‘Madden NFL 20’ releases surprise new gameplay mode Superstar KO

Superstar KO mode, released Tuesday morning, is more colorful than the traditional "Madden" gameplay experience.
Superstar KO mode, released Tuesday morning, is more colorful than the traditional "Madden" gameplay experience. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Clive Brunskill

One month after release, "Madden NFL 20" has released a game-changing new mode — and at no extra cost.

Superstar KO, which went live as part of a free update to the base game at 9 a.m. Tuesday, is a new spin on the tried-and-true "Madden" formula and a dramatic departure from its traditional simulation-focused experience. 

As the name suggests, designated superstar players drive this new online-only feature. Players select one of eight fictional teams, whose base personnel are built around specific strengths and weaknesses, with the potential for more to be added later on. Jake Stein, associate producer of "Madden NFL 20," told amNewYork last Wednesday at the Microsoft Store in midtown that the team at EA Sports is treating Superstar KO like a live service, with updates throughout the months to come to maintain balance between the teams or tweak the experience based on user feedback.

Playbooks are stripped down to 24 plays to simplify decision-making. Dot City, a team whose pass-centric offense, has just one running play available, while Shutdown is a defense-heavy team offers twice as many defensive plays from which to choose but only half the offensive options. 

"Think of it almost like a character select screen in a traditional fighting game," Stein said. 

Upon choosing a team, players will then draft three superstar players to their roster in a similar manner to that of the MUT Draft mode — select one player out of four on offense or defense in each round. In addition to active stars such as Odell Beckham Jr. or Von Miller and legends including Jim Brown and Jerry Rice, celebrities DJ Khaled and Lil Yachty each has his own useful X-Factor ability to drive home how different Superstar KO is from the norm. Both hip-hop personalities serve as coaches for two of the teams. And, unlike the base gameplay, X-Factor power-ups are active constantly, rather than triggered by meeting in-game requirements.

Games aren’t intended to last longer than 10 minutes real-time, with the emphasis being a quick and accessible experience. The structure of the game bears similarities to the NFL’s overtime rule, but with each team being granted at least one possession. With no special teams plays, touchdowns and two-point conversions drive the scoring.

If the game remains tied, players enter a scenario dubbed "tug of war." In this tiebreaker, the ball is placed at the 50-yard line, and each team takes up to three turns back-and-forth to get the ball as close to the opposing end zone as possible. A touchdown automatically wins the game.

"That’s how we’re able to … take from what’s traditionally a 35-minute online ‘Madden’ experience and really bring that down to something that’s much more manageable," Stein said.

Postgame celebrations involve the winning team’s superstar players dancing together. The winning team also earns the opportunity to lift a player from his opponent’s team, most likely another powered-up superstar.

The goal of Superstar KO is to win four consecutive games, with the chance to earn rewards in the centerpiece Ultimate Team mode that tasks players to build a team by collecting digital trading cards. Players also earn experience unique to Superstar KO mode and also ties into Ultimate Team, allowing players to earn exclusive and timed rewards for their efforts.

Aesthetically, the mode also looks different from the average simulation of pro football. The stadiums are more vibrant, and the commentary team of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis is replaced by what Stein referred to as a "hype man/DJ" calling the action.

While much of this sounds like an arcade style experience, Superstar KO doesn’t turn "Madden" into past arcade football franchises like "NFL Street" or "NFL Blitz." It still feels like "Madden NFL 20" from a gameplay standpoint, only with some tweaks to the top players on the field and more audio/visual flair.

"It was definitely our chance to flex some creative muscles," Stein said, "and with that comes taking some chances and doing some things that might be a little outside the box."

He also pointed out that the team is aiming to make this a social experience that is embraced by groups of friends and by the streaming community.

As for the timing of the mode’s release, which comes just two days before the NFL season begins and nearly five weeks after players first could play the full game, Stein noted that the developers at EA Tiburon wanted to take their time to make sure everything from the new commentary to the look of the stadiums met the team’s standards for wide release without holding up the scheduled release date for "Madden NFL 20" as a whole. 

"This was a big endeavor," Stein said. "This was something that, everything from top to bottom is very different about this mode, so it took some additional time to make sure we got this right. We still have our core game that we needed to have out there, and this was something we were working on in parallel to get there. We weren’t prepared to ship an unfinished product, so we wanted to make sure that this thing was at [high] quality, that we found the fun as fast as we could and just rallied behind that."

In conjunction with the start of the NFL season, "Madden NFL 20" will be available to play in full, for free, for a limited time. Those who don’t already own the game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One or Windows PC can experience everything — including Superstar KO — from Thursday through Sunday.