Madden 13 (Wii U) review

At the cost of gutting the online section, the game introduces the GamePad, the best way to play a football video game.
At the cost of gutting the online section, the game introduces the GamePad, the best way to play a football video game.
At the cost of gutting the online section, the game introduces the GamePad, the best way to play a football video game.

Highs

  • The GamePad's play calling is THE way to play a football game
  • Remote play
  • It's essentially the same game

Lows

  • The graphics are a step down
  • The online section is gutted
  • No "Infinity Engine"

While the Wii U version of Madden 13 is of course a port of the Xbox 360 and PS3 offering, it is not an exact one. In fact, it’s significantly altered for better and worse – perhaps a bit more on the worse side. For a full review of the previously released versions and all the features available, click here, but know that there are some key differences.

It isn’t uncommon for launch title ports to show some rough edges. Developers are typically given the hardware, then asked to port over a game on the unfamiliar new system in less time than a proper development cycle should take. It’s a difficult task for anyone, and EA Sports is no different.

For the most part, the game is the same, but minus a few key features. It also looks just a touch duller on the Wii U, but the difference isn’t that significant – except that you would hope for more from new hardware, and “adequate” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. The Wii U is a far more powerful system than you might imagine from this game, and the next year’s offering for Nintendo’s system should be greatly improved. But the graphics are only a small matter compared to the missing features.

One of the biggest loses is this year’s heavily touted addition, the “Infinity Engine,” which altered the physics for the better. Player animations reacted more realistically, which improved the overall gameplay and presentation. The series did fine without it for years, but it is a step back for the franchise – albeit one that only those that played the 360/PS3 version will register. More noticeably is the loss of the Madden Ultimate Team and online team play.

madden 13 for the wii u review onIf you are a fan of playing Madden online, these omissions are major. There’s no getting around that. Whether the demands were just too great, or the Wii U’s online capabilities were a question mark, the fact remains that the online side of this game is a pale imitation of its cousins on the other systems.

The rest of the features remain intact, however, and they come with one major addition: the integration of the Wii U’s GamePad.

The GamePad offers two boons to players. First, you can enter “detached mode” and play the full version of Madden 13 on the GamePad rather than the TV. This is one of the best features of the Wii U, but it’s one that developers need to specifically program in so credit to EA Sports. The picture looks identical on the GamePad, and it moves just as well. There is no limitation in the transfer, so you can play all of the modes you would on the TV.

madden 13 for the wii u review madden13 wiiu feature1 thmBut the game really shines when you use the GamePad in conjunction with the TV. During gameplay, the GamePad becomes the playbook, removing the play calling from the TV and putting it on the touchscreen. Shuffling through the various plays this way is easy, but the real benefit comes during the plays.

Once you have made your choice – but before the snap – if you are on defense you will see a display of all the players moving into formation, listed by their positions and names. If you touch that player, you will take control of them, but you will also be able to change their pattern. If you’d rather the safety blitz than stay in his formation, you can. If you want to double team a particular offensive player, you can do that too. You can also choose your set audible formations from a list, rather than the occasionally cumbersome controller navigation.

While on offense, the GamePad becomes your source for creating your own audibles via hot routes. Simply select the receiver then draw the route you want him to run. Think you can do better than the best NFL brains? You can now prove it.

This is such a natural use of the GamePad, that it would have been disappointing if the game didn’t use this feature. It just fits perfectly. Hopefully the game will continue to develop this and include even more options and more on the fly customization.

But while it is an excellent addition, most of the plays are better left undisturbed, and the desire to constantly tweak the plays is eventually going to become counterproductive. Still, having the option feels like a giant step ahead for the series. Or at least, it has the potential to be a giant step forward once the rest of the package is up to par.

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The Wii U will also allow up to five players at once, using the Wii Remotes with nunchucks, and/or the Pro Controller. The GamePad in this instance become a standard controller, and the option to alter routes is not available, nor is selecting plays on only the GamePad – you still do, but the choices are also reflected on the TV. It’s the only fair way to do it.

Conclusion

This year’s Madden 13 for the Wii U is a tradeoff. At the cost of gutting the online section, the game introduces the GamePad, the best way to play a football video game. It just makes sense to use the GamePad like this, and it should surprise no one if EA Sports finds a way to offer a comparable experience on the other systems, perhaps using Microsoft’s Smartglass or a mobile apps.

Next year’s Wii U offering should correct the online issues, but for now it is an undeniable hole in the game. But for fans that have been removed from the series for a few years, or have only played the Wii versions, than the lack of graphical superiority – despite the more powerful system – won’t make much of a difference. In all other regards though, it is the same game, but with an even brighter future.

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(This game was reviewed on the Wii U using a copy provided by the publisher)

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