As a person who has dedicated a lifetime to football, John Madden’s name is no accident when it comes to the Madden NFL series. Following his success as a high school football star, Madden went on to play at San Mateo College. Due to his great ability and sportsmanship, he was awarded a football scholarship at the University of Oregon.
After being drafted into the Philadelphia Eagles, Madden suffered a career-ending injury in the first training camp. It would be easy for most people to give up—but not Madden.
His injury allowed him to get a teaching degree and to learn coaching skills from Norm Van Brocklin. Madden never had a losing season as a head coach, and he went into sportscasting after coaching. As a sportscaster in 1988, John Madden contributed his name, voice, and creative input to the John Madden Football game.
He would tell Grantland that through these games, he wanted to build “a way for people to learn [Football] and participate in the game at a pretty sophisticated level.” The game continues to have entries even after he passed away in 2021.
Our list is sorted from worst to best, so be prepared for many games.
You can’t compare Madden NFL games from the past to today, so it’s hard to judge them. Sports games are known for their graphics and features, which are far better than those before the PS2. Expect a lot of the earlier games in the beginning, not because they’re bad but mostly because they’re not as good. Each entry brought in better gameplay and a new roster, which was enough for the time. It wasn’t until Madden NFL 2000 that the games really challenged what a football game needed to be.
John Madden Football was a step in the right direction. The game wasn’t licensed from the NFL, so there were no real-life players, teams, or numbers, but it experimented with a genre that hadn’t gotten much love on PCs or consoles.
There were still no NFL licensing rights for this game, so it had the same lack of recognition as the previous one, but it had more plays to choose from and more insight from John Madden himself.
John Madden Football ’92 introduced several new play modes were introduced in this game, such as pre-season games, playoffs, regular seasons, and sudden death, which was essentially overtime.
A lot of real features were given to players in John Madden Football ’93, and the graphics felt a lot more realistic. It felt more like a real Football game because they could make plays, change the weather, etc. John Madden Football ’93 was so well loved that the next game would carry the official NFL name in the title.
Madden NFL ’94 was the first game to feature the “EA Sports, it’s in the game” phrase. It introduced new options like Flip play and Bluff play. It was a fun game that experimented with giving players more.
With real names and numbers of players on the field, Madden NFL ’95 was a full-fledged football simulator with a lot of NFL love.
Create-a-player was a long-awaited feature in Madden NFL ’96 that allowed players to design their own NFL player. For a ranking, players had to play mini-games, which would later be removed, but it was an interesting idea.
In this Madden NFL game, players could view 2D sprites from different angles. For the first time, the series focused on its graphical capabilities.
Players could play as any football player on the field at any time. This would be the last time Madden NFL used 2D sprites for players.
This was near the end of the PS1 era, when EA started to think about huge features to add. This is the first game to feature Franchise mode, a series staple, and gave players different options when knocking over ball carriers.
Madden NFL had reached the bottom of the pit. This was the last time the series followed its copy-paste development formula. It felt exactly the same as the last four games in the series, but it didn’t really improve anything. Very little was added, glitches were still common, and the graphics weren’t impressive. We will point out Real Player Motion, which was so buggy that it hurt the game significantly.
Madden NFL 18 was hard to like because it represented a lot that is wrong with the Madden NFL series. Madden NFL 12 had been out for many years, and players still didn’t get the game modes featured from that older game in this one. It also didn’t help that the copy-paste feeling only worsened.
While Madden NFL 09 had plenty of features, its balance was off. The offense easily broke the defensive lines in every team, and everyone was blitzing because it was overpowered. While there were many singleplayer features, this was not a great year to buy Madden NFL.
In many ways, Madden NFL made a mistake using the 25 because now they can’t reuse it and it’s getting close to being 2025. There is a lot in this entry that is exclusive to multiplayer, including the superstar mode, which was not popular with singleplayer Madden NFL fans.
Madden NFL 16 added a catch system, which is a core system. That’s a great thing, and the Draft Champions mode was fun but it didn’t hold up compared to the older games in the series.
Madden NFL 13 was barebones and felt like a slap to the face for gamers. EA removed many game modes while trying to start new modes over with different features, most notably franchise mode, but Madden NFL never matched what it was in Madden NFL 12. The rest of the game, from the animation to the gameplay, was still pretty fun, but Madden NFL was entering a dark period.
Madden NFL 17 is the exception to the rule. The Madden NFL games around this time weren’t very good because EA didn’t seem to be putting much effort into them, but Madden NFL 17 was pretty good compared to its predecessors. The game was pretty balanced, and glitches weren’t as bad as they usually are. Even though it was still mostly copy-paste, it was better than usual.
Madden NFL 2001 had to enter a new era of consoles, so a lot of experimenting was required. The game was still great, and it was the first without John Madden on the cover, but it wasn’t as great as later games. There was just a problem adjusting to the new consoles.
Madden NFL 20 added a bit more to the Franchise mode of the game. It seemed like Madden NFL had stopped trying to improve because it had no real competition for a long time. It was clear from the start that the game was trying to improve its gameplay, even though it overall was not as fun as we would have liked. They also fixed Real Player Motion, which was finally fun.
Madden NFL 21 added the Yard and tried to do more without ruining the formula. Over the year, newer features were added, but Madden NFL 21 shows just how much EA has started to put into the series. There’s a lot to do in Madden NFL 21, so you must appreciate it.
Compared to previous Madden NFL games, Madden NFL 22 has more features than any other Madden NFL game in recent memory. It’s not great, but it’s not bad. Anyone who left the series when the games became copy-paste entries will find it worthwhile to jump back in.
Madden NFL 2002 brought in new features to the game and looked like it belonged on the PS2 console. Graphically, the series was finally adjusting to a new generation of consoles. From this point forward, Madden NFL games would be adding new features at every release.
Despite a great year for Ultimate Team and well-performing online modes, Madden NFL 15 wasn’t as good as previous games. There were not many modes to choose from, and the common glitches for the series first started to show themselves here, such as fumbles out of nowhere or shots missing that shouldn’t have been missed.
The last game for the PlayStation was Madden NFL 2000, and the next game would launch the games into the PlayStation 2 era. A great sendoff for the PlayStation, in which players could delegate many of the responsibilities of owning a team to the PC, such as signing free agents and releasing them.
Troy Polamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals were featured on the Madden NFL 10 cover, the first time two players were on it simultaneously. The two teams faced off in Super Bowl XLIII the previous season. The game has great gameplay but introduced Ultimate Team, which is still debated as a good idea today. It’s still an amazing game today and holds up against the more recent entries in the series.
With Madden NFL 2003, the mini-camp was brought into the series, which was a lot of fun to play. Practicing drills and improving your players was always fun, but it’s something that’s been lost in today’s series. The Franchise mode was better than ever and it was still a blast to play.
There were many new features in Madden NFL 11, but none were as great as online team play. For the first time, players could play 3 vs 3, a feature that Madden NFL extensively needed. Playing on the same team was just as fun as playing against your friends.
For a long time after it came out, Madden NFL 12 is widely considered one of the best Madden NFL games. It’s right before EA started taking features out of Madden NFL, some of which haven’t been brought back yet. In other words, Madden NFL 12 was the last time players would see a complete package.
Madden NFL 2004 features Michael Vick on the cover, which did not age well. However, the game was overall a great entry to the series. The soundtrack was fantastic and played during camps, so it felt like you were really training your players. You can find several fun features in the game, including a franchise mode and an owner mode.
Madden NFL 08 came in the transition from the PS2 era to the PS3 era, but it was great for any console you bought it on. There was so much functionality, and the next-gen game had a bit more experimentation. There was the introduction of player weapons, which is the same as the Abilities introduced in Madden NFL 20.
EA really proved why it deserved the exclusive license with the NFL with Madden NFL 2005. It pulled out many features, balanced the game better than ever before, and added the hit stick. After this game, EA would receive the exclusive license for the NFL.
Madden NFL really ended the PS2 era with a great game. As a complete package, Madden NFL 07 experimented, added many new features, and arguably deserves a remaster. Although the PS3 era would do more, Madden NFL 2007 did a great job for the series.
Madden NFL 06 was the first year that EA owned the exclusive license for the NFL and they used it wisely.
With Superstar mode, players could create their own character and compete to make it into the Pro Hall of Fame. This started as a mode where players controlled everyone on the team but quickly changed to players controlling only one player. Becoming rookie of the year while entering the Hall of Fame in the same year was always a great feeling. There is no longer a superstar mode in the series, but this one should make an offline comeback.
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