EA’s sports titles have undergone a bit of a renaissance of late. Fifa is the top dog, NHL is the best sports title on the market, NBA while being behind 2k’s effort is still very nice to play. Madden is the only choice when it comes to NFL. So it is no surprise to see EA try and build on this success and tap other markets. XBLA is the platform and the focus is on the word ‘Arcade’. The release of NHL 3 on 3 Arcade was the 1st foray into XBLA sports for EA. It was a fun game that used the main game’s engine and was ideal for a small blast. It was successful enough to encourage the release of Madden NFL Arcade.
Essentially what you have with Madden NFL Arcade is a stripped down version of the main game. Out go all the complex play books, most of the players are gone as it become just 5 on 5, the field is much smaller in both length and width. There is no clock, instead it is a race to score a set amount of points first, that means there is no need for the timer, meaning no long waits for tactical delays. There is no 1 yard drives for a 1st down, or punting for 4th down. The idea is that you get 4 chances to get a touchdown on each play, if you fail to get the touchdown then there is a turnover and you have to defend four plays. It is simple and quick and means that boredom will not set in. As mentioned the play books are virtually gone as you are provided with 4 options only, Run, Short Pass, Medium Pass, Long Pass and defensive options are just as simple. Blitz, Cover Short, Cover Medium, Cover Long. It means that anyone can play no matter how much knowledge they have of a very complex sport. Because this is an arcade game though and like so many before it, there are power ups. These range from adding extra men to your play, freezing an opponent, speeding play up, slowing the speed down, forcing fumbles, etc. Surprisingly, these don’t actually unbalance the game at all, in fact it adds a dimension to the play and is welcome. Pretty much spot on pick up and play sports action.
Online too it seems that EA have got it right. Games move along at a nice speed and there was no noticeable lag. Options are pretty minimal, play a ranked game, play an unranked game, play friends, view leaderboards. This could well be the sticking point of the games ability to be a long term success. Offline there is nothing but the single game option which means most of your action will have to be online. If the game keeps up interest then there will not be an issue, however if the online community dies off, then this game will likely be pushed to the bottom of your arcade titles list.
Graphically the game is spot on. Players are nicely fleshed out and is bright and cheerful and exploding with colour. Pretty much what you would want from an over the top arcade title. Menus are done in a neon style and simple to navigate. Visually this game looks the business.
There are small annoyances with the game, the 1st mentioned above being the lack of modes, especially in the single player. A league mode, or scenario mode or something would have been a nice addition. Leaderboards are fine until you reach your friends leaderboard. Either EA were thinking blue sky or they took the cheap option out, as your friends leaderboard contains every single person on your friends list, whether they have the game or not. These can be sorted by criteria to make it easier to navigate, but there really is no reason not to take a bit of extra care when implementing this part.
That aside though, EA have made a very solid package, that as long as enough people still play will be worth every single one of the 1200 points EA have asked. You will find yourself picking it up and having a blast if you have a spare 10 minutes and don’t fancy a longer lasting game. The only fear though is that if people do stop playing then it is unlikely the game will continue to get the play time it deserves. Here’s hoping we are witnessing the rebirth of the arcade sports title.