Review: Madden NFL 11 for iPhone has a size problem

Noah Kravitz
 from  Oakland, CA
| August 11, 2010

EA Sports' Madden NFL 11 for iPhone is a state-of-the-art game packed full of features and sophisticated gameplay and bolstered by evolutionary new features that make it eminently more playable than its predecessor. Madden blows away its nearest competition for the title of Best Mobile Football Game.

And yet it's not really an awesome game. I'd call it "Very Good" at best. Why? The screen's too darn small.

Despite its ultra-high resolution, iPhone 4's display is still only 3.5" physical inches from one corner to the other. EA Mobile did a great job of trying to balance powerful features with playability, dazzling graphics with onscreen virtual controls, and gameplay mechanics with the limitations of a buttonless device. A new feature called Gameflow gives you the option of letting the computer pick your plays for you, which greatly speeds up the flow of play while still allowing for manual play-calling when you feel like it. Madden 11's slow-motion mode - which enables signature moves and more precise control of your offensive and defensive players - makes it a lot easier to pull off console-style tricks within the tiny confines of a handheld mobile device. And you can draw hot routes right on the display, which is a neato use of touchscreen technology that makes me wonder if touchpads will eventually catch on as secondary controllers for console gaming system. Not all of these newfangled controls actually wound up becoming a big part of the way I tried to beat the other team, and a virtual joystick will never replace physical controls (at least for me), but it's cool to see EA being innovative in their approach to touch-based play.

And yet it's not really an awesome game. I'd call it "Very Good" at best. Why? The screen's too darn small.

Graphics performance is really nice, and by and large the iPhone 4 I've been playing Madden 11 on has been able to keep up with the heavy audio, visual, and gameplay demands placed on it. Announcers, touchdown dances, field conditions, multiple uniforms, multiple play modes: Madden for mobile has enough customization options to keep hardcore gamers reasonably happy while also making it easy - and entertaining - for the novice to pick up their phone and dive right into a goal line stand.  The in-game tutorial system is lengthy, which it has to be given the myriad ways to control the on-field action, but it's also well executed and easy to follow.

And yet it's not really an awesome game. I'd call it "Very Good" at best. Why? The screen's too darn small.

Madden NFL 11 for iPhone costs $7.99. That's a lot for an app, but much less than the $60 it costs for PS3 or Xbox 360. There's also an iPad version of Madden NFL 11 that will run you $12.99. I'm frustrated by that, though I don't know if it's fair that I am. On the one hand, EA could have gone the Universal App route and given folks the iPhone and iPad versions for one sorta-low price. On the other hand, since the iPad version is "DESIGNED JUST FOR iPADTM" (that's a quote from the iTunes preview page), it stands to reason that it should be sold as a separate app. But still, $20 is a lot of app cash just to be able to move from an iPhone/iTouch to an iPad without losing your Madden. 

I'd rather play my several years old copy of Madden for PSP because PSP has buttons and a D-Pad, but EA did a nice job of making the Madden experience for iOS devices the best it's ever been. But it's almost like they went too far in trying to tailor the console game to fit a smaller, touch-based device. Instead, maybe they should have gone for a much simpler, more arcade like experience that's lower on sophistication and options and higher on adrenaline-based casual gameplay. I'm not a hardcore-enough gamer - or Madden fan - to know, but that's the sense I have right now. 

EA Sports' Madden NFL 11 is the best football game for iPhone or any other cell phone that I've played or even heard of. And yet it's not really an awesome game. I'd call it "Very Good" at best. Why?

I think you know the answer to that one by now.

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