Delivering a game the day a new system launches--a hard and fast date that leaves no wiggle room--is a challenge. When that game is as big as the current Madden NFL franchise in terms of scope and importance, that challenge increases. As you play EA’s gridiron debut Madden 13 on Nintendo’s newest console, it’s obvious that the development team had to pick and choose their spots; the result is uneven, a mix of creativity and compromise.
The good news is that Madden takes advantage of several opportunities that the Wii U GamePad presents for innovation. For starters, pre-play options are extremely enjoyable. On offense, you can pick a receiver or runner and re-draw their route with ease, coming in very handy when you see matchups that can be exploited. While features like this have been available on platforms like the 3DS and Vita, the Wii U’s implementation is much more accurate, and the feeling you get when you connect on a hand-drawn play is immensely satisfactory. On the other side of the ball, you can highlight any of your players and assign them to blitz, change coverage, even spy the QB. It makes defense much more engaging.
Madden 13 on the Wii U doesn't quite stack up to other versions.
Another nifty GamePad feature is the Detached mode, which lets you play the entire game on the small screen, freeing up the TV for someone else. The screen is surprisingly crisp and clear, and all of the traditional controller options are available for calling and executing plays. The only downside to playing Detached is that the aforementinoed GamePad-specific options for pre-play adjustments aren’t available.
Unfortunately, one of the other main features of the Wii U’s new controller falls flat. Thanks to an extremely finicky scroll sensor, calling plays can get frustrating quickly. The initial selection of formations or play types works well, but the touch screen often inadvertently thinks you’re picking a play when you’re trying to scroll through your options. This causes problems, as taking a timeout to call a different play or change personnel isn’t the answer. Audibles help, of course, but only if you’ve got the right personnel in the game already.
More importantly, there are issues on the field. While the game runs smoothly before and after the snap as well as in replays, the action is pretty choppy at the most important time--during the play. There’s something that’s just a bit “off”; it’s not horrible and you eventually get used to it, but the action is definitely not as smooth as it is on the other consoles. When you couple these problems with the lack of the Infinity Engine physics that the other versions have, the Wii U Madden has a tough time stacking up. (Check out the review of Madden 13 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 for more information on those versions.)
One area where Madden NFL 13 meets its counterparts head on is Connected Careers (online or on your own), the thoroughly entertaining mode introduced this season. All of the player storylines, social media, and role-playing aspects are here in force. There are scads of options to choose from, including creating your own player or coach, picking one from today’s NFL, or using one of the many legends included. All of them offer a fun and unique way to experience a sports game, and if you missed out on them earlier this year it’s a great way to catch up.
Madden Moments also features prominently, putting you in dozens of real-world situations from this season and last, and challenging you to accomplish certain goals. These are updated weekly, along with roster and player rating updates. Ultimate Team remains on the sidelines, though, so you don’t have the opportunity to create your own custom team and take it online. Speaking of online, multiplayer functions well, even though there weren’t tons of players online at launch.
The Madden franchise has tons of potential on the Wii U, and a solid foundation has been laid for the future. With a few key adjustments to play-calling, frame-rate, and physics, it’s possible that the Wii U could host the most interesting Madden version next fall. In the meantime, Madden’s debut on Nintendo’s brand-new system is good for a bit of fun but won’t last for the long term.