Madden 13 comes out of the locker room for the second half of the season on the Wii U, sporting good Gamepad integration and a missing Impact Engine.
As a bit of disclosure I should point out that I haven't played a Madden game with any seriousness in over a decade -- long time, I know. I do, however, have a couple of friends that make the purchase annually and I hear their views off and on throughout the NFL season. So I didn't feel as detached from the series going in as I would say a baseball game. That said, if you're looking for a review from a seasoned Madden veteran, or even one who has spent a lot of time with Madden 13, this isn't it. But this is.
On the other hand, I am a passionate NFL fan and have been for years. With Sunday Ticket this year, I've been watching the game closer than ever so my interest in trying out Madden was piqued. Anyway (quite possibly the longest intro I've ever wrote), with the Wii U version, there are some key differences, both good and bad, from the PS3/360 ones released just a few short months ago. In the good department, the Gamepad integration is nice. You can literally draw audibles and routes for offensive and defensive players to run, pre-snap of course. Depending on how much you like to doodle or how skilled you are, you might use this feature more than most. I found I used pretty often on offense, especially if I thought I saw a seam in the defense that they weren't ready to counter. Drawing up, literally, a successful audible at the last second before a snap is way cooler than having just picked a play and executed it. Success is success, no doubt, but on those plays where you came up with a change in the last
seconds, it's even sweeter.
The GamePad also enables you to peruse the Playbook while letting the TV (when I had it on) continue on as though it were an authentic, live CBS broadcast. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have pretty much become the best commentary crew on TV, so their integration here is good, but not any different than the PS3/360 version of the game. In my particular room arrangement, the TV is a good fifteen feet or so away from my head when I'm laying down on the couch, so having the playbook right in front of me to examine routes of players is a big plus. It also makes play selections far more private if you're playing in and around others.
Another option with the Gamepad that I alluded to earlier is that you can hold down Select for three seconds and enter Detached Mode which puts the entire experience on the GamePad. This works very smoothly, and as with FIFA 13 and other Wii U games, I found this the preferred way to play.
The positives aside, there are a few glaring problems with the Wii U version. The first is the lack of the Impact Engine, that player and physics focused feature that greatly altered how animations were made and how players reacted to impact on the 360 and PS3. It's a feature I didn't particularly know I was missing until a friend pointed it out. I did notice some unrealistic tackle animations while playing though, and its these that are apparently gone in Madden on PS3/360. This omission by EA is puzzling and you have to wonder if it was just a problem getting Impact Engine code to work in time for launch or if there are just some other restrictions that kept it from being included here. It may also be the cause of some sporadic and brief choppiness experienced in game too. This awkwardness is pretty rare in my experience, but I've noticed it during near-interceptions and other plays through the air. Even without the Impact Engine, Madden 13 is still plenty playable and fun, but it's not as realistic as it could be, and that detracts from the Wii U version's value.
In most other ways, the Wii U is as robust as its counterparts. Online modes are intact but the community thus far is pretty small, I normally see less than a hundred other players online at a time. That number will likely grow though, with the system and the game having only been out for a week. That said, Connected Careers mode is here, and, my favorite feature, the Madden Weekly Challenges. These are real world events that occurred during the previous NFL week that are presented here for you to see if you can change or repeat history. One of the challenges I played was from a few weeks ago and saw Matt Stafford and the Lions trying to get past the tenacious Seahawk defense with just over five minutes to go in the 4th. The goal, obviously, was to win the game, but you can do so however you please. I mixed up the run and pass pretty well until an untimely pick on third down deep in their territory, but what I really like about these challenges is that they instantly get you right into an important point in a game that just happened. Furthermore, they force you to explore other teams and situations that you might not normally use or run into. I'd also point out that there was already a Roster Update released for the Wii U, so it looks like EA is likely to support the Wii U version with updates, hopefully including patches as needed.
As for presentation, the Wii U doesn't overachieve, but it does well. I mentioned some random, brief framerate problems, and the animation of the players isn't as good because of the missing Impact Engine, but otherwise it looks and sounds good. I actually appreciate the 'generic' original soundtrack as opposed to the canned licensed EA Trax music too, which was not included here probably due to extra cost in licensing.
To the summary...