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On home consoles, Madden NFL 25 celebrates the series' titular anniversary with yet another quality entry built around a strong, refined core. Irritatingly, on iPhone and iPad, the game of the same name is by and large a nightmare of free-to-play roadblocks, initially limiting access to most of the on-field plays, charging in-game coins for some of those that are available, and requiring slowly-replenishing energy to even play the game. But the saddest part is that such limitations surround what's ultimately not a very good representation of the sport.
Madden NFL 25 builds upon the bite-sized, turn-based multiplayer approach seen in last year's solid Madden NFL 13 Social, but completely abandons those users; progress doesn't transfer over, so if you logged ample time and/or money in the earlier entry, be prepared to start from scratch like everyone else.
It's a slow, repetitive climb from those early hours towards anything resembling a comprehensive football simulation, unless you're open to shelling out a lot of cash. Madden NFL 25 locks most of its playbook away until you level up your profile across hours upon hours of gameplay; you'll start off with just a couple of plays in each basic category (running, short pass, and long pass) and typically only earn one or two more overall each time you level up. Some of the plays that unlock even require you to spend some in-game coins for each use for no apparent reason, other than to diminish your supply and penalize you for wanting some variety in your approach.
Similar to the Ultimate Team mode from the home games, you'll build your custom team by collecting player cards, which is done by completing challenges and buying new packs using in-game or purchased currency. The Solo Challenge offers an interesting and compact single-player approach, with each mission tasking you with playing a couple of drills and then brief games to unlock special cards. Single exhibition games are also available, though they require a lot of energy to play (it takes four hours to replenish the amount required). And as in Madden NFL 13 Social before it, multiplayer takes the form of a turn-based asynchronous shootout, where you'll only play your downs on the offensive side of the ball before your online opponent plays his/hers against the computer, constantly alternating until the game ends. Streamlined as it may be, it's an approach that works well for a social, mobile take on Madden.
But much as Madden NFL 25 impresses with its presentation and executes many of the fundamentals of football well enough, it's the inconsistencies that hurt here. The computer doesn't play smart, showing no effort to manage the clock when needed, plus going for a punt when a field goal is very much in range. Also, the defenders seem particularly feeble when it comes to the running game, as we saw more breakaway sprints for touchdowns here than we've ever seen in the console entries. Moreover, the touch control scheme generates some frustrating moments, like trying to launch a bullet pass to a receiver and instead sending the QB running right into a pile of players. And before-the-snap actions like audibles? Nowhere to be found.
The online-connected interface is also a problem, as it sometimes took 20-30 seconds to load up the play calling screen, and we had a couple of single-player games drop out due to a lost connection with Facebook. Luckily, it's very easy to pick back up where you left off, but that's still an incredible annoyance. It's always sad to see a good game ravaged by brutal free-to-play elements, and EA has seemed receptive to tweaking its freemium models in recent months (see Real Racing 3 and Ultima Forever) – but simply easing the restrictions in Madden NFL 25 won't make up for its on-the-field errors and sluggish, time-wasting interface. It's messy, and it's a major missed opportunity.
The bottom line. Madden NFL 25's excessive, overlapping freemium limitations actively discourage playing and investing time in it.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 5.0 or later
Looks pretty slick on the field. Includes all 30 teams plus their players.
Free-to-play restrictions leave a husk of a football game, unless you pay up or log dozens of hours. On-the-field inconsistencies and limitations make for a dull game. Touch control issues, though the analog stick isn't a perfect solution. No season mode or any other longterm play approach.