Effectively harnessing the strengths of virtual reality technology, NFL Pro Era II mostly delivers on its promise of testing how you would fare as an NFL quarterback. The locker room serves as perfect menu hub for a respectable swath of games modes. Mini-Camps Tour and 2-Minute Drill are ideal bite-sized modes where you can constantly try to beat your high scores. Season mode adds some structure and stats to your NFL journey while multiplayer's head-to-head games are a savvy addition, even if finding opponents can be next to impossible. A host of bugs threaten to derail your enjoyment at every turn though, some of which can be overlooked more than others. Running the ball is rare and ineffective by and large, leaving passing as the only dependable option. The graphics don't exactly pop off the screen and aren't helped by some clunky animations that wear out their welcome fast.
Wild Card Football makes a play at zagging where Madden is zigging by offering a zany arcade-style take on the sport, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. Its NFLPA license adds some authenticity by including real NFL players (but not their real NFL teams). A plethora of modes gives you an opportunity to experience the game in a variety of ways, with the card-collecting Dream Squad being a standout for its extensive customization.
This new feature fares better than the introduction of a total control configuration that dumbs down how to execute fancy maneuvers and complicates the business of body checking your opponent. HUT Moments provide some added depth to the single-player experience within the game's card-collecting modes. It's a shame though that offline modes like Be A Pro and Franchise have received little attention during this development cycle. The looming prospect of a battle pass within the World of Chel that you will be required to purchase in order to receive certain rewards taints an otherwise stellar online mode.
As good as the basketball can be when you're in the thick of the action, the pervasive presence of microtransactions threatens to ruin the entire appeal of the game's flagship modes. In MyCareer, you're not only all but required to purchase virtual currency to improve your attributes as in the past but now will need to buy a season pass or else run the risk of having your trusty badges regress to the point where they're almost useless. MyTeam's card-collecting mode has a similar pay-to-win framework where you can purchase level rewards or spend what feels like an eternity trying to unlock them instead. Both MyCareer and MyTeam have an offline component to offer some consolation, but taking your skills online will likely have you at a competitive disadvantage against anyone with deep pockets.
For all the talk of franchise mode receiving attention in Madden 24 after being a complete disaster zone last year, there has not been the kind of innovative changes that fans hoped for and instead it leans more towards minor quality-of-life improvements. Madden Ultimate Team milks little enjoyment from collecting cards and building a team as competing online against others will likely require shelling out real money even more so than in the past because of the way the mode is designed. The game's menus lag like crazy and that makes navigating through any of them a tedious experience.
That being said, Super Mega Baseball 4 is another worthy entry in a series that offers a wacky yet surprisingly realistic and rewarding alternative to MLB The Show's more polished recreation of baseball's players and stadiums. The new legends in the game are a fun cross section from different eras of the sport's history that mix well with game's fictional roster of players, who come complete with their own distinct appearance, personalities, and traits. There's an impressive array of ways to play, whether you prefer to play versus the game's AI or against others online. The game's "ego" or difficulty allows you to fine-tune every facet of the sport precisely to ensure that you're finding an adequate challenge when facing the CPU or online opponents.
It would be easier to view NHL 23 favorably if it was merely a gameplay update of NHL 22, but as its own standalone release, whether intentionally or not, it serves as a good argument for implementing a subscription model rather than sticking with an annual release cycle that will produce something this similar. Everything that happens on the ice is a little slicker thanks to new animations and better physics, while the game's improved AI immediately boosts the appeal of playing franchise mode. World of Chel remains one of the best online sports experiences out there, especially if you have some friends to play with on a team together, and they've injected some variety into the kinds of players you can create. Delayed or missing features like cross-platform play, franchise strategies, and pregame presentation make for some major letdowns at launch. Integral modes like Be A Pro and Hockey Ultimate Team are prime examples of just how little has changed from NHL 22 to NHL 23.
On the more worrisome side of things, the way that you're able to use skill points and club fittings to boost your abilities and give you a better chance of success calls into question the competitive balance that has typically been a calling card of the series. Online play hasn't been given much attention, with the casual playlists continuing to need an overall focus and Online Societies returning largely untouched. The antiquated replays are frustrating in the lack of control they offer the viewer and in how terrible they can present a great shot that just happened. More customization would be appreciated when sculpting your MyPlayer, like the chance to design your own unique swing.
In short, Madden 23 has progressed on the field this year in terms of providing improved presentation and gameplay (when judged as a whole) but still can't get out of its own way in terms of certain legacy-defining issues that have been with the series for years now.
The hope is that more people continue to find the game in the near future to increase the player base and help open up the possibility of adding new playlists that will keep things fresh when looking ahead to the long-term relevance of the game.
Those who did not play last year's game should not be deterred from giving Tour de France 2022 a shot. Though the graphics and animations may be a little outdated, the mechanics and how to best employ them on the course do an admirable job of recreating the strategy of cycling. The races may be long if you insist on experiencing every second of them, but the option to fast forward through sections helps immensely when the course starts to feel redundant and interminable. Anyone who did spend some playing Tour de France 2021 though is likely to be disappointed by how light this game is on new content, unless they happen to be a huge cycling fan who absolutely needs to be able to play the real route of this year's upcoming tour.
The downside is that there's a sacrifice in the visuals, where the on-court back-and-forth lags behind other titles graphically, though this is to be anticipated in a way since the game almost expects you to fast-forward through portions of matches anyway to get through the grueling calendar of events more quickly. The ability to create your own player is marred considerably by the lack of a proper creation suite and has all of the players and managers you create looking way too similar to each other. The cycle of training and entering tournaments alongside toggling between the array of menu screens will likely become tedious and redundant more quickly to those who only casually enjoy tennis.
Though the execution of Bush Hockey League doesn't ultimately live up to the novelty of its concept, the artwork throughout and its story mode deserve credit for evoking the rough-and-tumble life of minor league hockey in the '70s just as it was depicted in Slap Shot. Ultimately, it sails wide of its target though by sticking too closely to and yet still trailing behind the NHL series when it comes to the controls and not being innovative enough in the gameplay department. It does make an attempt to implement some mechanics that lean into the more violent tendencies of the sport, but they aren't nearly as rewarding or enjoyable as you would hope.
There are some weaknesses to the game though, and the biggest one that hopefully get some updates relates to how the visuals are lagging behind other releases. There is no question Tennis Elbow 4 right now lacks in detail and fluid animations. Online play is hampered by an absence of decent menus and matchmaking, making it necessary to become an active member of the Tennis Elbow 4 community if you ever want to find a match most of the time.
Mario Golf: Super Rush is pretty much everything I could want out of a Mario Golf title. Its brand of simple but rewarding golf serves as a sturdy foundation that allows the game to build on it with all sorts of ways to play against and have you interact with your opponents. The Golf Adventure single-player mode is a helpful and entertaining way to learn the lay of the land and refine the skills of your Mii before pitting your skills against other opponents online. Unfortunately, the online play could have been improved with the implementation of some intelligent matchmaking.
It's easy to imagine Tour de France 2021 satisfying fans of cycling who are seeking a video game experience that mirrors the sport they love as closely as possible, but the fact is that the game will likely be a tricky one to pick up for any neophytes like myself. Although the tutorials do what they can to walk you through the basics, the learning curve is as steep as some of the hills you'll be forced to ascend during races, and that might be enough to keep you from playing the game all that much. But for those willing to put in the time and effort, there's certainly some enjoyment and satisfaction to be had from learning how to navigate all the curves of the road and become leader of the pack. The game might not be ready to claim any yellow jerseys just yet, but its not all that far off the winning pace either.
MLB The Show 21 is still sure to satisfy most baseball fans in at least one way, and I still believe it's enjoyable enough to to win over some new fans at a time when baseball could definitely use them. But when you're the "can't miss" prospect, expectations are always high, and The Show does not always live up to those expectations this year.