The 10 best ‘Madden NFL’ video games, ranked

The Madden series has been around for more than 30 years now and has pumped out 32 titles across several generations of consoles. As football is America’s most-watched sport, the series always tops the charts as the best-selling sports video game.

Some of the games have scored a touchdown, while some have pelted the ball into the stands. Most recently, the series has been on a bit of a downswing in terms of quality. That said, there have been years where the games were truly great examples of what good, simulation-style football should be.

With that in mind, here are the 10 best Madden NFL video games of all time.

This is the most recently accomplished Madden game from top to bottom. More modern Madden games have certainly played better than Madden 12, but the sheer breadth of content gives it the last spot in this list. Unlike recent games, Franchise Mode was incredibly deep, giving players the ability to do all kinds of things that are impossible in modern Madden. From the ability to create a team from scratch to the free-agent bidding war, this was the last time most players were happy with Franchise Mode.

This year’s Madden will forever be remembered for the start of Madden Ultimate Team. To some, MUT has killed what made the old Madden games great. However, it can’t be denied that the quasi-gambling simulator is incredibly popular with its current community. Back in Madden 10, the game mode wasn’t as insidious as it is today. On top of that, Madden 10 offered several new gameplay tweaks, particularly the rating adjustment, that helped make the game feel more realistic.

For the first time, Madden went online with Madden 2003. This milestone is a major one for the future of the franchise and helped lead to some of the series best years. The developer also layered in quality gameplay and in-depth options across the various modes, providing a foundation that EA rode for the next few years to great success.

Madden 2002 isn’t much better than 2003. In fact, you could easily switch the order, and we wouldn’t be too upset. That said, 2002 really embraced the fun of the series with Madden Cards. Essentially, these let you turn on different cheats in-game or unlock historic players in your Franchise save. Madden Cards stuck around for a few years before being phased out for good, which is a shame.

To be clear, we’re only talking about the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox versions of this game. The Xbox 360 version cut several of the best features as the developer had to learn how to harness the new technology. That said, Madden 06 gave birth to Superstar mode, which let players guide an NFL rookie all the way to the Hall of Fame. Even at the time, the mode was astoundingly more in-depth than its modern-day counterparts, like QB1 and Face of the Franchise. Of course, we can’t rank it too high because the controversial QB Vision Cone was a real damper on gameplay for many.

Some might be surprised to see this game rank this highly on the list, especially when compared to games like Madden 06 and Madden 2002/2003. However, we see this as the genesis of everything that made Madden great because it was the first year the series added Franchise Mode. True, it’s since been surpassed by deeper, better-looking games, but it’s impossible to imagine Madden’s greatest moments without Madden 99.

Like Madden 2002 and 2003, you can freely switch these next two around, and we wouldn’t blame you. Madden 08 gave players a new branching animation system for more dynamic play, a retooled fatigue system for more realistic on-field conditions, and added “Weapons,” which helped star players stand out on the field. This was also arguably the deepest Superstar Mode has ever been, making for an all-around great experience.

Similar to Madden 06, we’re specifically singling out the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox versions of Madden 07. This year’s title took everything that made Madden 06 great and added to it. The popular Truck Stick was made even more deadly with the Highlight Stick, giving more agile players an added sense of shiftiness. Lead Blocker Control wasn’t game-changing, but it did let players more easily set up lanes for their running back. And Franchise Mode was as full-featured as it’s ever been. Madden 07 is just a complete package from top to bottom.

When it comes to the very best of the Madden series, two games clearly stand above the crowd. Maybe it’s because the competition between 2K and EA Sports was at its highest at this point, but Madden 2005 is easily one of the best football games ever made. The presentation in Franchise Mode is almost unmatched with things like The Tony Bruno Show making it feel like you were controlling an NFL franchise. Plus, Madden 2005 introduced the Hit Stick to give defensive players a deadly weapon to use in the open field — a weapon that’s still around to this day.

Many remember Madden 2004 because of how overpowered Michael Vick was from out of the backfield. While that’s obviously something to mention, his otherworldly powers aren’t the only reason this game ranks so highly. 2004 was also the introduction of Owner Mode, which took Franchise Mode to a new level. You could now control everything from your coaching staff to how much your stadium charged for hot dogs. It was a new level of depth for the franchise that remains a high watermark for the series to this day. 

Written by Ricky Frech on behalf of GLHF.

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