
Audio-visually, ‘Arcade’ is fantastic. Wonderful graphics, fun crowd noise, and solid sound effects. Everything you’d expect for a top flight PSN title.
On paper, ‘Madden Arcade’ packs all the elements that made ‘NFL Blitz’ a hit: simplistic gameplay, quality NFL license, and fast-paced pigskin action. Several games in, though, ‘Arcade’ s’ subtle laws became glaring. Defensive coverage issues dominated, and reduced many plays to blitz timing decisions. Limited controls equated to little control over play outcomes. Perhaps ‘Arcade’ is a tad too simplified for its own good.
Even with these flaws, I couldn’t help but return to this funfest. Sure, I got embarrassed by stupid short pass patterns and option quarterback sprints ad nausea. Still, one touchdown induced fireworks display later, and all was forgiven.
Despite its flaws, ‘Madden NFL Arcade’ packs a solid quick pick-me-up take on the pigskin classic. Football fans wishing for a more accessible ‘Madden’ experience now have a home. Until a solid competitor comes along, ‘Arcade’ is the best at what it does for the PS3.
Final Score: 8.0