It's easy to look at the Madden series as being an annual cash-in: a roster update with a few minor tweaks in a given year. The great news for football fans is that this year's edition is about as complete an experience as fans could ask for, with a wide variety of play tweaks, graphical and physics improvements that make it the best Madden of this console generation. The interface is simplified, with easy egress to the online component and a clearer selection of game modes. The most critical new mode is Connected Careers, which lets players choose or create a coach or a player and guide them through multiple seasons and, ultimately, a career. The new mode can be played online with friends or solo, and can be played in a variety of different ways, whether you like scouting new prospects and building up a team or getting your hands on the ball. It's extraordinarily flexible, and completely engrossing, and can even be managed online when gamers are away from their consoles. The real star of Madden 13 is the new physics engine, which completely does away with the canned animations that marked previous incarnations of the series. Every hit is different and the variety of tackles, pushes, trips, jumps and swats adds huge novelty to every play. Receivers and defenders have to be looking at the ball to have a chance of a successful catch, swat or pick, which adds a needed level of strategy, but will take some getting used to. Experienced Madden players will probably throw an unusual number of picks at first, as playing QB requires patience and awareness that previous Maddens have not. The Xbox version supports Kinect at the line for calling audibles, timeouts and hot routes, but experienced players will probably find their fingers faster and more reliable. Madden 13 really is the best version of the game in years, maybe ever, and the new innovations don't just make the game more realistic -- they make it more fun. Score: 10 out of 10 SI Photos: Madden cover curse SI Photos: From Mattel to Madden
2 of 7John Biever/SI
NFL Sunday Ticket Returns to the PS3
Good news for folks without DIRECTV access: NFL Sunday Ticket will once again be available on the PS3 for the 2012 season. The package will cost $300, down $40 from last season, and will include HD streams for all Sunday out of market games as well as the Red Zone Channel. The Sunday Ticket app had a rough launch last year with stream quality issues, so we're hopeful that's all resolved for the start of this season. Sunday Ticket will launch on the PlayStation Network on Tuesday, September 4. Update: Sunday Ticket on the PS3 got off to a solid start with the opening weekend of the 2012 NFL season. The stream stability for games was good, and switching between games was reasonably fast. We'd still like to see the video quality improve -- it's not as good as what we're seeing out of MLB.TV on the PSN and Xbox Live. For folks without DIRECTV, the Sunday Ticket service is still a very good option.
3 of 7Acitivision
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
Last year's Transformers game, Dark of the Moon, was a real letdown for fans that were hoping to see a sequel to the far more successful War for Cybertron (2010). Thankfully, Fall of Cybertron answers the call with a fast-paced third-person shooter that will appeal to both Transformers fans and gamers looking for a good bit of action. Fall of Cybertron features 13 levels that are designed around specific playable Autobot and Decepticon characters. You'll of course get to wield the likes of Optimus Prime, Megatron, Soundwave, Jazz and Bumblebee, but also fan favorites Bruticus and Grimlock. Each level is tailored to the abilities of a character, so the tradeoff is better scripted set pieces but very linear level design. Because of the rich source material the game has a solid plot, but more importantly it's a lot of fun and is backed with good graphics are a nice variety of terrain. Weapon upgrades are littered throughout each level, so there's plenty of ways to blast your way through. Fall of Cybertron doesn't have co-op campaign, but you won't miss it between a great escalation mode where you have to survive endless waves of opponents and a decent array of other multiplayer modes. Score: 9 out of 10
4 of 7Nintendo
Super Mario Bros. 2
Nintendo's iconic plumbers return in this highly polished 2D platformer with some of the most inventive level design and control precision you can find on a handheld (or anywhere else). An emphasis on coin-collecting is a welcome gameplay twist, with the game-wide goal of collecting one million coins looming over the proceedings. A new feature known a Coin Rush Mode places users in three randomly selected levels to pick up as many coins as possible in a limited amount of time; in addition to chasing your own top scores, you can compete against other players you meet via StreetPass. While the level design is on par with other 2D games in the series, it doesn't feel as innovative as the more recent 3D games like the Wii's Mario Galaxy games or 2011's Super Mario 3D Land, also released on the 3DS. Yet as a throwback to side-scrollers of yore, it's a worthy descendant. Score: 8 out of 10
5 of 7Sony
Sound Shapes is a unique platformer that proves a clever design aesthetic can produce a very entertaining product. In Sound Shapes you control a rolling ball blob thing you have to navigate past various perils from one side of the screen to another. Scattered throughout each stage are circular coin-like items. These discs affect the music as you collect them, changing the beat, rythym and arrangements to produce a dynamic score. You can advance without collecting them, but then the music doesn't level up in the same manner. Some of the stages in the game's 20 levels are challenging, but Sound Shapes' solo campaign can be beaten in just a few hours. Fortunately, there's a level building tool than you can use to shape your own creations and then share them online. If you purchase the game on the PS3 or on the Vita you get both versions for the same price. You can synch save between both devices. Sound Shapes smartly combines subtle, colorful and clean graphics with great music to produce an engaging and addictive game that will keep you coming back for more. Score: 9 out of 10
6 of 7Sony
Hands on: LittleBigPlanet Karting
It should probably be taken as a truism that any videogame franchise with a sufficient sense of whimsy will, at some point, eventually spawn a kart racer. And if there's one thing that the LittleBigPlanet series has in spades, it's whimsy. The karting mechanics in the incomplete beta were sufficient, feeling more like Sony's ModNation Racers than the tight fluidity of Mario Kart, but they retained the floaty feel that mark the LBP platforming games. Where LBP Karting will look to differentiate itself from its competitors is with its content creation, customization and sharing tools, which are shaping up to be wild. Not content to just allow the creation of tracks, the developers have created tools to create completely customized tools and "adventures," which function as objective-based levels. The reality is that the success or failure of LBP Karting is going to be very dependent on how much support it gets from its mod community, but the array of tools available for creative play is as impressive as the core driving mechanics are familiar. LittleBigPlanet karting is scheduled for a November 6 release.
7 of 7Sony
Hands on: LittleBigPlanet
Following the success of Little Big Planet on the PS3, it's not a surprise that Sony has targeted the Vita to expand the empire. The beta version of LittleBigPlanet featured several complete levels as well as a look at the level builder tool. The levels were pretty polished with solid graphics, evoking the same DNA as its console brethren. The Vita touch controls were used to help clear levels, which given the greatness of the Vita's dual analog sticks seems somewhat unnecessary, but it's not anything you can't get used to. Level building used the touch pad controls more effectively to make the process faster and more intuitive. If the all components come together this could quickly become one of the Vita' must-own games. Little Big planet on the PS Vita is scheduled for a September 25 release.
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