Also on: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Saber Interactive
Developer: Saber Interactive
While the sports game scene on the Switch is generally pretty dire, I I think there’s an argument to be made that Nintendo-only football fans have the hardest time of it. After all, if you like baseball there’s MLB The Show. If you’re a wrestling fan, AEW Fight Forever is solid. Even soccer fans, who’ve long had to make do for years with FIFA games that are literally just roster updates, can finally get a taste of modern soccer games with EA Sports FC 24. Meanwhile, there’s not a Madden equivalent to be found on the Switch – two years ago I wrote that Retro Bowl was far and away the best football game on the system, and, with all apologies to Legend Bowl and a tiny number of other games, that’s still true today.
(No disrespect intended to Retro Bowl, just to be clear: it’s a great game and everyone should play it.)
If nothing else, then, Wild Card Football is notable because it’s the first time you can play with actual NFL players on the Switch thanks to a licensing agreement with the NFLPA. You don’t get all 1,600+ NFL players, but you get enough that the odds are good your favourite player can be found here.
Unfortunately, not even starpower is enough to make Wild Card Football a challenger for Retro Bowl. While it certainly tries hard to offer a novel approach to the game (which I’ll get to in a moment), it never stops feeling anything other than gimmicky. Couple that with middling Switch performance, and you can see why it’s hard to be too excited about the game.
To be fair, Wild Card Football isn’t trying to offer a Madden-like experience. Rather, it aims to recreate the feeling of games like NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, or WWE All-Stars by offering an exaggerated, arcade-y take on the sport. To do this, it offers 7-a-side teams, a faster playclock, occasionally glitzy visuals for tackles, and, most importantly, those titular wild cards.
The wild cards offer you the change to give your team a boost, or to hinder the other team in some way. You have a certain amount of points at the beginning of a set of downs, and you have to decide if you want to use them to do things like make one of players invisible while they have the ball or freeze your opponents (you can also do more mundane things like strength and speed boosts). Unfortunately, while wild cards may have sounded like a fun idea somewhere along the line, in practice they don’t really add much to the game. Sometimes it’s fun to use one that helps you score a touchdown, but on the whole, I can’t say that they really boosted the overall experience.
The bigger problem, though, is that this game’s brand of arcade football isn’t fun, wild cards or not. Lots of the plays here feel like total crapshoots, as your opponents’ skill level – at least in single-player mode – seem to vary wildly from play to play, completely independently of what cards you’ve played. Sometimes they can barely move from the line of scrimmage and don’t even seem to register that you’ve thrown a pass, while other times they’ve sacked your QB fractions of a second after the ball is snapped. Again, some of this can be drawn up to the luck of the draw, but it happens so frequently that it’s hard to get into the rhythm of any given game.
Also preventing you from getting into the rhythm of a game: the constant unskippable cutscenes. It feels like barely a play goes by that the game doesn’t cut away from the on-field action to zoom in and show a pre-rendered animation of the play. I know that the game is trying to be arcade-y, and over-the-top action goes hand in hand with that, but Wild Card Football wildly overdoes it.
And, of course, it barely needs to be said at this point, but the Switch version of this game is definitely not the optimal way to experience it. While the mixed reviews on Steam suggest that the performance isn’t exactly great there either, on the Switch the game frequently devolves into an ugly smear on the screen. Having players who are on fire (or, at least, literally glowing) might have sounded like fun, but when you have a system that can’t really handle that, the results aren’t pleasant to look at.
But even if the graphics were perfect, Wild Card Football would still suffer from the fact that it’s not very fun. The Switch has a big, football-shaped hole in its catalogue, and Wild Card Football would clearly love to fill it, but it’s pretty clear that the results fall well short of a first down.
Saber Interactive provided us with a Wild Card Football Nintendo Switch code for review purposes.