It’s just about that time – time for football, that is.  The first pre-season games have just kicked off, and already there’s a bunch of movers and shakers who will make this their season.  With that, EA Sports is just about ready to kick its powerhouse football franchise off, with Madden NFL 13 set to release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and other platforms later this month.

However, one system that won’t be getting the football treatment later this month is the Wii U, since it doesn’t even have a release date yet.  But rest assured, when the system does come out later this year, EA Sports will be ready with a special version of Madden NFL 13 custom made for it.  Though we didn’t see too much of it in action, the company recently gave us a sneak peek at its Summer Showcase event, to give us an idea what to expect.

Like the other versions of the game, Madden NFL 13 will come packed with all the appropriate players and teams from the 2012 season, so you’ll see Peyton Manning decked out in his new Broncos uniform and RG III doing his thing for the Washington Redskins.  You’ll also be able to follow your team through the franchise mode, guiding them through an entire season and even getting the opportunity to step into the spotlight for the Super Bowl, if you’re good enough.  You might even create yourself a success story out of nowhere – just look at the Buffalo Bills.  (A long shot…but still…)

EA Sports is also working on the visuals to make sure they’re up to par with other versions of Madden NFL 13.  Now, this is somewhat tricky, as producers have revealed that the Wii U edition will not include the new Infinity Engine, which adds a lot of realism to the on-field animations, mainly in tackling and defensive plays.  Judging by what we’ve seen from early screenshots, the team is still working to make it a great-looking game, complete with all the home teams’ arenas intact, cheering fans, and lots of football action taking place on the TV screen and the GamePad display.  It’s just a shame we couldn’t have seen it in action just yet.

Where the Wii U version of Madden NFL 13 will excel is in its gameplay.  Like FIFA 13 before it (which we previewed last week), players will be able to use the GamePad touch screen in a number of ways, from team management to play strategies.  You’ll have access to a number of controls that let you configure plays on the fly, from selecting plays without needing to use an on-screen set-up (snap or pre-snap, if you prefer) to selecting receivers in the midst of a pass play, in case you need to change up on coverage, and create new routes by physically drawing out running routes.  You simply highlight the player, draw where they need to go, and then set yourself up for the pass play when the timing is good.  Just make sure you watch out for a potential sack.  Ouch.

The Wii U GamePad will also play a part when it comes to being on the defense side.  You can actually re-route blockers to cover different zones if you see someone opening up, or select a different play if you feel like the quarterback is in a good position to be tackled.

Unfortunately, one other item that won’t be appearing in Madden NFL with its Wii U debut this year is the Ultimate Team, where players can accumulate cards and other goods by playing online with friends.  (Online team play might also be in question, sadly.)  While these features will definitely be included in next year’s edition, those with friends over can still benefit from strong multiplayer.  The game will support up to five players in a game, using the Wii U GamePad, Pro Controller, Wii remote and Nunchuk set-ups.  Though only the ones with the GamePads will truly benefit from the authentic set-up that EA has in mind, everyone can jump in and join the fun.

Finally, we’re happy to report that Connected Careers will be included in Madden NFL 13, where all three of the game’s main modes – Franchise, Superstar and Online Franchise – are smashed together into one huge mode, where you can direct the football universe based on your decisions, guiding your team to victory through a player’s eyes – or a coach’s – with a plethora of options.  Again, we can’t wait to see this in action.

While it sounds like Madden NFL 13 will show some signs of limitation over other versions of the game, the unique touch-pad gameplay, combined with the multiplayer set-up and Connected Careers, should still keep gridiron fans happy.  We’ll find out for sure when the game arrives later this year.