In The Simpsons-Treehouse of Horror III, there’s a bit where Homer goes to buy Bart something for his birthday. The shopkeeper hands him a “Krusty the Clown” doll, and the following exchange ensues:
Shopkeeper: Take this object, but beware: it carries a terrible curse!
Homer: Ooh, that’s bad.
Shopkeeper: But it comes with a free frogurt!
Homer: That’s good.
Shopkeeper: The frogurt is also cursed.
Homer: That’s bad.
Shopkeeper: But you get your choice of toppings!
Homer: That’s good!
Shopkeeper: The toppings contain potassium benzoate.
[Homer looks puzzled]
Shopkeeper: …That’s bad.
I think of this conversation when reading about the upcoming Madden 13 game: “New physics engine!” “That’s good!” “No player editing.” “That’s bad.” “New passing trajectories!” “That’s good!” “No importing draft classes.” “That’s bad,” and so on. They added a bunch of great new features, and then took out a lot of the old ones for no apparent reason. I don’t get it.
My favorite football game ever was Madden 11. Most people didn’t like it, but it was the most fun I ever had with a sports video game. It had the “Madden I.Q.” difficulty setting, which was perfect because it adapted to my skill set. I could win about 75%-80% of my games, but every now and again lose one believably. And the play-off games were harder! So, my team was a perennial contender, but not always going 19-0 every year like in Madden 08. Sometimes I won it all, sometimes I got knocked out in the wild-card round.
But then Madden 12 came along and, as far as I can tell, got rid of the Madden I.Q. It’s still a fun game, but I have not been able to find a slider set that strikes the right balance between “stupidly easy” and “controller throwing impossible”. I don’t get this, either. Why do they seem to be systematically eliminating all the features I liked most?
Of course, you can’t talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the Madden series without also talking about ESPN NFL 2K5. A lot of people say that eight years after its release it is still superior to Madden. I’ve played it, and in some respects, it is. The physics are definitely better than Madden, and it has more uniform options. But 2K5 also has some flaws, including (ironically) a lack of player editing in Franchise mode. Franchise mode in 2K5 actually has quite a few issues, from wonky trade logic to a messed up scheduling system, that Madden does not. So, it’s not the best alternative for me.
People also praise 2K5‘s presentation, but I have to say that, although quite good for its time, it is still not that great. I think on every third completed pass in 2k5, the announcer says “So-and-so had three guys covering him… but look what happened!” I don’t blame the announcers or the programmers for this; it’s inevitable that pre-recorded lines will get stale. The only to avoid it would be to include clones of the announcers with every copy of the game:
CLONE NANTZ: Mysterious Man takes the snap… rolls out right… reverses his field… losing ground… he throws aaaannnd it’s intercepted! Intercepted miraculously by a defensive tackle who had his back to the play!
CLONE SIMMS: Mysterious Man looks like he’s pressin’ a little bit out there, Jim. He’s not putting enough touch on the “X” button….Maybe he’s distracted because he’s thinking about the big presentation he’s got next week…
MYSTERIOUS MAN: Look, shut up, will you?
CLONE SIMMS: Whoa, he looks a little fired up down there!
CLONE NANTZ: He looks like you when you miss a putt.
All in all, I’m glad that can’t happen. Anyway, announcing isn’t a big deal to me. But it’s apparently a point of emphasis in Madden 13.
I like to customize my team and build them into a powerful, but still fallible dynasty, similar to the Patriots of the last decade. And I like to be able to customize the gear my players have. Lots of players change their stuff depending on the weather. For example, players who wear visors often don’t wear them when it’s raining. Some people really don’t care how many horizontal facemask bars their QB has, and those people will probably enjoy Madden 13.
Madden 13 sounds like it’s going in the direction a lot of gamers have been asking for these past eight years, and that’s fine. I’m sure it will be a good game. It just doesn’t have the things I look for in a football video game, which may not be the same things you are looking for in a football video game.