Ranking the 10 Best Versions of Madden Through the Years
What's the Best Madden Game of All Time?
With all due respect to the numerous sports video game franchises out on the market, it's a well-known fact that the “Madden NFL” franchise is the most successful sports video game franchise ever. It's been able to sustain an unbelievable 25-year run and has sold nearly 100 million copies during that span. This is particularly impressive when you consider that the next best-selling team sports franchise is EA Sports's NBA Live, which has not been published for the past few years and has sold 35 million copies — not even half as much as Madden has.
The great thing about the creators of the Madden franchise is that they've been the kings of innovation. They created the first game that featured 11-on-11 football, and created a standard with their Franchise and Superstar modes, which are now must-haves in every sports game which is released. Even when the Madden folks went through a period of struggle, though, they made sure everyone knew that they were not to be messed with and signed a deal with the NFL which made it illegal for any other company to produce an NFL game.
There's constantly debate over which Madden game was the best, and there are plenty of factors which need to be considered when making that determination. For this list, we are focusing on the amount of innovation that was contained in the game, as well as the general consideration of how enjoyable it was to actually play the game. Everyone has their own opinions, though, so feel free to comment and speak your mind.
So without further ado, here they are: the 10 greatest “Madden NFL” releases of all time.
10. Madden NFL 25
We start off with the most recent Madden release. Madden 25 was very solid; however, it did not really make many improvements over Madden 13 other than some tweaks to the Connected Careers mode and a few minor graphics and gameplay changes. It's hard to follow up a game as good as Madden 13, but the developers did a good job with Madden 25.
9. Madden NFL 2004
Madden 2004 was sandwiched between arguably the two greatest releases in Madden history, but it nevertheless did a good job of introducing new features and was a fun game to play. This game debuted owner mode, which gave players complete control over virtually everything that went on with their organization. In addition, it also improved the minicamp games of Madden 2003 by integrating them into franchise and owner mode as a player progression opportunity. Madden 2004 also had one of the most expansive soundtracks in the history of the franchise.
8. John Madden Football (1988)
The 1988 version of John Madden Football may not have been the best-designed game in the world, and it didn't actually feature any NFL teams. However, it was the first game to feature 11-on-11 football, and it had plenty of other cool things that had not previously been achieved in games, such as injuries and varying weather conditions. This inaugural version of Madden set the standard for the many games which followed it.
7. Madden NFL 2000
Madden NFL 2000 was not exceptionally innovative, but the development of the game was executed much better than its predecessor. Madden 2000 featured an improved version of the franchise mode which debuted in Madden 1999, fixing tweaks which made the mode much more usable.
6. Madden NFL 10
Though it wasn't the first Madden title to appear on seventh-generation consoles, Madden NFL 10 really ushered in the seventh-gen Madden era. The developers stepped things up big-time by reformulating the game to make it much more similar to real life. A more realistic tackling system was introduced which allowed multiple players to get in on stops, a new injury system was created which made players wait to know the full extent of injuries, and it also gave them the option to either risk a player's health and put him back in or to play it safe and rest him. The game also was the first to feature the option to mix and match uniform elements.
5. Madden NFL 2001
Madden NFL 2001 was a big step up over previous Madden titles, most of which had been geared towards computer users. This game was the first Madden title to be released on the PlayStation 2, and there were several new features. Teams from the NFL's then-developmental league, NFL Europe, were added. The franchise mode was upgraded, and players for the first time were allowed to purchase “Madden Cards”, virtual trading cards that unlocked cheats or player upgrades. This game was also notable for being the first Madden title to prominently feature a player, Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George.
4. Madden NFL 97
Madden NFL 97 was one of the most innovative Madden games ever. It was the first 32-bit Madden title, and it was the first game which featured real free agents and a salary cap.
3. Madden NFL 13
The Madden developers did almost a complete overhaul of the system prior to Madden 13's release. They completely reformulated Franchise mode, renaming it “Connected Careers” and making the scouting, drafting, and player acquisition and development processes much more realistic. The gameplay was tweaked, and though the game became more difficult for many users, it did become more realistic. The graphics were improved, particularly with the lighting, but the most significant change came with the broadcast presentation, featuring CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms, which made players feel like they were watching an actual NFL telecast. This was supplemented by an original symphonic soundtrack, which replaced the often-controversial “EA Trax” soundtracks that had been a staple of the game for the previous decade.
2. Madden NFL 2003
Madden NFL 2003 was one of the most innovative games in the history of the franchise, and really kicked in the PS2/Xbox era. It debuted the EA Trax soundtrack, filled with new songs by both popular and up-and-coming musical artists. It was the first Madden game to feature online play, and it introduced new minicamp games which allowed players to hone their skills in fun drills on the practice field. Overall, Madden 2003 was very fun to play, and everything from the gameplay to the in-game menus were well-done.
1. Madden NFL 2005
In terms of both the new features and enjoyable gameplay, Madden 2005 was the best game of the Madden franchise. It introduced several fun features which were staples of the PS2/Xbox generation. The most talked-about feature was the hit stick, inspired by cover athlete Ray Lewis, which allowed defenders to lay out offensive players just as an oncoming truck would. This feature complemented several improvements to the gameplay and graphics. The “create-a-fan” feature was introduced, which allowed players to customize a fan who would be shown throughout the game, cheering on their favorite team. There were also several fun elements added to Franchise mode, including the “Tony Bruno Show” and newspapers, introducing media coverage of franchise teams which has today evolved into a Twitter feed.
The interesting thing about Madden 2005 is that it was one of the least-successful games in the franchise's history. Due to ESPN releasing a comparable title in “ESPN NFL 2K5” for $19.99, sales suffered, which resulted in Madden negotiating NFL exclusivity for the next season.