Madden NFL Football is a woefully incomplete game. The list of features not included in this 3DS launch game is almost longer than what's on the cart, which makes this game practically worthless for casual and hardcore football fans alike. The most glaring omission is multiplayer; there's absolutely no way to challenge a friend to a match. The Madden franchise is built on competition, showing off your virtual might and letting the trash-talking fly. Stripping out that key element demeans your actions. What good is showing off if no one is watching? But even if you fancy yourself a single-player footballer, this game still won't leave you satisfied. There's no Franchise mode included, the Season mode is devoid of context, and the only statistics that have been kept are for wins and losses. Once you do hoist the Lombardi Trophy, you're merely greeted with a perfunctory congratulations screen and the option to start the season over from the beginning, following the same schedule. The on-the-field action is adequate, but it hardly matters. There's little reason to play this disgraceful attempt at America's most popular sport.
Like other versions of Madden, you have the option to take to the practice field to get a handle of the basics, though even newcomers should be able to jump into a game with nary a hiccup. The responsive controls are easy to come to grips with, and the smooth circle pad makes juking away from foes a breeze. In fact, it might be a little too easy to evade your opponents. The artificial intelligence on the default setting is laughable, which means you spend more time perfecting your end zone trot than devising come-from-behind strategies. The special teams are particularly awful. Returning kickoffs for touchdowns becomes so commonplace that it's actually rather boring. And the opposing coach is so confident in his kicker that he'll frequently send him out for 60-yard attempts, which invariably land 10 yards away from their target. Swing passes go for long gains all too often, and there are wide receivers open down the field every other snap. Matches become more competitive once you ratchet up the difficulty, but the propensity for big plays never abates.
Once you've gotten the hang of things, it's time to graduate beyond one-and-done games. Sadly, there's no Franchise mode included, which is the main draw in most Madden games. Usually, you can build your team from pretender to contender by drafting well, signing the right free agents, and pulling off blockbuster trades. The joy of running a team for multiple seasons gives you a taste of being a real-life general manager, but you won't find any of that long-term dedication in Madden NFL Football. Instead, you have to settle for a cursory season mode. Here, you choose your favorite team and take part in the 2010 NFL season. There's no draft, no preseason, and no way to make trades, which is a very poor representation of the real thing. The game doesn't keep track of your individual or team statistics (aside from win/loss record), and there aren't any season awards, such as Most Valuable Player or Rookie of the Year. If you do make it to the Super Bowl, you aren't even treated to an elaborate celebration for your accomplishments. There's no pregame hype to get you excited about reaching the big game, the announcers don't make reference to the Super Bowl, and there's no victory celebration at the end.
The only other way to play this embarrassing game is in 5-on-5 mode. You can do this in one-off games or in a season, and it's even worse than the standard 11-on-11 fare. The rules are different from standard games. You have four downs to get in the end zone. You can't get any first downs, and there aren't special teams to bail you out of a jam. Despite these differences, it plays a lot like the main action. One of the most effective stratagies is to stand in the pocket until a receiver breaks free and then throw as hard and as far as you can. It's not much fun, and it's made even worse by the awful audio choices. During normal games, enthusiastic Gus Johnson is joined by judgmental Cris Collinsworth, and though they repeat themselves too often, they do add some authenticity to the action. But in 5-on-5 mode, you have to suffer through an EA Trax soundtrack instead. The music is a collection of bland pop hits, and it doesn't exactly mesh with the on-field action. It would have been vastly preferable to have the option of real commentators rather than incongruous background music.
One element that could have made Madden NFL Football noteworthy would have been its novel ability to showcase the action in 3D. Sadly, that visual effect is handled with the delicacy of a rampaging linebacker. The third dimension turns this pleasant-looking game into a digital syrup of ipecac. The biggest problem is that your eyes have to constantly scan the entire field. In most games, you can stare at your main character and let the other elements drift into your periphery. But in Madden NFL Football, you have to constantly keep your eyes on the quarterback, the receivers, and the rushing defenders, which makes it hard to keep track of the action. It moves too fast to take in everything at once, and it's quite a feat to make it through an entire game with the effect turned on. And even if you can stomach the added dimension, there's no benefit for your suffering. It's not any easier to judge player position or line up a long field goal, so it's really not worth the eye strain.
Madden NFL Football is a disappointment on every level. The game can't even get the implementation of gameflow right. This was the attention-grabbing addition to Madden NFL 11 that auto-selected plays for you and let you focus on the action rather than get bogged down in menus. But there's a sizable pause that takes place when one play ends and the next begins, with a warning of "simulating gameflow" plastered on the bottom of the screen. It's ultimately a small problem, but it's indicative of the quality of the entire package. With no multiplayer, no Franchise mode, and no stat-keeping, there's little reason you should play Madden NFL Football.