Developer: EA Sports
Price: $12.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

Madden NFL 11 is a game that needs little introduction – this is a legendary franchise in not just sports gaming history, but gaming in its entirety. In the last few years, EA has wasted no time in bringing the Madden franchise to platforms far and wide, so an iOS release is nothing shocking. What is shocking is a major release getting a day and date simultaneous release on the iPad as well as the iPhone and iPod Touch, making Madden 11 for the iPad quite notable, and potentially a harbinger for future releases from large publishers hitting the iPad sooner rather than later, contrary to current trends.

Madden NFL 11 is an American football game, as you would expect, featuring the National Football League and NFL Players’ Association licenses–meaning all the teams, players and stadiums are officially in the game. You start off choosing your favorite team to become your default selection across the game, although each mode does let you select a team of your choice in case you feel like mixing things up. You can “Play Now,” which has you choose teams and jump straight into an exhibition game. For those looking for more than just a casual experience, there are Season and Playoff modes available, but no Franchise mode for people who enjoy long-term play modes. A multiplayer mode and a vintage electric football mode are promised by the menus, but no timetable as to their availability is given.

Having the touchscreen available makes the game a lot easier to control than its console counterparts, as all controls are shown through context-sensitive on-screen buttons. This avoids having to learn what individual buttons on a physical controller do. When you drop back to pass, on-screen buttons to throw to each receiver are shown; when you’re running, each button shows off the various moves you can do. You can also activate a slow-motion Action Control Time to help you make plays and execute maneuvers that would be difficult to pull off in real time. As well, you can draw routes for receivers on the fly using the screen, which is incredibly intuitive and makes the hot route feature more useful than in any other football game before; creating the exact route you want is sincerely easy.

Of course, if you don’t like decision making in your football games, or don’t know how to call any defensive plays, or need some kind of support system to prevent you from making even Mike Leach think that you throw the ball too much, or if you just need something to keep your from going for it on 4th and 20 from your own 10 yard line, then the GameFlow feature is your new best friend. This feature, toggled by a switch that appears after every play, allows the computer to call plays for you based on the situation. It does a decent job most of the time, although it loves to call halfback pitches a lot, and is very conservative as far as the run/pass split goes, but you can override and go to the playbook after each play if you want to make your own call. This is great if you hate playing defense as well, as you can just let GameFlow make the calls for you, and just play as a defensive lineman to try to go after the quarterback and to let the computer play the rest of the defense. This is how I usually play, because if you’re anything like me, all you’ll do is rack up pass interference penalties or allow wide open long touchdown passes.

Speaking of long touchdown passes, the game engine seems to be skewed way too much towards allowing those long touchdown passes, even in heavy coverage. I often saw passes that, if completed, would be instant 70 yard touchdowns as the receiver would easily break away from coverage and the defense could never catch up to him. This happens even on All-Madden difficulty, so playing risky but careful in your passing game might be the secret to success. There’s no sliders or any gameplay elements to tweak, so the gameplay experience here is what you’ll have to put up with as you play it. And that’s really the problem with Madden 11 – the core game is good, but there are a lot of nits to pick that bring down the overall experience.

The graphics and animations are a mixed bag. The graphics themselves look fine, very crisp on the iPad’s screen, and similar to early PS2-level graphics,maintaining a very smooth framerate throughout. The animations are a bit choppy, though, especially tackling, which looks like people just accidentally tripping over one another whilst skating around on ice in bowling shoes the whole time. If you enjoy football for the visceral thrill of watching behemoths of men trying to bring each other to the ground, stay away from Madden 11 on the iPad.

Madden 11 for iPad features limited sound work, mostly comprised of ambient crowd noise, and the occasional play by play calls of Gus Johnson, and some limited John Madden color commentary, which gets very repetitive after a short while given the small repository of clips available. What’s even odder is that Cris Collinsworth also has a small role in the game’s commentary. It’s so small that I’ve only heard one sound bite from him, an anecdote about the way a team’s sideline acts after their kicker misses a field goal. It comes way out of left field (to mix sports metaphors), as there’s absolutely no indication that Cris Collinsworth has any role at all in the game, and all of a sudden he’s there talking to you. The sound work in the game is haphazard at best. My recommendation is to just go ahead and use the in-game iPod playlist option available in the options to listen to your own music, although you will lose any sound effects in the game. It’s not a huge loss, though.

And really, the graphics and sound being decent on the surface but shallow once you get deeper into the game reveal the true character of Madden 11 – it’s sexy in name and on the surface, but once you really dig into it, the chinks in the armor show through. This is a game with flaws, a game that is missing features from its console brethren that could help to make it a better experience, and a game that will likely disappoint the hardcore faithful Madden fans looking for a great portable Madden experience. As a football game on the iPad, it’s decent, but the Madden experience feels like it is not fully realized.

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