A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Madden NFL 21 is a sports simulation for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PCs. The game's the latest chapter in the long-running and wildly popular Madden football franchise, which has covered numerous games and is a cultural phenomenon. Action in Madden NFL 21 tries to present a realistic version of the sport, from injuries to play schemes for situations on the field. Players who aren't experienced or who are looking for a lighter, more arcade-like experience can find that in the game as well. Violence is part of the game and the sport, and players will get bruising hits when being tackled, but no blood or gore is shown. Injuries may occasionally be seen as a result of collisions. There's no inappropriate content included in the game, although unmoderated multiplayer could expose players to comments from other players. There are some team logos and endorsed logos on stadiums that can be seen in the game, as well as Gatorade and Microsoft Surface tablet branding on the sidelines, but there's less advertising in this year's title than in previous versions. Players can also spend real money to buy packs and items for the Ultimate Team mode to boost and enhance their player-made squads.
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What's it about?
MADDEN NFL 21 takes players back to the gridiron for another season of pro football with a handful of new game modes. Face of the Franchise returns this year with a new storyline anchored around a Hall of Fame player looking back on his career, ranging from when he takes over his high school program as a quarterback from a rival who becomes his best friend. It moves to him being forced to change his position to wide receiver or running back in college, and his eventual span of time in the NFL. Aside from this mode and the inclusion of the standard Franchise mode, there are two new game modes: Superstar KO and The Yard, which are more in the arcade direction of play. Superstar KO lets you draft players from a pool of NFL stars to be the standout players on your team, as you have one drive to try to score a touchdown on your opponent. If both of you score, you're given three plays to see who gets the most yardage in a Tug of War mode. Succeed, and you get a chance to draft another star to boost your squad. The Yard, by contrast, lets you take a player-created athlete onto fields around the world as you play six vs. six matchups against other athletes based on challenges at each location. Finally, the Ultimate Team mode returns with new challenges, new boosts to player cards, and a refined system to keep players interested in building their ultimate fantasy team. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S version of the game features enhanced load times, as well as new game day cinematics, a revamped play calling system, and next-gen stats that tracks things like a player's acceleration, yards after the catch, and the time to a sack.
Is it any good?
This year's installment of football places a larger focus on arcade-like play than on traditional football, which is fine for newcomers, but hardcore fans may be disappointed. Madden NFL 21's two newest game modes, The Yard and Superstar KO, have games that can be completed in less than 10 minutes for fans who want a quick hit of football. The Yard is like a pickup game where you take the position you want to play on both sides of the ball and try to complete challenges. It even feels like playground rules, down to a rush or pass timer (virtual "one Mississippi" counts) before defenders can go after QBs -- that is, if the playground happened to be in locations like the parking lot of Lambeau Field. If you want higher stakes, including powered-up cards for your Ultimate Team, Superstar KO lets you draft NFL stars to see if you can stop opponents from getting into the end zone on their turn and then try to score when you're on offense. The tension ratchets up when you're tied with an opponent and stuck in a Tug of War battle to see who can gain the most yards in three plays, because the winner moves on, but the loser has to start over from the beginning. It's the closest thing to resurrecting EA's fan favorite NFL Street franchise. Ultimate Team has also received some upgrades, such as cleaning up the card interface and adjusting how you can upgrade players. It's mainly similar to last year's mode, but it's much easier to dive into and understand for newcomers, while still offering a lot of variety of missions and challenges.
Face of the Franchise returns, and while the story's interesting, it still falls short. It's clever to have a player that's already a Hall of Famer talking about their career from high school through the pros to a member of the press. There's even the twist of learning a new position, which happens to some players in college. But many characters and decisions feel thin and not fully fleshed out. For example, your high school teammate that's set up as a frenemy disappears once you turn pro, although he's supposedly playing in the league as well. What's worse is that it ties into the Franchise mode once you get to the pros, but virtually no updates or changes have been made from last year's game, which is disappointing. The same disappointment can be said for the PS5/Series X version of the game, which sports minimal visual and on-field updates. It should be expected that the game would have sharper graphics and faster load times to take advantage of the hardware, and it does. In fact, the players look better than they ever have, and their animation looks tighter than ever before. The PS5 version of the game also has a nice extra bit of pop thanks to the haptic feedback of the controller, so when you launch into someone with the hit stick, you feel that pop. But while the addition of the next-gen stats to provide extra details on the play is nice, it feels tentative whenever it's run. You're shown a pre-canned camera sweep down the line and a little hesitation in the video before the clip and stat are presented. It's not as dynamic as the stats that pop up in broadcasts, and isn't as effective as you'd want it to be once the novelty wears off. And while the next-gen version has clearly fixed some of the visual bugs that plagued the older version, the limited revamping of the play calling system isn't enough to provide significant depth on either side of the ball. All in all, you can't help but feel that this year's arcade-focused Madden is rebuilding towards next year's season.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about marketing to kids. Madden NFL 21 packs in product logos and even pushes for some in-game purchases for Ultimate Team. Why? Is this just a way to get more money out of players?
Do you think that Madden NFL 21 could get kids interested in playing football or watching the game in real life instead of sitting in front of a screen? Could the tutorials and lessons found in the game be used in real games of football?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
- Subjects: Language & Reading: following directions, reading, reading comprehension
- Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: analyzing evidence, applying information, deduction, logic, making conclusions, strategy, thinking critically
Self-Direction: achieving goals, effort, motivation, set objectives, work to achieve goals
Emotional Development: persevering
Collaboration: cooperation, teamwork
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Electronic Arts
- Release date: December 4, 2020
- Genre: Sports
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- ESRB rating: E for Mild Lyrics, Users Interact
- Last updated: December 9, 2020
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.