It’s always been weird being into American football being from where I am. Sure, the sport’s been garnering some attention these past few years and has certainly a fairly big fan following now, but for decades, it’s felt like I’ve been an isolated case, along with my father. My dad’s been a fan of the ‘other’ football for as long as I’ve been alive, and even though I’m not as fanatical as him about it, I always saw the appeal.
And for about that long as well, I’ve been trying to follow football videogames, which obviously led me to try and play Madden. My first dabble was during the Super Nintendo generation, with one of the first entries that weren’t even numbered, and from there I only picked the series back up in 1996, with Madden 97. From that point, I only really paid mind to football via the Dreamcast, with the excellent and much more approachable NFL 2K and NCAA 2k series and of course, NFL Blitz. Madden and football have been a thing of the distant past for me since then, but I’m glad to report that this season things have been different, and I’ve decided to step into the field again with this year’s iteration from EA, who’s been the only, well, game in town for nearly a decade.
Madden 20 makes a good case for a returning player like me at first, offering a friendly easy mode that appealed to me right away, especially given my general awkwardness towards the complex controls inherent to the Madden games. Even back in the Nintendo 64 days, I’ve always had trouble keeping up with all the variations of button presses I had to manage in order to be an effective player. Still, even calling it easy in Madden 20 might be a stretch, since there are complexities that aren’t explained right away, and worse, you are required to use them right away when the game drops you into a match against the CPU and fails to explain the whole scheme before trouncing you mercilessly. It’s an issue that permeates Madden 20, the lack of fully explaining its mechanics before having you be tested on them.
That results in having an experience that’s labeled easy actually being anything but. I got my ass handed to me in that first game. For as hard as I tried, I didn’t win. At points, it even seemed like the CPU was going out of its way to cheat, not allowing me to have enough time to pick plays, for instance. I had hoped that picking this difficulty would allow me to get slowly acquainted with how modern Madden is played, but it did quite the opposite, it showed me that it’s far unfriendlier than what I expected.
Still, I kept trying, even with that first loss still tasting sour, by jumping into story mode, which had me create and then step into the shoes of a college senior about to go into what could be his last game, a championship semi-final title bout. After picking Miami’s “the U”, because why wouldn’t I, I was dropped into a dramatic segment where my friend and teammate made a point to say that he had to be the receiver for touchdowns in the game, and that we had to win, since it was his last game as well. Too bad, my pal. We lost. I still had no detailed tutorials into all the controls, only a handful of them relating to passes, which took place in a practice field pre-game.
We got trounced and lost the game, but surprisingly enough, the story kept going. My pal was expectedly disappointed, but our tale kept moving, and what was most fun out of the entire thing, its tone turned to comedy as my weird looking QB avatar was approached by a little girl who demanded I score four pass touchdowns in my first professional game. I had to accept. Her father tried to dissuade her, but he was adamant! If the story mode keeps this up, I thought, it would make for a hilarious experience. It did, for the most part, since my career didn’t really take off too well, and man, I failed bad at keeping that promise. But others popped up along the way, and I’ve been doing my best to satisfy them.
I never really expected to be drawn to Madden for its story, but here I am thinking of taking it all the way. Still, I have a review to do and attempt to be somewhat timely about posting it. It’s been nearly a month since the game hit the shelves, so there’s been plenty of time for it to establish itself. I had more chances to play it and learn its ins and outs, and for alien as it seemed at first to measure my button presses in order to know just how far or wide I could throw the ball, or run with it or whatever else a quarterback is known to do, I think I’m starting to get the hang of it, for as hard as the game tries to get in the way of it. I would’ve much rather learn the basics and develop them, I’m having to do so by getting beat on repeatedly, which is an aspect that I hope EA Tiburon manages to work into the inevitable Madden 21.
However, there are things about this year’s edition that I was able to get into right away. I really like how zanny it is in regards to real-life personalities. Players seem to have special powers, especially the QBs. At the outset, I had to pick a team before starting the game, and practically the entire roster had different special skills. But not all of them, funnily enough. I wonder what’s wrong with my old favorites, the Dolphins, for them not to have any powers? Anyway, these come into play during games, and can help turn the tide if you can manage to get them working at the right moment, after filling in their requirements, such as running X yards and the whatnot. It’s a sort of X-factor you’d see in a game like Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but one that can only be activated not by merely getting hits in, but by satisfying specific demands the game throws at you. It’s a neat feature that’s not at all realistic, but hell, if you’re looking for realistic, you might as well play the game in professional mode, which forgos any of this in favor of an authentic experience.
And I wouldn’t exactly call Madden 20 a fully authentic experience, because it’s quite can be quite cartonny, even if not intended. Visually, it’s a very striking title for sure, but thanks to a whole bunch of glitches, when things are in motion, you can easily tell things aren’t quite right, with players running through each other, idling about when they’re supposed to be huffing about, and with all the graphical evolution these twenty plus years since playing a Madden game, I’m shocked at how bad the crowds still look. Still, when all is running and I’m busy playing and trying to do well, the game manages to be quite a spectacle, as a sum of all the presentational parts, including the gameplay.
Speaking of that, it wouldn’t be much of a NFL game without any sort of tournament modes, and there’s certainly one of those, called Franchise mode, where you pick from any of the league’s teams and try to take it to the Super Bowl. It’s your standard mode that emulates an entire multi-week season of the NFL, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect. My Ultimate Team, on the other hand, is where EA makes the big bucks, and like the one in the last few FIFA titles, you can buy packs and build your team as you see fit, or as is the case, as your wallet can take, since these packs cost real world cash, and are random.
Say what you will about loot boxes, they’re not going away anytime soon. This is my least interesting mode, but definitely the one I have the least interest in playing, even if a bunch of these packs can be earned by simply playing the game and doing challenges. I had the idea of having the random chance of getting something really good or bad, and I definitely get enough of that and getting pissed off playing Overwatch, a game where none of the loot actually matters, so I don’t even want to get started in one that might actually do.
It has certainly been a ride getting back into Madden. While I’m not completely sure I will be back next season, I’ll make sure to enjoy the one that’s just starting with Madden 20, for as faulty of an experience as it’s been, I feel like it’s worth giving it a chance, even if it tries to get me down more than it pumps me up.