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Wild Card Football

Wild Card Football

Written by Joseph Moorer on 10/27/2023 for PS5  
More On: Wild Card Football

If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that I love Arcade football. I haven't been into simulation football since EA acquired exclusive rights to make NFL games in 2004. Yes, I've played a Madden here and there, but they're not as fun as games like Tecmo Bowl or NFL Blitz. I actually own a NFL Blitz Arcade 1up machine, and still play the EA version of Blitz. It's just so fast and so fun. When I heard that Saber found a licensing workaround to put real players without real teams into an arcade football game, my interest was piqued. Did Wild Card Football score a late TD in the fourth quarter of my Arcade football loving heart? That touchdown is under review.

Now I know what you're thinking. You think that my undying love for NFL Blitz is going to skew my view for Wild Card Football, but you would be wrong. It isn't a totally different game, but it is different enough to have it's own entry. Right out the gate you get three game modes. Exhibition, Season, and Dream Squad. Exhibition is your run of the mill CPU, local, or online matches. This is going to get you into the action quicker. You pick your team, you pick the stadium, you pick the rules. It is 7 on 7, and you have different team members on each. And this game is full cross play, so any system vs any system, even PC.

The teams are updated to the 2023-24 season. You can unlock legends and former players, but we'll get into that later. The teams, again, are NOT the real NFL teams, but the rosters are. The teams are named after the quarterback. So if you choose Team Purdy, you'll get members of the 49ers. You don't get cool names for the teams, and you can not change them. They all have their own overall ratings. You can change the game to end when a team hits a maximum score, number of downs per team, the play selector time for both offense and defense, and YES, you can turn the wild cards off. 

The game is called Wild Card Football, because that's the element here. It's what allows me to not call this a Blitz clone. The wild cards are divided up between Rulebreakers, Modifiers, and Specials. After you pick your play, you have energy points to pick a wild card. These wild cards can boost speed, make your opponents have a harder time throwing or catching, and even put obstacles on the field. There are even cards that work to make the opponents cards more expensive. This is for both offense and defense.

This is where the strategy behind the cards kicks in. If you're playing against the CPU or online, you don't know what card your opponent is going to pick. You can even choose to discard at the cost of a couple of energy points. Additionally, if you want to conserve energy for a big third down play, you can choose not to play a card at all. If you use a card, and your opponent uses a card that is the exact opposite, they will cancel each other out. Some of the cards you actually have to activate during the play. I must say, it's fun, for the first few games. 

The issue for me here is, it completely slows the gameplay down. Even Madden is faster at getting to the line, hiking the ball, and running a play. With your custom teams, you can set your own cards up, and the online opponents always had the cool cards in their decks, so it was definitely cool to see the different variations of the cards. It's just so slow to set up. There's even a timer, as this process slows down the game immensely. I had way more fun with this game turning the Wild Cards off, which just makes it "Non Blitz Arcade Football Game."

The gameplay is fun too, once you get into it. You have to wait until the offense picks their play, and their formation shows up when it's time for defense to pick their plays. Your offensive plays are divided up between runs, short passes and deep passes. Long passes will combine with short passes changing the last panel to special teams when it calls for a field goal or punt. On offense, it's "Stop Run, Stop Short Pass, Stop Long Pass". Luckily, you can change playbooks, and even customize your own, so you're not running the same old plays from the same old playbook. I'm not sure what advantage this has, other than you creating a playbook of all your favorite plays. Seems time consuming. 

Your player has the ability to use turbo, stiff arm, and juke. Though the stiff arm and juke seem to be able to be used once per play, and the juke is more like a teleport, because it's all over the place. On defense, you can choose your guy before the ball snaps, and with a click of a button or a flick of the right control stick, you can choose the player nearest to the ball. You can also dive, and jump to swat down balls, or intercept them if the timing is right. You can dive to tackle, and it is not the button you are probably used to, but you're stuck with it. 

The actual football gameplay moves at a pretty good pace, and I was going to spout off and say that there are things that slog it down. Slog may be the wrong word. I am going to say that there are annoyances that could be fixed for the next iteration. When the ball is handed off, there's a small quick time event that has the player push a button for an extra burst of...something. You also get this on defense, and if you push the right button (The button changes every time), you then get to swim through the offensive line. I don't understand this. Why is this a thing? Why can't I turn it off? There's a splash screen before and after every play. Sometimes, when a play is over, the players get to have a little animated celebration, but you can't skip these. The timeouts are also met with the same splash screen, but you are given the option to skip the screen, except it takes up the same amount of time. All of these annoyances add up, and they don't make for a steady game. 

The Dream Squad mode is the dream killer here, because I think it means well but it just doesn't live up to it's full potential. You can name your team, but you can't have custom players. You can have custom uniforms. Jerseys, shoes, helmets, you name it, and you can change colors or styles, but these are limited to in game options, and unlockables. Right now, the Columbus Hatosians have skulls with fire coming out of them, because they look cool. Again, you can customize your wild card decks and your playbooks, but again, why? 

You can also choose from a ton of players for your made-up team, and a lot from the NFLPA are available. Rookies to legends, they're all here. Yes, even Colin Kaepernick. You can choose players for offense and defense, and there's even a button to make up your best over all team based on the players you have available. They are all unlocked from hands down the most treacherous part of the game. Card packs. 

It's amazing to me that this is still a staple. Some of my favorite games use this, and I can't stand it. Card packs are unlocked by a couple of ways. You can play for them in the dream squad mode. You can get them via daily challenges. You get some if you buy the premium edition. In these card packs are players, wild cards, vanities (celebrations), and logos. You can even get them via league, tour, and online quick games. These items can be sorted per category, per rarity, and easy to sort through. 

League play is basically ranked matches, and again through full cross play. The ranking system feels very rocket league like, and I got SMACKED every game online. Luckily, win or lose, you still level up towards unlocking cards. And you can be ranked all the way up to diamond. Quick play is as such, while another mode, Tour, is where you play certain challenges. These challenges get harder the more you win, and the rewards vary.

If you don't want to do card packs, you can get players, vanities, icons, and uniforms items using tickets. These are also picked up by playing the game, and can even be gained if you want to trade in things for them.  Be very aware that the legendary items are usually 1,500 a pop (which is a lot). And you can only use "player tickets" for players. This stops you from trading in that rare helmet you'll never use, for a 66 over all CJ Stroud. And that brings me to my next gripe. The card packs, and the players you pick up in this mode are ranked the lowest I have ever seen, and they too level up with gameplay. I understand the advantage if a player doesn't grind, and gets a Patrick Mahomes card on the first draw, but why is a legendary Patrick Mahomes card a 66? Why? Either remove the card packs, or the ratings. I personally say remove the ratings, and win baby win.

There are some weird happenings with this game too. Some of the animations don't mark the ball correctly when it comes to forward progress. Some of them are so over the top they're almost jarring as they take a bit of extra camera work to attempt a huge slow motion or comedic tackle. The stiff arm works, but the juke is absurd, as sometimes it puts you 5 yards up the field. If you fail the juke though, you lose about 5 yards. Chris Berman is in the game, but I don't know why. He has a couple of lines like "Welcome to the game, I'm Chris Berman", and "They need a time out". The stadiums and arenas are kind of cool, but I'm not sure why when I kickoff the ball into the end zone, it explodes. Like...why?

Just now, as I'm writing this, I just fumbled out of bounds on a kickoff return, and the ball went to the opposing team. During the replay (no, you can't challenge), there was no possession or recovery of the ball after the fumble. The next screen was just them handing the ball off, from the place I went out of bounds. The level up system for the unlocked/bought/earned players is weird and it makes me think that the card system is not polished enough. It's fun, but not invite your friends to play you fun. It's not even get people in a room together fun. It's just sit on your porch and watch other people play fun. 

Wild Card Football is the first Arcade Football game with real players in a very long time, and that's progress. But some mechanics slow the game down, and there is an overall jank to the proceedings that could use some refinement. And, of course, card packs are the worst. This is Saber's first foray into the Arcade football genre, and I think it's off to a good start. But it's a false start, and they're going to start 5 yards back for a 2nd and long.

Rating: 6.5 Below Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

Joseph is the resident streamer for Gaming Nexus. He grew up playing video games as early as the Atari 2600. He knows a little about a lot of video games, and loves a challenge. He thinks that fanboys are dumb, and enjoys nothing more than to see rumors get completely shut down. He just wants to play games, and you can watch him continue his journey at Games N Moorer on Youtube, Twitch, Twitter, and Facebook gaming! 

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