Madden 2013 Wii U Review: Comparably Miserable

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As a huge sports fan, Madden has been among my favorite game franchises for as long as I can remember. I’ve played every version of Madden in this millenium and pretty much loved all of them. When I learned the Wii U would leverage the Gamepad for play calling and some other features, I was excited to see a new level of innovation in what has otherwise been a very predictable game evolution. Unfortunately, I was disappointed at Madden’s newest game launch for the first time in over a decade.

Disappearing Game Modes

In all fairness, the first complaint of Madden 2013 is true for all consoles that carry the title. Three main decisions in the direction of the game were changed… and for the worse:

  • Franchise Mode no longer exists
  • Mini Games no longer exist
  • Career Mode was added, but stinks

Franchise Mode

Since it was first introduced, Franchise Mode has been my absolute favorite part of the Madden series. It allows you (and your friends) to select teams and control every aspect of your organization for 20+ years as you try to turn your franchise into a dynasty.

Each year, EA Sports has improved the Franchise option, and in Madden 2012 it was even closer to perfection. Some of the great features included fantasy draft, free agent signing management, trades/trading blocks/waiver wires, hiring staff and altering coaching strategies, scouting college players, managing stadium upgrades and finances, participating in the NFL draft, signing rookies and filling your roster, altering your depth chart, monitoring progression and optimizing lineups, and the list goes on and on.

Franchise mode has unexplainably disappeared from Madden 2013 and it’s an absolute shame. They pass “Play Career” off as being Franchise mode, but it absolutely is not.

Mini Games

Complete Madden games usually take 30-45 minutes unless you’re playing with 1 or 2 minute quarters, which seems to defeat the purpose of playing in the first place. With Mini Games, Madden offered an arcade style experience that appealed to a different group of people. Whether you only had a limited amount of time to play ball, didn’t have the attention span for a full game, or were hanging out with a handful of people and wanted to share the control a bit more evenly, Madden Mini Games provided this versatility.

Mini games are nowhere to be found in Madden 2013, another glaring omission that left many fans devastated. Okay, maybe devastated is a bit harsh, but I still frequently force my 2012 Madden into my system so I can pummel the opposition in Rushing Attack among other mini games.

Career Mode

EA Sports has passed off “Career Mode” as their new “Franchise”, claiming it combines the best of both worlds. The problem is, it doesn’t. Franchise modes offered a delicious balance of gameplay and management strategy, whereas Career Mode adds a load of tedious and unnecessary tasks that make the game seem bulky, impersonal, and unenjoyable.

I would bet EA brings both Franchise and Mini Games back in 2014, and if not, they were simply unable to swallow their pride and admit they were wrong. I admire their effort to take Madden in a new direction, but the experiment failed and they should revert to what previously worked, improving the huge success they had already built and fostered for years.

Madden and the GamePad

The Gamepad is the key to unlocking the power of the Wii U and simultaneously a new challenge for game developers. It’s something for which they’ve never previously developed, so they’re entering new territory in terms of both conceptual integration and technical integration. In terms of conceptual integration, EA got it at least half right. But the technical integration fell short.

The main purpose of the Gamepad was as a screen for picking plays. This makes a lot of sense as players can each pick their plays simultaneously without the opposing player locking their eyes on their opponents’ screen. Simple idea but good idea, unfortunately poorly executed. My two main complaints:

  • The resistive screen on the Wii U Gamepad often failed to register complete presses, freezing up on button selection and requiring additional presses to actually load content.
  • Although “Conventional” style play picking was selected, I was repeatedly forced into either a GameFlow mode or play suggestion mode that I did not want. I want to pick my plays myself. Combined with the less than responsive screen, this frequently resulted in delay of game penalties and wasted timeouts.
Only two complaints, but big ones, and ones that undermine the entire purpose of the Gamepad’s play picking existence. The setbacks make the Gamepad an irritation rather than what it should be: a fun and more convenient way to pick your plays privately. In the future, I’d like to see EA add more functionality, such as turning into the wide receiver and locking in on a ball to make a catch, but first they need to get the basics down.

Graphics & Gameplay

The Wii U might be a new console, and certainly developing for the Gamepad is a new challenge, but you would think that actual gameplay performance would be consistent with other platforms. This was absolutely untrue and I was shocked at how poor graphics and animations performed. The screen was jumpy, frame rate seemed inconsistent, edges were pixelated, and overall I haven’t seen such a poor experience playing Madden since about 2005.

While Nintendo retractors would blame the deteriorated graphics on a lackluster CPU, I would put that blame on the shoulders of EA Sports. Plenty of other games with many more simultaneous physics renderings perform quite nicely on the Wii U. For some reason, Madden underachieves in the area of graphical performance and it takes a noticeable hit on the game’s enjoyability.

When you’re used to a silky smooth Madden experience it makes a big difference. Those extra frames that seem to disappear can mean the difference between deciding who to throw to, whether or not to spin, how to position your open field tackle, and many more elements. It turns a lot of the skill and strategy into guesswork. And if you think local gameplay is jumpy, don’t even consider playing online.

There were a few other gameplay hiccups, and I’m sure with more time under our belt, we’d be able to identify additional bugs. The two big irritations for us were plays in the playbook that had titles but no associated pictures (see above picture), and the missing differentiation between your opponent planning a Kickoff or Onside Kick when you’re picking the formation in which you’d like to receive.

The Bottom Line

This is the first Madden in over a decade that I simply cannot recommend buying. The loss of Franchise Mode and Mini Games were hugely disappointing, but something most fans could accept as a 1-year hiatus, especially considering the change was industry wide. But when coupled with a Gamepad experience that took away from enjoyment and subpar graphics processing that felt unpolished and incomplete, Madden 2013 on the Wii U is disappointingly miserable compared to its counterparts on XBOX 360 and PS3.

If you’re a longtime fan of the Madden series, I’d strongly consider sticking to 2012 and waiting for 2014 (and this is coming from someone who has purchased every Madden since 2003). Newcomers might want to consider picking up Madden 2012 used rather than buying 2013 new. I’m sure the vast majority of people who buy Madden will enjoy playing it, but as one of the most consistently great gaming titles out there, they’ve failed to live up to the standard of excellence they’ve set for themselves with Madden 2013 on the Wii U.

The good:

  • It’s Madden… on the Wii U
  • Playing exclusively/standalone on the Gamepad

The bad:

  • Franchise Mode and Mini Games are gone
  • Wii U Gamepad integration is unpolished and cumbersome
  • Graphics are jumpy and subpar

Final Score: 5/10