By all accounts, this year’s Madden NFL 10 the strongest entry in the franchise for years. For more casual fans, or those who aren’t ready to shell out $60 for another installment of the yearly series, EA Sports has created Madden NFL Arcade.

I had the chance to play through several games in this new, simplified arcade project, which is targeted to release sometime this December on Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. The five-on-five game emulates familiar backyard football rules, much like the old NFL Street franchise. Each team gets only four downs to run or pass their way to a touchdown along the 60 yard field – field goals don’t factor in. Fail to hit the endzone by that last down, and the ball turns over to the other team, and things start heading back down the field. You choose from simple pass and run plays, while special “game changers” introduce an element of fantasy – these special abilities let you freeze one of the opposing players in ice, slow down time, and other related silliness. The game also runs free of a timer in classic arcade style – the default settings have a first-to-30 points rule in place. 

While Madden NFL Arcade is certainly not aiming for realism, it does manage to squeeze in all 32 teams in the league, along with the appropriate stadiums. However, the biggest selling point may be its multiplayer options. The game is currently planned to include four player co-op on a single console, as well as the expected online head-to-head option, complete with leaderboards.

From my initial time with the game, its clear that the Madden gameplay formula has been whittled down to its barest bones, which could make the game an easy-to-access option for families and inexperienced players. However, more experienced players are almost certainly going to want to spring for the big retail game. But if $15 is a little more in line with your game day ambitions, Madden NFL Arcade looks like it is on track to deliver what you’re looking for when it releases in a few weeks.