Going for gridiron glory: Seven mobile football games reviewed
Few of us will enjoy the Super Bowl this year, since the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t playing it. Still, we can’t allow our sour grapes regarding Andy Reid’s unpleasant swan song in Philadelphia to taint our enjoyment of all things football. And thankfully, your mobile device offers plenty of gaming options to get your pigskin fix, whether it’s in preparation for Sunday’s Eagles-less Big Game or to stave off the misery of a football-free offseason.
Football fun comes in various forms for touch screen-based gaming. There are true football simulators that aim to recreate the action of the game as much as is possible with entirely finger-based controls, and there are more arcade-style games that instead choose to focus on a singular element of the game: running back jukes or field goal kicking, for example.
We’ve looked at football-related iOS games before, including the long-in-the-tooth but still enjoyable Super Shock Football HD, a pair of field-goal focused apps, and the delightful running and tackling-focused Backbreaker Football 2. But here’s a fresh look at some other football titles available from most mobile app emporiums of your choosing.
Big Win Football
That’s pretty much all I need to say about Big Win Football, a free game for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices from Hothead Games. While the game gets great reviews in the iOS App Store and Google Play, it lacks everything that makes football fun.
Big Win is essentially fantasy football, only instead of using real players, all you get are fake character stats. You have a certain amount of points that you can allot to players and your team at large to grant them different skills, and then you play against an online opponent. Except, you don’t really play against an online opponent: You watch as your game gets simulated for you.
You can—and will—skip to the end of the game, especially when you see the thrilling outcomes like two consecutive 3-3 overtime ties my Fighting Touches played to. Though you can earn coins for more cards that can improve your team, Big Win Football frequently nudges you to instead spend real cash to do so. It’s a role-playing game with football as its backdrop, but watching a computer play a football game against itself is just not the kind of fun I’m after.
Pocket Passer QB
Available for the iPhone in both free (ad-supported) and $1 versions (with more game modes), Pocket Passer QB focuses just on the aerial game. You control the quarterback, and your aim is to complete as many accurate passes as you can to your receivers, in one of several modes.
Whichever version you play, the game’s mechanic remains consistent: Swipe on the ball to throw a pass. You swipe quickly for a bullet pass, and slowly for a lob. Your swipe’s direction and aim determine where the ball will go, and you need to aim differently for a lobbed pass to float into position than you do for a fast-fired bullet pass.
The game is flawed: Sometimes, it seems a little slow to respond to swipes, sometimes the menus ignore your first half-dozen taps, and it’s not optimized for the iPhone 5’s larger screen. All that said, it’s mighty fun anyway. It’s one of those addictive casual games where you steadily improve over time, and where tiny mistakes you make in one round motivate you to play again right away in hopes of doing better.
NFL Quarterback 13
Like Pocket Passer QB, NFL Quarterback 13—available in Google Play and as a universal iOS app in the App Store, focuses on the passing game. But this $2 offering is substantially different from Pocket Passer.
Both are casual games. But NFL Quarterback 13 eschews Pocket Passer QB’s more casual look, instead employing far more detailed graphics and pseudo three dimensionality, with realistically rendered players and turf.
In each of the game’s different modes, the gist is the same: You flick the ball toward the open receiver. Various power-ups let you do things like slow down time, give your receivers a boost at getting open, or sprinkle some magic on the ball that makes it more likely to reach the receivers you aimed for.
The detailed graphics come with a cost: The game is packed with loading screens, and occasionally the controls seem unresponsive on both the iPhone 5 and the iPad mini I tested with. It’s as if the game is so busy rendering the lovely imagery, it forgets to detect that you’re swiping on the ball.
Still, NFL Quarterback 13 is fun, if not quite as enjoyable as Pocket Passer QB. And though the game is filled with in-app currency and in-app purchases, I found that I was able to enjoy NFL Quarterback 13 and continue unlocking modes without needing to pony up extra real-world cash.
Running Back Challenge
A $1 game from Bluecloud with a free, ad-supported version, Running Back Challenge — Beat The Super Football Linebacker works on the iPhone and iPad alike. Its gameplay sounds reminiscent of Backbreaker: You control the running back, and you try to score without an aggressive linebacker breaking your stride.
In reality, the game is considerably more ridiculous than that description may imply. It’s closer to Doodle Jump than a football game: You use the four buttons across the bottom of the screen to move your player left or right; the buttons closer to the screen’s edges move you a bit faster and further than the inner controls. As the screen scrolls endlessly, you navigate your guy to avoid all the obstacles in his path. Along the way, you’ll try to pick up some power-ups (to blow up the visible defenders, gain Pac-Man-style invincibility for a moment, and so on), with the ultimate goal being to see how many kilometers—that’s right, metric system fans—you can run before you’re stopped. Even the Canadian Football League uses yards, fellas.
My bosses will reimburse me the dollar I spent to get Running Back Challenge for this review, and yet I will still feel ripped off.
Football Bowl Final Series
Another universal iOS game, Football Bowl Final Series is a free download from the App Store. And its gameplay is an awful lot like Running Back Challenge’s: You control the player with the ball, and you run as far as you can while avoiding everyone else.
It improves upon Running Back Challenge with miles better graphics and way better controls: You tap and drag on the screen to maneuver your player through the many defenders, and try to pick up the discarded cans of energy drink and the footballs scattered around the virtual field.
In the end, it’s the same dopey non-football approach to football, but it’s definitely a more fun take.
Madden NFL 13 Social
EA does an impressive job with its touch-based Madden football games. Madden NFL 13 Social for iPhone and iPad is a beautiful football game, with manageable touch controls, exquisite graphics, and satisfying gameplay. The challenge here is that, as in Big Win Football, the game constantly makes it quite clear that it wants you to pay real money to unlock features.
You can call two deep passing routes when you first launch the game. Want to call others? You need to unlock those plays by earning in-game currency. And—surprise!—you can unlock more virtual currency with in-app purchases.
Other weirdness with Madden NFL 13 Social: It’s an offense-only game; when the other side has the ball, you can’t see or control what’s happening until your team regains possession. Fortunately, the game is very good at resuming where you left off if you need to quit at any point. That’s extra useful, since the game is also really good at crashing, at least on my iPad mini.
Still, when you do have the ball, if you’re patient enough—or well-heeled enough—to unlock more plays, Madden’s very fun to play.
NFL Pro 2013
The folks at Gameloft put out a new NFL title each year. And they get to license the NFL team names just like EA—only Gameloft’s deal doesn’t include real players. So you control your favorite team, with a much of fake named players whose numbers are close to, but not the same as, your favorite players. It’s available for iPhone and iPad along with Android.
Just like Madden NFL 13 Social, NFL Pro 2013 is free, with tons of in-game reasons to spend cash. Yes, you can earn coinage in the game, but you have to spend it on nearly everything. It costs coins to play a game, to choose certain stadiums, and to pick categories of plays. I could choose only short passes or runs up the middle on offense, until I paid some coins to unlock wide runs and deep passes—for that game only.
More offensive than the endless nickel-and-diming—however appropriate that might be for a football game—were the too-frequent 30-second video ads that interrupt gameplay. I could find no way to disable those advertisements. They’re awful.
Not every Super Bowl turns out to be a thriller. For every classic game that ends with the likes of Joe Montana or Eli Manning pulling out a last-second victory, there are dozens of blowouts, many of them involving Fran Tarkenton. So it is with mobile football games—a few gems tucked in among a gaggle of turkeys. If you’re planning to spend the build-up to Super Sunday playing a little football on your mobile device, my advice is to check out either Pocket Passer QB or Madden NFL 13 Social. The other games feel more like super blahs.