Whenever I’m asked which game franchises I think should return from the grave, I quickly reply with NBA and NFL Street. For you younger readers, It’s understandable If you aren’t familiar with these titles considering that the last NBA Street game was released in 2007 and 2006 for NFL Street 3. These games were under EA Sports BIG division along with SSX Tricky and FIFA Street. They were true over-the-top arcade-style games with NBA, FIFA, and NFL Street games all including fully licensed players and teams.
They had fun locations like backlots, indoor arenas, etc. The gameplay mechanics allowed you to pull off some insane offense and defense maneuvers all wrapped in a colorful cartoon art style. So, when developer Saber Interactive who created NBA 2K Playgrounds 1 & 2 announced they were doing a football game, I screamed to the heavens LET’S GO! I loved the Playgrounds series and could not wait to see that gameplay and art style applied to a football game.
Wild Card Football is clearly trying to fill that empty void that is arcade-style football similar to how they did with NBA 2K Playgrounds. The menu and navigation systems are nearly identical to the playground series. You have Exhibition, Season (single-player only), and Dream Squad. There is also a challenges button which as you guessed by the name will have a series of challenges to complete.
Completing these challenges will earn you challenge points which can be used to purchase packs that contain a variety of items which I will discuss later but before you chalk this up as another loot box game, please note that there are no microtransactions! Saber Interactive has also stated they have no plans of adding microtransactions. Therefore, all items are purchased with in-game currency. There is a season pass available to purchase but this will just give you packs throughout the year.
The main stand-out for me is the visual presentation. Wild Card Football looks exactly how I was hoping it would with big bulky characters, beautifully rendered locations with moving objects in the backgrounds, and amazing grass and turf design. Yeah, the field just looks great. The icing on the game is having the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) license which means these are all real current and some retired players from the NFL like Aaron Rogers and the 49ers legend Jerry Rice are in the game along with visual likeness. Each player has a full stat card which you can compare with other cards to build out your team of 7 in Dream Squad. This is an NFL workaround deal I did not know was possible but kudos to Saber Interactive for pulling it off.
There is a good amount of customization options in Dream Squad and it is the predominate mode to play in. Create a team name, create a logo via multiple layers, change player uniforms as a team, or give each player their own uniform. There are a series of full uniforms with special effects or themes such as a flaming helmet reminiscent of Ghost Rider or dressing your squad as pirates. You can also pick the wild cards you want to play with. The trade feature is also a great way to obtain new cards players etc. Simply press (Y) on the selected item and it will tell you how many “tickets” you will get for trading the item. This is a great way of dealing with duplicate cards from packs.
The on-field gameplay controls feel similar to Madden in regards to button layout. Right trigger to sprint, Y to stiff arm, X to dive, and use the right trigger to juke in the direction of your choice. However, oddly missing is a spin option. Defensive controls, like the offense, are similar to Madden so there should be zero learning curve in this department for those who played Madden.
The real game changer is the actual Wild Cards. There are three categories of wild cards: the modifiers which apply boosts to players during the next down, Rule Breakers that break the rules of football such as the next time your opponent scores they will lose 1 point and Special which can alter the entire team such as give everyone a speed boost. Some of these cards need to be activated by pressing the (RB). After selecting your wild card press (Y) and you will then see your opponent’s wild card so you both now know what to expect during the next down.
I must admit that I’m not fully into the wild card element of the game. I do enjoy having them and some are crazy to see such as a huge stone wall appearing when trying to throw a pass or producing a tornado which you control to pick up the opponent’s QB. I would just like to play a match without the wild cards and thankfully that is an option. However, once the cards are removed the game feels a bit empty.
I would have liked to see more emphasis on the catching animations via a slow-mo + zoom-in effect. We do see an effect like this occur when punting in which the game will go in slow-mo once the ball is at its highest point, then return to normal during the descent. I would have liked to see this effect applied in other parts of the game. The juke function also needs some tweaking since it’s more like a multi-step movement in a rather glitchy animation. I recall pressing flicking the right stick left and watching my player juke a few steps left and a full card back.
Wild Card Football is definitely heading in the right direction with the NFLPA license, fun art design for players & locations, a good amount of customization options, multiplayer cross-play support, a wide variety of wild cards, and NO MICROTRANSACTIONS! I think many of the issues I have with the game can be addressed via patches or updates. Like NBA 2K Playgrounds, I think we are witnessing the birth of a successful arcade football franchise.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Wild Card Football for Xbox Series X provided by Saber Interactive.