Backbreaker

It’s become fashionable to disparage the Madden series, with its lock on the NFL license and ability to spit out a new iteration every 12 months. The truth is this: Though it achieved its apex several years back, year in and year out, the Madden series remains an excellent approximation of football. Yet it’s nearly impossible to resist rooting for low-expectation upstarts like Backbreaker, the games that occasionally come along and attempt—NFL license be damned—to give the graying Goliath a run for its money.

Backbreaker’s claim to fame is a sophisticated gameplay engine that supposedly renders player collisions in real time, factoring in actual physics calculations. As with snowflakes, no two Backbreaker tackles should ever be alike. While that might be the case from a technological standpoint, what you ultimately get onscreen is a decent-looking football game that visually doesn’t look dramatically better, or any more organic, than the current generation of Madden.

On the plus side, anyone weary of all the reads, audibles, and hot routes of current-generation Madden, anyone looking to just throw Hail Marys on offense and blitz on defense, will find a far more user-friendly experience in Backbreaker. TackleAlley, a mini-game that challenges you to avoid tacklers, is ridiculously addictive. Controls have been simplified, the in-game camera angle has been lowered and made more personal, and the developers somehow found a way to make playing defense fun again. (Well, sort of fun.)

The developers have also slyly included a do-it-yourself team-creator, which is their way of circumventing the NFL license issue. Your beloved Minnesota Vikings not in the game? Backbreaker gives you the tools to design your own team logos and uniforms, and—surprise—they included a very Vikings-esque purple. Go nuts.

Play selection is fairly shallow. When you’re playing against the computer, the A.I. isn’t exactly Bill Belichick-bright, and the game’s name turns out to be somewhat of a misnomer. Like Blitz: The League and its sequel, Backbreaker eventually does fall on its sword, but there’s a nobility in the way it does. If the thought of making another Madden zombie-walk to the store this year makes you heave, Backbreaker might be the palate-cleanser you need.