Developer: EA
Price: $7.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

“This next play could either be a run or a pass, depending on what the coach’s gut feeling is telling him. Either one may be the correct call.” – John Madden

Enter the world of Madden 11, a world that compacts the ever so complex console version of the Madden series into a small bundle of joy. On the console, Madden is a joy to play. It has everything that you would ever really need in a console game, fast or slow paced gameplay depending on how you like your football, a learning curve that makes the game easy to pick up but difficult to master, and a great multiplayer mode that keeps you and your friends up til till the wee hours of the morning. On the iPhone, Madden 11 is a bit different, to say the least.

What EA doesn’t quite understand is that the iPhone screen really isn’t very big and has no physical buttons. Instead of simplifying the game with some kind of innovative control system, something that hasn’t yet been done in a fully featured iOS football game, they try to pack in as much game into the screen as they can, no matter how bombarded with controls you become.

Let’s take a pass play for example. Once you hike the ball, you have only a few seconds to get rid of it before the defense comes in for a sack. Receivers all around the screen have little targets on them that you have to hit when they get open. Unfortunately, your left hand is taken by the joystick that you are using for QB movement, so your right hand has to be the one that throws the pass. So what happens when your receiver gets open on the left side of the field? Well, you have to fit your right hand over there to make the play. I’m really not sure who decided that getting people to mash both of their hands hands into a 2.31 inch space was a smart idea, but it wasn’t one that I would have made. I know that this scheme isn’t new to iPhone football games, but it really does sap some of the joy.

Two of the other new features, Total Defensive Control and Gameflow are also semi-misses. Total Defensive Control allows your players to position your defensive players wherever you want, giving you total customization of what goes on. What EA doesn’t get is that defense on a mobile device is a total crapshoot. There’s no way that you can hot-switch to a DB for a pick and sacks are almost impossible because the games animations aren’t fast enough to gauge what you are really doing on the line anyway. Why would I want to make my own defensive play when the whole scheme is broken? I’ll just stick to using the plays that are given.

The other new feature, Gameflow, is a step in the right direction on defense, but it again makes me start to wonder why the defense isn’t just completely redesigned. First off, Gameflow is a system in Madden that picks your next play for you based on the formation that the computer uses. It works on both offense and defense, but if you aren’t picking your offensive plays, you might as well just play another game. So on defense, with Gameflow on, you just go play after play desperately trying to do something on defense. Skill plays on a tiny screen with choppy animations are borderline impossible to make, so when the computer finally scored or had to punt, I just kind of shrugged off the experience. The defense might as well have been simulated.

The absolute worst part of it all these tech advances is that that it makes the game run slow. If I’m playing on an iPhone 4, the fastest iOS device on the market, and the game still has choppy animations (even after a reboot of the device), something is very wrong. Just simplify things a bit, nobody will complain.

What I want developers like EA and Gameloft (NFL 2011) to understand is that people don’t want to play full simulation football on a tiny screen. They want to play a football game that is designed for a mobile device, one that gets rid of all the complexities that bog down the console version and only has the fun stuff. Give me Konami’s NFL Football from the old Game Boy and slap on some updated graphics. Give me something that would meet the Apple standards of intuitiveness.

“The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.” – John Madden

Let’s hope EA tries the sewer next year.

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