Wild Card Football review — Back to the streets

Once upon a time, there were a ton of third-party football games on the shelves. Before the days of exclusive contracts you’d see different takes everywhere, and one of the greatest was NFL Street. It had the style of Backyard Football with an edginess that made it alluring. Then, they all disappeared, whether due to sales or contracts expiring. They might be fond memories at this point, but thankfully Saber Interactive and Playground Games have resurrected the idea behind them in Wild Card Football.

This is an American football game, so you aren’t going to be surprised by how it plays. The offense takes the football and tries to move it down the field via running the ball and passing it. In direct opposition, the defense tackles the ball carrier and attempts to do so without the offense gaining ground. They’ll also try to take the ball away, either with the runner fumbling or the passer throwing the ball to them. Throw a few punts and kicks in and you’ve got the game covered. Wild Card Football has the basic idea of football behind it, and it works.

Team Tagovailoa vs Team Allen -- Wild Card Football -- Dream Squad tour and Exhibition Match!

I say basic because Wild Card Football definitely goes the arcade route. In place of eleven players on eleven, you have seven on seven. Instead of the realistic player designs, you have the goofy, Gears of War shoulder pad appearance. Tackles are exaggerated, jukes have you handstanding over the top of defenders – this ain’t your modern day game. Wild Card Football injects the backyard into the familiar sport, and that makes it fun.

It’s hard not to love the direction chosen with the cartoonish atmosphere. It makes the absurdity of Wild Card Football work. There was never a moment that a uniform felt out of place even if you’re a chicken or have a flaming skull. That atmosphere also makes it extremely satisfying when you tackle-slam another player. It looks like you cracked open a guy’s skull, but instead of destroying someone’s career, they simply get up and keep walking. There’s a fun vibe all around in Wild Card Football, especially in a genre that sometimes takes itself too seriously.

One of the things I like most is how Saber Interactive and Playground Sports went about the licensing. I’m not sure which came first, whether the idea was there or they went for a contract, but in any case, they walked away with just the NFLPA license. That meant they could use NFL players, but not the teams or stadiums. Because of this, Wild Card Football is really wild, with crazy costumes and wacky locations to play the game in. You’re still on the grid-iron mind you, but it livens things up while still delivering the recognizable players.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address why “Wild Card” is separated the way it is compared to the “wildcard” we see in the NFL playoffs. Playing on that connection, you have wild cards in the game, a power up of sorts. These appear as you play, and are bought with energy you gain each play, with different uses available depending on what you’ve added to your custom deck. They can range from a speed boost to your wide receivers, to a full refresh of the four cards available, to turning into a giant for a few seconds to ward off tacklers. These add a lot of excitement into the game, because you never know when someone is going to break open the game with one.

Speaking of game breaking, I haven’t found an instance where these hurt my enjoyment of the game. There is only one that seems too overpowered; a card that instantly makes it fourth down. Thankfully it isn’t a card that will pop up often and requires a full energy meter to utilize. Remember, a player’s use of these cards is as important as the card itself, so there is balance in a place where chaos could have reigned. Also, it’s a good idea to use your cards in general as your energy replenishes very liberally; my hoarder self often wouldn’t spend them, leaving me unable to earn more than the maximum amount.

Going from Madden to Wild Card is quite a jump. They are drastically different games, but that’s perfectly fine and needed. In the Season Mode there is no trading players or team building, this is your chance to play against the computer with your favorite team and learn plays. I found myself using this mode to try different ways to extend plays and work on the running game.

Beyond the different tone of the game, the controls are also extremely different. I found myself trying to use Madden controls only to look like a fool as defensive players would lift up my running back and smash him into oblivion. Playcalling is also different, as you have a small amount of plays to run, but these plays can be switched out for other ones in the Playbook menu.

Madden is simulation, Wild Card is just smash-mouth, fun football. The cards add something Madden simply isn’t built for, adding some Backyard Football vibes throughout the game. However, if you don’t like the “card” aspect of Wild Card, you can turn off the system quite easily in single player modes.

The games are also much easier to get through compared to a Madden match, especially in the Ultimate Team/Dream Squad comparison. I never spent longer than 15 minutes in a game for the whole thing. Getting through matches is a breeze. For those of us with packed schedules, this game makes for an easy, “drop in and play” experience.

As for what you’re playing, Wild Card Football has a few modes to keep you entertained. Exhibition is your standard “team versus team.” Season allows you to play out an entire season with the fake teams named after their respective quarterbacks, and Dream Squad (more on that below). There’s also online multiplayer available in them with crossplay included. I hope there are more ways to play the game, because it is a tad bare bones right now.

Exhibition and Season will be familiar to anyone who has played a football game before, but Dream Squad is where the magic is. This takes on a form similar to Madden Ultimate Team, with players earned by opening card packs. Players also gain XP and improve their ratings as they play in these matches. Even the best of player cards aren’t max level, so this encourages you to play the game rather than just look for the best cards. You’ll also build your actual team this way, through logos, uniforms, and wild card cards. Playground Sports has something engaging and fun here, with a rewarding grind.

The ways to play here are three fold: quick online matches, a league mode (these two involve online play), and Tour. Tour is the one I’m enjoying the most, a single player ladder romp with a few different modifiers. Some games play up to a specific score, some have no wild cards at all, and others are completely normal. They also don’t stop at one ladder; new ladders are created when you finish the current one. It’s a fun way to build your team up, and also gives card packs to boot.

Looking at the card system in Dream Squad, it seems clear Playground Sports wants to get you involved in the grind and economy of the mode. Have a bunch of player, wild card, logo, or vanity (full and pieces of uniform) cards you don’t need? Trade them in for tickets to buy even better cards. The best ones cost a pretty penny in tickets, so you’re going to be putting in the time if you want them.

Microtransactions are the elephant in the room. After all, Madden has made its mark in monetization with Ultimate Team packs. Considering Wild Card Football’s main mode is all about new players and deck-building, I’m impressed with it sticking to a grind over buying card packs. It’s not predatory, with the only options being a Deluxe pack and Season Pass, which are both one time purchases. Thank you for keeping the game clean of grimey microtransactions, PlayGround Sports.

Personally, I didn’t run into any sort of “glitches” while I played through the different modes. Everything worked the way I expected given the atmosphere Wild Card Football creates from the beginning of the tutorial. It’s meant to be fun, fast paced, and a little dumb at times. That’s the charm, and as long as you’re expecting it going in rather than a simulation game, it’s quite a lot of fun.

That said, I have noticed the AI to be dense at times. I’ve hit several receivers in the hands and they just miss the ball. There have been instances where my receiver has a route set, yet runs it very broadly (as in, it says to run a go route but he’s a decent bit diagonal). Because there’s not much in terms of control when passing, your QB is very dependent on their rating, meaning a lot of throws will be wayward. The defenders also blow their share of assignments, not unlike their NFL counterparts. It’s not an “all the time” issue, but it’s worth the mention.

The multiplayer also runs very well. While I played the game on Xbox Series X, our test involved one player on an Xbox One to the other on Series X. Surprisingly, there was very low latency, and very few instances of stoppages beyond a few times when the opponent’s play was coming through. By and large the connection is flawless, something few games can claim on opening day.

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David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.

Adam is a musician and gamer who loves his partner in crime, Regan, and their two pets Rey and Finn. Adam is a fan of Star Wars, Mass Effect, NFL Football, and gaming in general. Follow Adam on Twitter @TheRexTano.



Wild Card Football

Review Guidelines

Wild Card Football is not just a perfect break for the Madden player, but a fantastic throwback to playground football. With recognizable NFL athletes playing in wacky uniforms and stadiums, it’s hard not to have a blast. This is arcade football at its peak; Playground Sports has nailed the nostalgia for PS2 games past.

David Burdette and Adam Moreno

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