Madden 11 on the iPad: A perfect armchair QB

Most iPad games settle for slight resolution bumps to justify their "HD" name, but Madden 11 HD for the iPad earns its price point.

Madden on the iPad: perfect together?
Madden and the iPad: Perfect together? EA

Video game football on the go used to be a challenging proposition for a mobile armchair quarterback. Nintendo's handhelds have never made great versions of Madden. The PSP has a superior iteration, if you've got a PSP. The door opened up to a lot more folks with the iPhone version of Madden that debuted last year, but its game quality was far from the current console generation. In fact, it often resembled the N64 version from a decade ago in terms of graphic style, and suffered from an awkward virtual analog stick control scheme.

Enter the iPad. Apple's tablet has offered up lots of gaming potential but relatively few killer app games since its spring debut. Many iPad games boast "HD" editions for ramped-up prices, delivering not much more than the promise of a larger screen, but football seems like a perfect candidate for an iPad upgrade . Madden 11 is available for both the iPhone and iPad in two different editions, costing $7.99 and $12.99 respectively. Does the iPad version offer anything to justify the cost? ( Check out our take on the console version of Madden 11. )

Based on our experience so far, yes--provided you're not expecting the console edition. First off, the graphics and player models on this year's mobile Madden appear greatly improved, more on a par with PS2/PSP versions of the game. Processor speed also helps: on the iPhone 3GS, an early build of Madden 11 seemed choppy. On the iPad, animations and plays flowed more smoothly, although not at a console or even PSP level yet.

Madden wisely uses the added iPad screen real estate to draw a larger field of vision for the players, avoiding the blinder feel from which the iPhone edition suffered. Analog controls still grace the corners of the screen, but a much larger emphasis is placed on tapping to control, drawing routes for both offense and defense, and playing a more casual armchair QB style of play, as opposed to frantic button mashing. Playcalling is also a lot easier simply through offering more plays onscreen at once in a page-turning playbook format. Actual plays still operate in a strange hybrid of virtual analog pad and touch-tapping for throwing to receivers--we'd prefer all touch, eliminating control pad use completely, since it's a weird stand-in for a physical analog pad and doesn't feel comfortable in clutch situations.

The options in Madden on the iPad are as limited as its iPhone cousin--only quick-play, single season, and playoff modes are here. Missing, still, is a good franchise mode. Even multiplayer isn't unlocked yet--the options menu says "coming soon." Another mode, Vintage Voltage Football, promises to be a recreation of the old magnetic NFL board games from the 1970s, like Super Shock football, an already existing Chillingo title. It, too, isn't unlocked yet on the final version of Madden 11 we played.

Madden 11 still lacks the compelling online play modes and deep franchise options that its console sibling has, but even at $12.99 it could be one of the iPad's star games. It's light on depth, but it's a lot more portable--and cheaper--than the console version.

 

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