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Madden NFL 21’s big new mode is backyard football

Play with small teams by house rules in a fast-paced game

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Madden NFL’s all-new mode this year is called “The Yard,” and it’s an homage to backyard games that EA Sports says will feature the kind of “fast-paced, small-sided gameplay” football fans have found in NFL Street and other arcade-style titles.

The Yard will offer more than just six-man football with trick plays and rule variations. Players will create an avatar, take them through a progression system earning XP and rewards, and customize their looks and gear in a constantly refreshing “Style Zone.” This character is the star of a narrative mode, called “The Yard: Underground,” which is available today in the Madden NFL 21 Mobile app.

The Yard and The Yard: Underground will have a shared inventory, progression, and in-game currency. EA is obviously trying to drive engagement with its free-to-play Madden NFL Mobile app once the main game launches. Games in The Yard will run according to a user’s house rules, which allow for things like double passes, scoring bonuses for certain types of plays, and the like.

It’s a little reminiscent of what EA Sports’ FIFA 20 tried with Volta Football, a street soccer/futsal mode with a narrative campaign and a personalized superstar. Volta Football executed well against its goals but the mode didn’t have as much of an impact on a community otherwise engrossed by Football Ultimate Team and the game’s deep career suite.

Madden NFL 20 last year introduced “Face of the Franchise,” which gave a narrative preamble to the series’ single-player career mode. But the player customization isn’t as deep as what The Yard is touting, and there was online component to it, either. In 2017, the first chapter of Madden NFL 18’s “Longshot” narrative featured backyard-style minigames, but they were limited to that mode only. Longshot ended after its sequel in Madden NFL 19.

“We wanted to create a new way for players to express themselves and take on small-sided football in an arcade-style experience that’s completely new to Madden,” Seann Graddy, Madden NFL’s executive producer, said in a statement. “Players will delve into all-new gameplay on mobile and on consoles that will bring to life the backyard football that NFL players and fans grew up loving, where the rules are relaxed, and you can win with attitude.”

Madden NFL 21 launches Aug. 28 on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. Versions for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Google Stadia will follow later.