Review: Madden NFL 13 Wii U is a first step in the right direction
When a new console releases, it feels like a launch tradition to have a Madden game ready for it. So when the Wii U launched on November 18th, there sat Madden NFL 13 Wii U. Before release, one could only imagine the possibilities that the GamePad could unlock for football video games. With this Wii U port of Madden 13 -- and it's obviously a port -- innovation is on display with the GamePad. Unfortunately, there's a few downsides with the Madden debut on the Wii U.
Madden NFL 13 Wii U is a pretty solid port, but one that removes the Infinity Engine that made Madden 13 that much better on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For those unfamiliar with those versions, the Infinity Engine brought physics to Madden. Depending on the speed and size of players, as well as how they collided, the game came up with a new animation -- instead of the canned animations of past games. The result: every play felt unique. Madden 13 on the Wii U is back to canned animations. It's not horrible, but after playing Madden 13 with the Infinity Engine, it's hard to go back to this.
Outside of the Infinity Engine, all of the other features from the 360 and PS3 versions are present. Connected Careers is present, which takes the spot of Franchise mode and Superstar mode, and it brings an RPG-like style to the game. Playing as either a specific player or a coach, you guide your player or team on the path to greatness. It's really a combination of Online Franchise, Offline Franchise and Superstar.
Madden Moments are also present, putting you in real-game situations from this season and last season. These come with a certain goal for you to complete, like a 4th quarter comeback. This is updated weekly, as well roster and player ratings updates. It's a nice goal-based time killer that allows you to relive some of the season's best games. Unfortunately, Ultimate Team was cut from the Wii U version, so you won't be able to create your own team and take it online.
How does the game look and play? Visually, all of the presentation from the 360/PS3 versions are on full display here, and it looks just as good. Player models look nice during replays and in between plays. However, everything loses a bit of sharpness during the actual play. The action is not smooth, and there is a certain choppiness to it. I also feel like there is a little delay with button inputs. I played on both the Wii U GamePad and the Pro Controller. The GamePad wasn't bad, except picking plays -- which I'll touch on in a second -- but the Pro Controller didn't have the responsiveness that I'm accustomed to. Even selecting a play, I'd have to mash a button multiple times to get it to select. During the actual play, it faired well, but I think a Madden game that is designed specifically for the Wii U would do much better. It's just a shame to see large gains in the running game because a linebacker dove too late for a tackle.
Those gripes aside, which doesn't ruin the game by any means, Madden NFL 13 Wii U brings a ton of innovation with it. When it comes to the GamePad, this is where Madden on the Wii U could eventually surpass the 360 and PS3 version (with or without Smartglass). Before the snap, you can select a player on the GamePad screen and draw a route for them with your finger. SHUT THE FRONT DOOR! On offense, you can select a player and change their route, either by hot route or hand-drawn, to take advantage of a mismatch. On defense, not only can you select which player you want to control with ease, but you can switch a player into a coverage, spy or blitz so much easier.
Where all of these GamePad features shine, it's a little disappointing that play-calling doesn't live up to the experience it could have been. At first, choosing the formation or the way you would like to call your plays is a breeze. It's when you get to choosing one play out of multiple that you can encounter some problems. It feels like the the controller can't figure out whether you're trying to scroll through the plays or select one. Numerous times, I chose a play when I was trying to scroll. You'll have to be patient, as choosing a play can be quite a process. Regardless of some play-calling issues, the experience was reminiscent of the Dreamcast controller VMU (Visual Memory Unit) play-calling for the NFL 2K series.
I've saved the best for last, as the GamePad's best feature is the Detached Mode. Detached Mode lets you play the entire game on the GamePad's small screen. For instance, I was playing Madden NFL 13 Wii U at home on my new 60" LED, but my wife wanted to watch The Real Housewives of ***Insert City Here*** marathon. By activating Detached Mode, I was able to continue playing the game on the GamePad screen while freeing up the TV for her. The catch is that you need to start the mode before starting a game. Also, GamePad touchscreen features are disabled in Detached mode.
While the Infinity Engine and Ultimate Team are missing, and there's some choppiness to the gameplay, Madden NFL 13 on the Wii U is a solid effort. The GamePad offers some great versatility to how you play and could change the Madden landscape from here on out. If they could implement the Infinity Engine, some smoother during-the-play visuals, and fix the scrolling issues with the next Madden entry, the Wii U version might be the best you could get. Until then, lets consider Madden NFL 13 Wii U a step in the right direction.