Madden NFL Arcade Impressions

Posted November 26th, 2009 at 2:17 pm


I’ve always been a fan of arcade style games however with certain caveats. They have to be simple to play but still include some sort of strategy. With that they must eliminate any frustrating elements that comes from that strategy or from the simplified gameplay. Essentially the game needs to have an overriding fun feeling while still offering the opportunity to increase skill and outperform opponents.

This generation the best example of meeting those criteria came with The BIGS. More recently and semi-related to the new offering was NFL Tour which did only some of that well. There was really no playing defense and the strategy was primarily limited to time management. Despite that I still had a great deal of fun with the game just wished for certain improvements that would have made it much better.

Being a downloadable only game on PSN/XBLA and for just $15 I didn’t expect Madden NFL Arcade to succeed in all the aforementioned areas but to my surprise it has. Head-to-head the game is exceptionally fun, it is very balanced between offense and defense, and the strategy offered through the delivery and use of power-ups is very well constructed.

Madden Arcade is five-on-five with the field being 60 yards and teams having four downs to score. There is no kicking or punting involved. After touchdowns teams can take the automatic extra point or go for two points. First team to 30 wins.

The “Game Changers” are presented randomly before each play though teams do not receive one every play. Some are more rare than others. The full list of details on them can be read here. One of the few early adjustments I had to make was learning the icons and what they represented so it is a good idea to know exactly what they do to help formulate strategy. Some are more effective than others and some only useful in certain situations.

Offense and defense each has four plays. On offense it is Run, Short Pass, Medium Pass, and Deep Pass. On defense it is Blitz, Short Coverage, Medium Coverage, and Deep Coverage. There is not much variety in the type of plays that cycle through on offense. There are maybe two different passing plays for each type and you don’t get to choose which one shows up. Defensively the plays are the same which creates an issue I’ll discuss later.

In the very first game I played the realization set in that that Madden Arcade is not a traditional offensive-dominated arcade offering. It really is not easy to score. Utilizing power-ups can be a big part of moving down the field or capturing control of the game. Still there will be many possessions where the ball is turned over on downs.

The strategy that comes with the power-ups goes a lot deeper than I had anticipated it would. Not only do you have to decide what down or situation to use them on but also what moment to activate them. Some will be better saved until later in a drive and some may be more effective if waiting until a play has already started to introduce it. After having received a power-up it is there only for that given possession. Once used the possibility of receiving a new one comes back.

One interesting thing I found was the psychology behind the power-ups. Seeing that my opponent has a certain one changes the way I play. If they have “Entourage” available I may end up selecting a pass and preparing to throw it immediately after the snap. If they don’t use it on that play they’ve still changed what I wanted to do because I know a run would get stuffed. Seeing they have “Fumblitis” means I’m going to head for the sideline. Again, lets say they don’t use it on that play, even just having it available affects my options.

If there was one simple thing I would like to see added it would be play-action on offense. I would also like to see a little more variety within the types of plays. Understanding that as a downloadable game there are limitations that really wouldn’t change the scope or size of the game. It would mix things up a little more for both sides of the ball if there was play-action.

Passes to the running backs seem to be the most consistent way to move the ball. This is because of the lack of options that come with the four defensive plays. Only “Medium Coverage” mans up the RB with the LB. Otherwise the LB either blitzes or drops into a zone leaving the RB free. Now, you can get creative and control the safety or lineman to cover the RB but ultimately the offense knows that the RB is the most likely to be open. The corners are always manned up on the WRs making it rare they are wide open. It is worth mentioning though that usually dropping it off to the RB will just result in 15 yards or so but that is a good gain in this game.

I was interested in how much differentiation would be seen in the players and teams. The team ratings are head-scratchers (Giants highest at 95, Bengals are 67) and there are no visible player ratings. However I found there is at least some difference in performance. Adrian Peterson is much stronger and faster than an average RB. Playing with the Browns makes it much tougher to win than playing with the Eagles. Is it a huge difference? Probably not. It is noticeable though that the better teams and players perform on a higher level.

Online play has been smooth and enjoyable even against random people. One of the things I’ve always liked about arcade games is that there is no worry about “cheesing”. So far I haven’t run across anyone who takes the game too seriously which is refreshing. Another benefit is that the games can go by rather quickly. While I have had a few defensive battles last over 20 minutes the average play-time is more about 12 minutes. I was also glad to find that ranked games can be played against friends if challenged from within a lobby room.

One issue I experienced was in an online game where I returned an INT for TD that resulted in the win. Instead of showing the “winner” graphic it went straight to the menu. When clicking “Exit Game” the box would pop up to confirm but then instantly go away. I had to quit to the dashboard instead. I did end up getting the win though.

I feel like I’m actually pretty good at the game and have done well online because of my style of play. It may sound odd for an arcade game but I’ve had success playing conservatively. It seems to catch people off-guard that I run the ball often and don’t take many risks. I even take it to the extent of playing field position. If I don’t think I am close enough to have a good shot at a TD I’ll take the yards I can get because it forces them to go farther on their offensive possession.

There was an initial roster update which addressed some of the more significant changes that had taken place since the game was submitted for certification. For example Vince Young is in at QB for the Titans and Jamaal Charles has replaced Larry Johnson for the Chiefs. There is no word on whether another roster update will be done but I’m hoping to hear back on the possibility soon.

Madden NFL Arcade is not intended to be an enriching single-player experience and I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it if that would be the use for it. However as an online game it is a lot of fun and there is surprising variety in the results that are seen and the strategy that is utilized. For the amount of time and enjoyment I’ll be getting out of Madden Arcade the value is fantastic. It is at least worth giving the trial a shot and if the game isn’t for you then nothing has been lost. However if you enjoy it in that environment vs the CPU and plan to play online you’ll probably find it worth the purchase.