Sunday, January 6, 2019

A Year of Games, Week #1: Mobile Madden MVP (Minimum Viable Product)

For those unfamiliar with agile development, minimum viable product (MVP) is where you start by delivering the simplest, most basic yet functional version of a product possible and then build out from there, incrementally improving and extending in "sprints". It's an interesting concept to keep in mind when thinking about some early mobile games. For example, you might consider Flappy Bird the penultimate example of an MVP for mobile games.

But back to my subject, Madden Football. And more specifically Madden on the Nintendo 3DS.

I've played Madden on many game consoles, starting with the N64, through GameCube, Wii, and PS2, 3 and 4. Each iteration getting more complex, more detailed, and more "realistic", graphically. I bought Madden for the 3DS when I first got the handheld (because it was one of the few day one games). However, I never played it at the time and it has sat, still shrink wrapped, on my shelf until recently, when I took it down, opened it and played it.

Considering its age and the limitations and newness of the platform at the time, Madden Football on the 3DS is actually a pretty good football game. Which surprised me.

I've played handheld Madden games before — on both the DS and PSP. But they aren't quite football. Don't get me wrong, they are fun video games. But it is kind of like playing cowboys and Indians using thread spools and clothespins as people. The sprites are clunky and malformed, everyone runs at 90 degree angles (kind of like drawing a diagonal like on an Eatch-A-Sketch), and the perspective is pulled back so far you're not really controlling the characters as much as bouncing them off each other in a giant game of pinball.

So if you are looking for a realistic football experience, you'll be disappointed. And frustrated. But if you forget the footballness of it and think of it simply as a type of abstract game dressed in football attire, they can be quite fun. Kind of like Pachinko with passing plays.

[Note: there was also a Game Boy Advanced version of Madden. However, I have never played it so I leave I to the reader's imagination what that might be like...]

Which is where Madden Football on the 3DS differs. It is more like its console kin than its handheld forebearers. The perspective is closer in and the controls are tighter. Mind you, this is not high end graphics in any way. It is just passably into the 3D realm — minimally viable as an actual football game.

Because it was first out on the 3DS, it also provides 3D-ish views. Which is OK, but acceptable because you can turn them off. The one feature that does irk me is that, since it was doing actual 3D polygons, the developers decided to show this off by actively rotating the camera as the play developed. A fancy but useless addition to game play and quite honestly made me a little seasick. Because the camera swings from end to end up to three times in a single play (such as a kickoff). This unnecessary feature, that can't be turned off, might be a fatal flaw.