The reason all these titles have been combined into one review is simple. I agree with the premise put forth by Kotaku that sports games aren't really worth reviewing anymore. But since I have to justify the headline with a few hundred words, I will give some of my sports gaming history as evidence that the article sited is indeed correct in its premise.
The first sports video game I ever played was NFL Football for the Intellivision in 1983. Despite the NFL logo on the cover, the game had no NFL teams or players represented. In fact, the Intellivision could barely scrape up the power to put up five players to each side on the crudest graphics imaginable. But honestly I didn't care because I WAS PLAYING FOOTBALL ON MY TV!
And being in the company of some great nerd minds (one of my buddies makes stuff for the government he can't talk about), I knew this was only the beginning and this experience would improve exponentially as the technology advanced.
So it was that I transitioned from the Intellivision to Nintendo to Sega Genesis to PlayStation and currently the PS3. The Nintendo years gave us the iconic Tecmo Bowl and the unstoppable Super Bo Jackson and Genesis was where I played the first platform version of Madden. The original Madden Football for the PC was a five floppy disc beast that stretched the limits of the pre-Pentium Radio Shack TRS80 I was trying to run it on at the time. Swapping out discs in the middle of a play was a huge trade-off for the accurate (holy crap, 11 guys on each side?) gameplay and rudimentary graphics.
By the time Madden appeared on the new-fangled 16bit Sega Genesis, graphics started to come around (people started to look like people) while gameplay and statkeeping (until then, a sorely missed facet of sports games due to memory limitations) made quantum leaps from the 8bit world it evolved from. I actually played in a Madden league of guys from work in 1993. We'd get together once a week at somebody's house (everyone had a Genesis) to partake in various vices, play Madden and verbally abuse the losing players. That was me more than once for my stubborn refusal to start Jay Schroeder and play his numerically inferior backup, Todd Marinovich instead. F*ck Jay Schroeder, Todd was the man! Moving on.
The PlayStation appears and sports games have never looked back. From that point, every sports game required the following:
1. A league license. You can try without one but it never works. All-Star Baseball worked in the Nintendo age but you can't sell a game today where nobody knows who's playing. 2K Sports scared the hell of Electronic Arts in 2004 with the release of NFL2K5. It was a superior product to Madden 05 and it sold for $19.99. NINETEEN EFFING DOLLARS AND NINTY-NINE CENTS!!! It forced EA to drop the price of Madden 05 from 49.99 to 29.99. NFL2k5 was awesome in so many ways it made the sphincters at EA pucker up and plop down 300 million dollars to secure the NFL license. EA's deal currently runs through 2013.
2. Instant Replay. The single most important feature of a sports game. The ability to replay the magic you just created on the screen, in the finest detail with all the options a director in the broadcast truck has at their disposal, is essential to sports game smacktalk. Instant Replay makes gloating an exhibition sport in its own right. Also being able to save and upload your replay means your friend will never forget the video game beating you put on him. Ever. Like this. WARNING: EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE. Funny but offensive.
3. Graphics, Graphics, Graphics. If you expect people to shell out $50 or $60 every year for a game that is essentially the same as last year with slight tweaks, it damn well better look better than it did the year before. Problem today is that the improvements are happening in smaller increments because they're already fantastic. Not a lot of room to grow here because only the Uncanny Valley lays ahead.
4. Franchise Mode. Once developers realized that there was a frustrated GM in a lot of us, this mode became standard. Give a gamer the option to micromanage his experience and most of us can't resist. If the gamer is also a sports fan, this inclination is even more prevalent. Madden has, at various times, allowed the player to set the price of seating, parking and hot dogs. I made the seats more expensive but made parking and hot dogs cheap. My team made money. This stuff is easy.
So, while developers will continue to produce sports games annually, any review of these games boils down to whatever tweaks have been made to established modes and graphics upgrades. Changes to gameplay are limited by the amount of realism the game can manage. There's not much more to do with your football or hockey player that your controller isn't already doing. The limits of the human body and fundamentals of the games also govern what a gamer can do with his player. There's not a lot of room for growth left there.
Therefore, in the future, I won't be giving anything but the most cursory review of an ongoing sports series. I'll always play the latest EA Sports offering but unless something truly different (like Fight Night Champion) comes along, I agree with Kotaku in that there's not much left to say about sports games so I'll prattle on about something else instead.