Pros: Exciting gameplay, fairly intuitive controls, good training mini-games
Cons: No tutorial, no force feedback.
My problem with football video games has always come down to diagrams full of colored lines. Before every play I was presented with sets of these diagrams to choose from, and as someone who knows nothing about football, it was like asking a blind man to choose among paint swatches. Over the years my occasional forays into video game football have allowed me to glean vague concepts behind those diagrams, and the thing I liked best about Madden NFL 13 is that it allowed me to understand these colored lines just a little bit better.
The Controls: A Headache's-Worth of Choices
I haven’t played much of any of the Madden games since Madden NFL 08 came out for the Wii in 2007. Subsequent games put me off by offering a load of play-style options with no tutorial help. For example, in Madden 13 you have three playcall styles (arcade, gameplay or conventional), and four control type choices (arcade, conventional, horizontal style and classic style). Choose “arcade” or “conventional” and you are then asked if you want “gesture based” or “point and pass” style. The game offers little information on what any of this means, making the most confusing of all sports even more baffling.
But with no other Wii games to play, I decided to bite the bullet and work my way through Madden 13’s daunting setup. It took a little experimentation, but once I found a control style that worked for me (arcade playcall with conventional, gesture-based controls) things went pretty smoothly.
The Diagrams: Where Do I Go Now?
Before each play the player is asked to choose a diagram. At some point in the past I determined that when playing offense, the little lines that ran up field represented players I could pass the ball to, and I rather unscientifically would just choose the plays in which my teammates ran the furthest on the theory that I could win faster that way.
As for the other colored-line diagrams, the ones used for defense, I never knew what they meant. If the game recommended one particular diagram then I would choose that one; otherwise I would select one at random.
It wasn’t until Madden 13 that I understood those defensive diagrams, because the game does something really useful for football know-nothings; it recreates the chosen diagram on the field. Each player has a colored line under his feet that shows exactly where he is supposed to run when the ball goes into play. For the first time in my life, I had a vague notion of what I was supposed to do when the other side had the ball. Because of that, for the first time in my life I didn’t loathe playing defense, although it’s still always more fun to have the ball.
Understanding those diagrams meant I could play with a cute feature of the game in which before the snap you can click on a player and redraw their colored line. I still don’t understand why I would want a player to run in any particular direction, or under what circumstances one would want any particular defensive play, but I know just enough to have fun with it.
The Gameplay: Fun Once I Knew What I Was Doing
Once I got the hang of the game, I found myself enjoying it. It was exciting to throw a pass and then run up field with the enemy hot on my heels, or to slip through the defense and take down that quarterback. I still find the Wii’s gesture-based approach far preferable to pressing buttons, and enjoy hurling the ball with a flick of the remote. I generally ignored button presses as much as possible, although some are handy, like pressing C to dive at a ball carrier.
One thing I didn’t care for in the game was the lack of a rumble feature. When I tackle someone I want to feel it, and the lack of the sense of physical contact made the game less visceral than I would have liked. But outside of that I actually have no complaints.
In terms of features beyond just playing an individual game, there is a franchise mode, in which you can trade players and set concession prices as you play through a season, and mini-games that are not the typically fluffy sports mini-games but rather effective training exercises that focus on basics of the sport like passing and tackling. There is also a “5 on 5” mode for those who find 22 players on the field 12 too many. Play this mode and you lose the live-action diagrams but you gain the arcade-y “game changers,” special powers you can purchase that can give you an advantage.
Madden 13 also has local multiplayer, although I didn’t try it out, since none of my friends like football any more than I do.
The Verdict: Probably Even More Fun if You Like Football
That’s unfortunate, because I think I will never fully appreciate video game football until I can have someone sitting on the couch next to me explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing; why a “weak blitz” is a better choice for this play than a “cover 3 tap” or a “sting right.” There is clearly a lot of strategy to football, and I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out on my own, no matter how many colored lines I see.