A lot of changes have come to EA Sports’ games over the years – and not all of them have been a good idea.
EA Sports released Madden NFL 25 this week, to the usual mix of half-hearted fanfare and foaming-at-the-mouth anticipation from die-hards. Preliminary reviews are already in and, to the surprise of absolutely no one, they are mixed. After 25 years, people are starting to understand that you can’t, in fact, build a better mousetrap. Even though I’ve played every release before and after, I haven’t bought a copy of Madden since 2006. And I won’t be buying a copy this year.
Give me Tecmo Bowl, Super Tecmo Bowl or even NFL Blitz any day of the week. In my opinion, the Madden franchise is the ultimate example of how developers can ruin games by doing things because they can, without asking if they should.
Complexity, depth, a plethora of options and features – these are not bad things. The simulation and ownership aspects of Madden, the career and season modes – all of these go a long way toward creating an immersive football experience. As technology has evolved over the last 25 years, EA Sports has constantly worked to expand what a gamer can do between the lines. Analog controls, doubling and quadrupling the buttons available for input, haptic feedback – the list goes on and on. But at some point “expansive” can turn the corner and become “bloated.”
For me, anyway, the fun of sports games comes from playability. Sure, attention to detail is nice. Seeing your team, your field, your city – it brings an intimacy and immediacy to a game that helps forge a connection but that all gets tossed out the window when I can’t complete a pass or call an audible. Yes, I know that millions of people find Madden “easy” and will say that I’m simply whining because I “suck.” Valid points. But – and this is a big “but” – shouldn’t a sports game, at its core, be about gameplay?
I know I’m picking on Madden here, and perhaps that is unfair. EA Sports’ NHL franchise has the same problems. I can’t be the only one who has found the “two stick” control scheme to be abhorrent. There’s a reason people think NHL ’94 is the best hockey game ever made. That reason? Gameplay. It is flat-out fun to play NHL ’94. And virtually anyone can do it. Pick up controller. Play. A simple formula, really, but one that EA Sports abandoned long ago. FIFA, too, is plagued with the same issues.
One would suspect that EA Sports understands this on some level. Otherwise why would they have included NHL ’94 in the PS2 version of NHL ‘06, and essentially rebuilt the game from the ground up for inclusion in this year’s Anniversary release? I know people that haven’t picked up a controller in ten years that are planning to 1.) buy NHL ’14; and 2.) play NHL ’94 mode exclusively. It is about gameplay. Those same people detest current versions of the same franchise simply because the learning curve is too steep.
I’m turning 35 in a couple weeks, and I’ve been gaming for 30 of those years. I’m not a dilettante. And perhaps if I were twenty years younger with nothing but time to waste, the changes in Madden, NHL and FIFA wouldn’t bother me so much. But I’m not, and they do. I simply don’t have the time to master newer versions of the games I’ve always loved. No matter how many times I shift to “Classic Control” mode (or, as NHL dubs in, “NHL ‘94” mode), I still don’t have the same fluid gameplay experience, because the games are not designed to run on simple control schemes.
Sure, Super Tecmo Bowl looks like a cave painting compared to Madden NFL 25. I get that. And sure, I can’t control the price of hot dogs. And I can’t scout. And there’s no draft or career mode. None of the “simulation” bells and whistles are present. But what I can do is sit down with a buddy and play an amazingly fun game of football in the twenty minutes we have before kids, wives, work or some other adult concern takes over. Give me substance over style. Gameplay over simulation. Madden is 25 but it got old for me a long time ago.