Published on December 1st, 2013 | by Craig Forshey1
Gridiron Thunder Review
Android gamers, and OUYA gamers in particular, have been anxiously waiting for a decent football game to come to the market that isn’t ruined by freemium game design. Though we’ve seen a few titles come and go none have come close to replicating a full fledged console football experience. Independent developer MogoTXT sought to change all that with its highly ambitious and controversial football game Gridiron Thunder. This futuristic new spin on the genre popularized by Madden and NFL Blitz would usher in a new era of football games that dynamically link to real world players stats for an incredible new fantasy football league system. Players would be able to create the ultimate fantasy team using stats provided in real time then pit their creation against their friends lineups in a no holds barred 4 player mode.
What we got instead was a cookie cutter football game that took development shortcuts at every turn. Gridiron Thunder may be the first real OUYA sports title ever, but the whole affair is uninspired and largely forgettable. None of its proposed genre redefining features made the cut, leaving a game design that offers only the barest of gaming experiences. Granted, there are a few redeeming qualities to Gridiron Thunder to be found if you look hard enough but by and large the OUYA’s first official football game is a big disappointment.
While the games developer had lofty goals in mind for Gridiron Thunder, the reality of what’s on offer here is staggeringly deficient. There is only a single mode, “Arcade”, which is a one match exhibition that unceremoniously dumps you back to the main screen on completion. After picking from a generic lineup of teams that are identified only by their home town and slightly varying stats, players are immediately taken to the kickoff without so much as an intro cutscene to signify the changeover. This lack of polish is present everywhere in Gridiron Thunder and gives it a rushed, lacking feeling.
The gameplay has been clearly modeled after football game classics like Madden with players taking on the role of quarterback and passing the ball to their receivers by pressing corresponding buttons on the gamepad. There are different types of plays available to run, but the games lack of polish is felt here too as the number of available plays barely breaks single digits. At its core, Gridiron Thunder offers a servicable game of 3D football, but that’s only due to the tried and true gameplay pioneered by the football titles that came before it. I don’t fault them for going with what works though, after all if it isn’t broke why fix it?
What I can fault them for however is managing to make such a classic formula so boring. There are some attempts to spice up the gameplay by implementing a light NFL Blitz style turbo system, but rather than make things fun it only serves to make the game terribly unbalanced and incredibly easy, especially against AI opponents. By completing plays and making successful passes, players build up a sort of combo meter at the top of the screen that when full can be used to make your team literally unstoppable for a short period of time. This allowed me to dominate my opponents with hilarious scores like 62-8. Things got a little more interesting when playing a match between 4 people but even then Gridiron Thunder still failed to impress anyone.
It’s a shame none of the promised fantasy football features made it into the final version of Gridiron Thunder. In addition to providing an immersive news center filled with real time scores, game highlights, and social media posts from NFL players Gridiron Thunder was also supposed to integrate an in-depth fantasy league mode that dynamically drew a teams stats from its real world counterparts. After assembling their dream team and creating a winning strategy, players would then be able to take the fight online against other players with their own team of extraordinary athletes. This would have been an innovative way for Gridiron Thunder to distinguish itself but sadly all we get is the solitary exhibition mode with matches that are all of 4 minutes long.
You could say Gridiron Thunder has console quality graphics, as long as the console you’re talking about is the PS2. For a mobile game being played on a small 4 or 5 inch screen this is acceptable for the most part and usually hardly even noticeable, but play Gridiron Thunder at 1080p on a 32 inch screen TV and its visual shortcomings become all too apparent. Character models are blocky, have low polygon counts, and are jaggy to an extreme. This is further exasperated by extremely robotic running animations and clunky collision detection that can even make it difficult to tell what’s going on in the thick of battle. In between plays and upon scoring a touch down the players on the field will do goofy dances or gestures in order to make them seem more lively but it quickly gets old as there are only about 3 different animations that they repeat ad naseum.
The stadium environments are sparsely detailed and downright ugly at times. The playing field is marked well enough and some of the few extra effects like snow add a small dose of personality but everything else about the 4 available stadiums is a mess. I don’t think i’ve ever seen a worse background crowd graphic in any game ever. Buildings that look like they were made out of cardboard make up the background with a single texture painted on each that are supposed to denote a cheering crowd but just end up being a sea of different colored pixels as if it was originally intended to be some type of abstract art.
The games entire visual presentation feels jarring rather than smooth due to a lack of transitions and visual cues that are usually indicative of a polished title. When you start a new game, you are immediately put in control of a receiver who just received a kickoff and are expected to know what to do immediately without any tutorial. There is no introductory cutscene or announcing of team lineups, no sweeping camera shot of the stadium and players, and very little focus on the antics of the players themselves. For a mobile game, this might be acceptable but for a console game going for ten dollars I expect a little more.
Sound design is easily Gridiron Thunder‘s strong suit, though that isn’t saying much. Tackles, referee whistles, and the roar of the stadium all sound great and help provide some much needed atmosphere. A professional sounding announcer covers the game play by play without feeling the need to throw in unnecessary jokes or anecdotes with his commentary. Players have short victory phrases that they blurt out alot more often than they should while generic upbeat music that sounds like something you’d expect from a Monday night football game or Sportscenter does an acceptable job of accompanying the onscreen action.
Gridiron Thunder isn’t necessarily a terrible game, but it’s a far cry from what we were promised in the games original Kickstarter. Despite it’s developers lofty claims that it would revolutionize sports gaming and spawn an entirely new genre, Gridiron Thunder is merely a passable football game that feels derivative in every way. If you’re a dedicated football fan that’s been dying to get a chance to play some pigskin on your OUYA, Gridiron Thunder can be kinda fun if you manage to ignore its many shortcomings and lack of replay value.
Summary: Die hard football fans might be able to find a few redeeming qualities in Gridiron Thunder, but everyone else should steer clear.