Developer: Electronic Arts
Price: FREE
Version Reviewed: 1.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 2Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★☆
Playtime Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★½

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

*Cue the tune “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”*

No, we’re not celebrating children returning to school. We’re actually excited about the long-awaited return of the NFL regular season. Right in time for next week’s kickoff and following the example of its console brethren, EA Sports is taking another whack at the gridiron on iOS with their newly-released Madden NFL Mobile. Will this offering trump their past attempts at transitioning the pigskin, or will the result be another tragic punting situation?

It seems like Madden NFL Mobile is the culmination of several years’ worth of fan feedback and tuning. That doesn’t mean that the freemium shenanigans are gone, but they’re certainly nowhere near as influential as in previous seasons – for example, plays are still locked behind a leveling wall. However, the need to pay in-game currency in order to use locked plays has mercifully been removed. Instead, the initial playbook has been bulked up significantly and the rate at which newer plays are unlocked seems accelerated.

image-20Visuals are once again top tier. Player models are crisp, animations are smooth, and the sound effects are evocative of many a Sunday afternoon spent on the couch. Even the AI has improved over last season. That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, but it’s far and away better than what has been present in the past. Essentially, once the whistle blows expect to be treated to the complete NFL experience.

The freemium aspects of the design are still present in the form of the “Ultimate Team” card pack system. Players will need to spend in-game currency to purchase these blind packs and improve their roster. Additionally, there is the option to chip-in genuine money to buy golden packs that are more of a “sure thing” in terms of pulling in talented players with statistical advantages.

One last remnant of the last couple of Madden installments are the energy units, which they call “stamina.” Over time these units will regenerate, or they will straight-up refill the bar whenever the player levels up. At that point perks like bonus plays, or new modes will unlock as well. As long as you’re progressing forward successfully and gaining experience, it seems pretty hard to hit the pay-or-wait wall.

image-4What makes this year so great is the dense number of modes that are available. Players can chose to progress through the regular season of their team, challenge friends via social media, or take on randomly-selected rivals. In the case of games against real-life players, the action takes place asynchronously with the player playing the offensive possessions and defining a specific defensive strategy to be used against the competition. There are even special live event challenges that refresh throughout the day, just in case there wasn’t already enough to do.

Madden NFL Mobile goes a long way towards scrubbing away the bad taste left behind by the last couple of attempts at forcing the square peg of monetization to fit into a football-shaped hole. The resulting compromise is a solid balance between the free and pay models that doesn’t feel like it’s constantly trying to bilk the audience. Have no fear, genuine NFL action is finally here.

 

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