Wild Card Football Review - Screenshot 1 of 6
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

While the Nintendo Switch has never had the prominent American Football video game series, it has had some notable efforts in the Indie and retro spaces. Now we can add Wild Card Football to the mix, and it's certainly an ambitious release in comparison to its contemporaries on the system. From Saber Interactive, it follows a similar approach to NBA Playgrounds and its 2K-pubished sequel, albeit this time the studio is flying solo and doesn't have the official NFL license.

What it does have is an NFLPA license, the player's association, and that's a big part of the pitch for Wild Card Football. While teams are fictional, the players — current and former — are very much real, and interestingly the equivalents to NFL teams are named after their quarterbacks. The teams have relatively little in common with the real-world versions, albeit this Bears fan (yes, by all means feel pity for your humble scribe) was surprised that the Justin Fields team had pretty good stats. Hey, not all games have to be realistic. The handful of arenas are also neat, including a hefty stadium, urban locations like Chicago and London, a camping haven in an impressive forest, and a few other fun options. Like the studio's previous sporting output, the approach is fantastical and entertaining.

Wild Card Football Review - Screenshot 2 of 6
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The actual Football embraces wackiness, too, opting for a 7-a-side approach and chaotic gameplay. Unlike NBA Playgrounds, though, Saber Interactive is treading a fine line between simplicity and complexity, trying to make the game relatively accessible while grappling with the depth of the sport. In terms of controls, it's far simpler than something like Madden, for example, but the play-to-play moments can feel just as frantic, especially on defence as you desperately switch players and try to make a play.

The cartoonish look plays into the action, with the named 'Wild Card' element being a key factor. Wild Cards are used during games in all phases of play — their impact can include boosting or decreasing player speeds, putting oil slicks on the ground, sapping opponents' stamina, and more besides. Each card has varied strengths and costs points to play; it becomes a tactical challenge to manage your points and deploy the right cards for the right play. At times your cards will overrule your opponent's, and vice versa, and they can certainly have a major influence on the outcome.

Wild Card Football Review - Screenshot 3 of 6
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

It's quite well executed; when a card choice works well it feels great, and likewise we had to doff our cap when the opposition made the right move. That said, if you want games without Wild Cards, just a straight match without all the madness, this is supported across modes, too. There were certainly times when we didn't feel like battling with the card system; this is a smart inclusion from the development team.

Overall, the style of Football presented here, blending Playgrounds madness with gridiron depth, is a solid effort. You can either play it simple and go with default playbooks and recommended plays, or you can go full Bill Belichick — well, Tom Brady-era Belichick — and get into the detail with some playbook and roster design. If you want to be a Football nerd, there's decent depth here and the gameplay is reasonably solid, albeit a little scruffy.

There's lots of choice in modes, too. You can hop into exhibitions against CPU, in local or online play; in our online test performance was fine, with the netcode only adding the occasional hitch. A welcome mode is 'Season', where you pick a team and play a basic campaign against CPU opponents with Wildcards on or off depending on preference. For those who enjoy the game's style but want to stay away from 'Ultimate Team'-style grinding, this is a nice option.

Wild Card Football Review - Screenshot 4 of 6
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

But yes, let's get to where this game wants you to spend your time: Dream Squad. This is the Wild Card Football take on Ultimate Team, where you create an organization and grind your way to earning players, Wildcards, and 'Vanities' like uniforms. It all revolves around Packs that you earn by levelling up or completing challenges, while naturally you start off with a pretty mediocre team. The key offline option here is 'Tour', where you work through a whole bunch of games and challenges against the CPU to earn experience and packs. This, alongside 'Daily Challenges', can be a big source of early packs and help you level up. Don't let commercials fool you, though, it'll be quite some time before you're rocking true superstars in your lineup.

The depth is impressive, though, you can spend a lot of time messing around with your playbook, uniforms or getting 'trade points' on unused cards to put towards better players. If you're up for sinking a lot of time into the mode it has the nudges and winks to encourage you to go all in on customisation.

For the all-important online play, you can either go into Quick Game or League, the latter of which is typical of the 'Divisions' approach from the likes of EA Sports FC, as you compete to move up the leagues and earn better rewards. The big question marks around this are clear, especially as this isn't a triple-A big-name release: Will there be an active community to make this work? Cross-play is included to help this along, in fairness, but for Switch players that'll bring up some issues.

Wild Card Football Review - Screenshot 5 of 6
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Dream Squad ticks a lot of the boxes for this sort of mode, blending offline progression with a push to eventually go online; yes, there are also going to be add-on purchases that weren't listed on the eShop at the time of writing. The big issue with this, ultimately, comes down to how the game plays on Switch and the impact that'll have on the experience.

Wild Card Football is a solid game from Saber Interactive, just like its NBA predecessors, but performance isn't quite where it could be on Switch. On initially loading the feeling is that it's 'fine', but the further you get and the more challenging the games the harder it is to truly enjoy the experience. This is not a fully smooth game on Switch, probably unlike versions on more powerful hardware, with it evidently being compromised on the portable system. It looks reasonable, albeit with some aggressive resolution drops in crowded scenes, but it lacks true fluidity. In the worst cases, high-tempo plays can feel slightly like a lottery as a result, as it's hard to parse the fast-paced action and know if all your inputs will be promptly detected.

Wild Card Football Review - Screenshot 6 of 6
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

In general, the experience is better docked, too, with the loss of clarity in portable mode being a bit of a factor. None of this is to say the game is a 'bad' Switch version, yet it's not quite as smooth as you'd hope in a game this frenetic. The thought of playing PS5 and Xbox Series players online is painful, too; like with other sports games with cross-play, it may be best to turn crossplay off and hope there's an active Switch community.

At this title's double-A pricepoint, likely to help pay for that NFLPA license, it's also a bit of an ask on Switch. It's a fun and enjoyable take on American Football, but frantic, borderline scruffy play and average performance do stand against it. On the flipside, overall it's certainly a very reasonable experience of gridiron on the system, which is pleasing to see.

Conclusion

Wild Card Football is an ambitious take on the sport, with a decent mix of modes and pleasing depth for those keen to go all in. The offline Season mode may keep a lot of Switch players going, but once you dive into the Ultimate Team-style 'Dream Squad' you'll eventually feel the pull to take your hard-earned fantasy roster online. That's where a lack of fluidity and clarity in gameplay can really bite. A sport as frantic as American Football needs a slightly slicker performance level than we found here. However it's only just short of a first-down, so if you're happy to live with the compromises then this may still be worth a punt.