People play sports because of a certain competitive spirit imbued within them; a desire to play against the best and persevere. People play sports video games for much the same reason. There is certainly a lazier bent to gaming in favor of the real thing, but the competitive spirit remains. You play Madden because you want to show your friends you have the greatest mastery of Aaron Rogers' throws, Arian Foster's jukes, and Patrick Willis' brutal tackles. You want to go online, or play locally against strangers and friends alike, and reign supreme over them.
In Madden NFL Football for the newly-released 3DS system, you cannot do this. This is a multiplayer-bereft game of video game football. The only witness to your theoretical digital gridiron glory will be mindless AI players, who frankly could not give a flip about how awesome that deep pass was, or how badly you smoked them on that killer interception. What awaits you is not the heat of intense competition, but the icy, soulless embrace of computer opponents who bend and react with all the humanity of a game of electric football. How pathetic is this? The iPhone version, which is less than a quarter of the cost of the version found on this new-fangled device, has multiplayer capabilities. Chew on that one, and tell me it isn't a little salty.
Mind you, multiplayer is not the only thing missing from Madden NFL Football. For starters, there is the obvious year marking in the title, which seems to suggest that this is an iteration of Madden that exists outside of time as we perceive it. Considering what an insane regression this is from what players got to know on the DS of old, credence is lent to that theory. The game offers up 11-on-11 and 5-on-5 permutations of football. In the 5-on-5 game, you play to a score of 30, and the incongruous soundtrack plays incessantly over the action. Otherwise, there is little difference beyond fewer player models on the field.
In either event, you can opt for quick matches against the computer, or play in the season mode. That's not a franchise mode, mind you. It's a season mode. You play a season. That's it. Feature wise, it's actually a little like the online franchise mode introduced to the console versions not terribly long ago. Except there are no other people playing besides yourself, and the computer is seemingly incapable of trades, because that's probably hard to program, or something.
That is the gamut of modes to run through. When you tire of playing through single season after single season, perhaps you can create your own metagame out of "how many scoring exploits can I find in this game?" Handheld versions of Madden have never been the shining beacons of quality of the franchise, but over the years, whatever short-straw-drawing developers EA happened to lock in a supply closet for the duration necessary to churn out the latest DS and PSP editions of the game clearly developed some kind of Stockholm Syndrome, and out of sympathy for their captors, began turning in progressively more playable--if not exactly impressive--handheld football games. Some included multiplayer, even.
While this Madden plays a generally functional game of football in some scenarios--specifically when tuned to the All Pro difficulty, and after half-an-hour or so spent fudging with the few available gameplay sliders--it's effectively broken outside of those specific scenarios. All Madden is, predictably, impossible, cheap, and annoying. The default Pro setting cannot be considered anything but an elaborate, jokey reference to Tecmo Bowl. Every running back capable of moderate speed can regularly punch in huge gains like the great, diagonal Bo Jackson. On kick returns, the touchdowns you don't get are the anomaly. Run forward, then run sideways, then run forward again, and watch as opponents struggle mightily to catch up. I got 14 return touchdowns in a row before I finally found a kick returner slow enough to negate the exploit. He was a linebacker, by the way.
But what of the 3D? Or, you know, the only possible remaining reason to buy this thing? It's OK. The primary functionality of the 3D is to take the UI overlays and make them stand out against the depth of the play field. So scores, game clock, and other display-related bric-a-brac are all up in your face, while the field remains mostly the same. There is a bit of visual depth to the field you wouldn't otherwise get, but its purpose is elusive. The on-field action does at least look reasonably decent, with player models receiving a bump in quality over previous DS iterations. It looks more like the old PSP games than anything else. Still, animations are as janky as ever, especially when two players happen to rub up against one another, and while it's admirable that EA was able to shoehorn the console versions' commentary track onto a 3DS cart, it also seems an entirely superfluous and mildly cruel inclusion, given the giant, gaping holes found elsewhere.
Madden NFL Football on the 3DS is a senseless endeavor. Its sole purpose seems to be to exist as a Madden game on store shelves at a platform launch. It's a crass, vacant husk so lacking in personality or substance that it might as well just be called Football Video Game: IN 3D!!! It's the worst kind of opportunism at $40 a pop. The tragedy is that it will work. People will buy this, because it exists at the right moment. Perhaps EA will release the rest of this game--namely, the fun parts--as part of its next Madden suite. That would be little solace for those who purchased this dreck. They'll still be saddled with this worthless, untradeable lump sitting on their game shelf, like a benign inoperable tumor.