Madden NFL 13 (Wii U): It’s in the GamePad

November 22, 2012

At the Wii U launch, Madden isn’t exactly the most exciting property, but there are definitely some obvious cool things the hardware can help the series. Calling plays on the GamePad sounds like a cool idea, and there are certainly times when anyone else in the room would rather be doing something else than watching you play a football game for the next few hours. Madden NFL 13 delivers on some of the potential, but it just isn’t the full product it likely will be next year.

In many ways, the Wii U version of Madden 13 is much like the 360/PS3 version we reviewed a few months ago. It’s missing the new “Infinity Engine” tackling system, but it does feature Connected Careers, a shift of the Franchise and Superstar modes to an integrated, super-multiplayer-focused online experience. With a smaller player base, it may be a bit tougher to assemble your friends in a league, but there seem to be enough out there to play random online games when you like. There aren’t any fun new modes for the Wii U version, though, so you’re basically stuck with what the other systems had.

Here’s what it brings to the table, then: you can indeed call plays on the GamePad. Without two-GamePad functionality, it doesn’t quite have the cool local play usefulness that people really think of when dreaming of this function, but it is a nice way to get through menus quickly. You can play the game on the GamePad, but you can’t switch mid-game, so it’s not quite as handy as titles that handle that better.

It also borrows the touch-screen hot route drawing from the Vita version, and it works just as well here: the players respond well and smooth out the trajectory. In fact, when you’re playing on the GamePad, drawing hot routes and doing so without the Infinity Engine, it starts to feel very much like its handheld brother.

The presentation seems to be continuing its cycle of  going for “new,” sometimes at the expense of “better.” For some reason, every time you turn the game on you’ll have to watch random shapes fly by as the view zooms through the scene to get to your menu. There are some cool elements on interface screens, but they sometimes result in load delays between menu tabs, which is not fun to deal with at all over the long term. We also miss the days of the robust, two-toned soundtracks, but Madden 13 rocks a few orchestral tracks for menus and not much else.

Jim Nantz and Phil Simms take over the announcing duties this year, and their CBS broadcast-style feel is a nice change of pace but possibly not a great fit for the less plodding among us. The things they say are insightful if not exciting. Unfortunately, first-year troubles kick in, as the shallow pool of a first-year recording means Simms will remind you how much the defense loves not being on the field almost every first down, and it’s a coin flip whether you’ll get chastised or applauded for a pass that doesn’t get a first down, but it’ll be one of the two. It’s the one aspect of the game that most incentivizes having a dynamic gameplan: as long as you’re totally haphazard, the guys can’t repeat anything.

You’ll probably spend most of your time in the new Connected Careers mode. Taking elements of online franchises and mixing in all of the Superstar stuff, Connected Careers lets you and up to 31 other people run through your teams and players in the same league. All through, there are simulated Twitter accounts from various commentators (like Skip Bayless and Chris Mortensen), which seemed really gimmicky to start but felt genuinely cool when my undrafted rookie QB occasionally caught their eye. There are also new scripted events that can happen over a career, like players coming back from retirement or draft prospects having scandals or breakthroughs in college.

Since these are all online, it means you can access stats and take some actions on the Madden site, like responding to trades (if you’re a coach) or spending points on stat upgrades (if you’re a player). Also, since these are all online, it means that single-player practice scenario you’re running won’t count if you even momentarily lose the server connection in the middle, and you can’t play them at all if the servers ever go down. For those who don’t want to worry about that, you can play offline-only versions of this mode, but you don’t get any of the cool site things or the option to take the game online later.

A few of the 360/PS3 extras aren’t in this version, but the vast majority of modes and features made the transition. They did so with some rough load times and occasional frame rate issues, though. It’s not game-breaking, but still disheartening to see on a newer, presumably-somewhat-more-powerful system. We’ll probably see something smoother next year, as well as refinements of the system-exclusive functions. For now, though, it’s a solid Madden, but one we can only recommend buying if you just don’t have a 360 or PS3. Those versions have more content, a larger player base and fewer technical issues.

Pros: GamePad play, Connected Careers’ cool new elements
Cons: First-on-a-system technical issues, repetitive Simms and Nantz

Score: 2/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.