The Madden series of NFL titles have been around a long long time. A long time. The game of football itself has gone through many changes over the years as well. From the Run-n-Gun to the West Coast and the 46 Defense to the Cover 2, Madden as seen it all. Players come and go, but the golden voice of John Madden barking at the field goes on to this day.
In terms of video games, football doesn’t offer a ton of innovation year to year. Yet, EA keeps churning out a new version of the franchise year after year. Most of the time these are good things with improved graphics, AI, and features to keep you engrossed. Sometimes the changes are a bit more modest, but the loyal of us kept buying, kept on keeping on and drooling lasciviously for the next version to come out merely weeks ahead of the actual season; grabbing anything that would sate our hunger for football after the long offseason between draft day and training camp. Would our team’s rookie be on the cover? Would the Madden curse come to fruition upon him? What is new in the playbook? It was largely the same story year after year, but it’s not like it was a bad thing overall.
However, a new ray of hope came to the scene when the Wii was born. A small white box barely the size of the CD itself, but with the greatest of innovations to date, was scooped off shelves faster than a child left alone in a candy store. The Wiimote offered cordless freedom along with accelerometers and 3-D positioning to get mortal man up off the floor and truly get into the game! Madden was the perfect choice to get the armchair Quarterbacks on their toes and seeing just what their arm could really do.
For some, it was difficult to master the Wiimote and the nunchuk together. The atrophied muscles and coordination skills in our patriarchal bodies took the lives of precious nerves and brain cells while our kids took to it like the proverbial fish to water. So EA came out with Family play, and it was good. This feature lets the elders focus on one controller, the Wiimote, and takes care of the details so that we may have a free hand to push over the hellspawn of our own loins and grab those few exrta yards…
Lets get to it.
The graphical limitations of the Wii is not news. However, it seems like the developers have discovered new ways to squeeze out a few extra pixels this year. A minor improvement perhaps, but improvement all the same. The team uniforms are done well and are accurate as can be hoped for. The field under their feet is similar in appearance to the old astroturf, patchy and uneven, but the lines are clear and don’t distract from the action. The camera angles are highly functional giving you a wide angle view, but it’s pretty obvious you’re not watching the real thing.
The menus are simple and widely spaced so there are fewer incidents with clicking the wrong item; an issue for those of us with less-then-steady hands. There’s nothing very flashy about them and that’s fine with me. I’m just looking for the options that will get me started and started fast. I can clearly see where to start a game, a league, or go into the other party options discussed a bit further down. No, there’s nothing too new, but it gets the job done.
The stadiums are passable. The crowd graphics are almost a waste of time really. There’s color in the stands, but it’s almost directly from the old NES titles. Two-phase “animation” and solid colors are all the people have to show you. There are no signs trying to trick you into looking up Luke 25:10 says, or go team, or picket fences made of of little letter D’s or any of that atmosphere stuff. I’m not sure if you can even cram that into a Wii, but it’s missing and its a small ding on the score.
Let’s start with the soundtrack here. First, a quote:
“The annual goal of the Madden NFL soundtrack is to give unprecedented exposure to new artists, bring established stars to a whole new level, and single-handedly define the sound of the coming year via the biggest sports franchise in video game history,” said Steve Schnur, Worldwide Executive of Music and Marketing at EA. [ign.com]I am not such a hardcore fan that I know the medical names of all the broken bones in Joe Theisman’s body, but I’m a pretty big fan. However, at no time does the name Ozzy Osbourne make me think of football, and yet I Don’t Wanna Stop is in the list. It’s not a bad song, it is new, but it’s not football. At my age, I don’t know who Swizz Beatz is, but It’s Me Snitches is definately NOT football. I suppose it helps sales, but I’d rather have a mute option. End doddering rant.
The game sounds are the usual. Whistles, grunting, and clashing of modern day armor are all there. The QB barking signals at the line sounds the same for pretty much all the teams I tried playing (Arizona, Oakland, San Francisco) and use the same terms. No points for originality there. Then we have the broadcast crew. John and Al Davis are at it again with hits from the 21st Century. I really enjoy these two live when they’re having fun in a good close game, but the commentary in this one is a bit lifeless. They’re stiff and generic like they’re part of a freshman acting troupe. On top of that, Madden, hallowed be thy name, has the same 7 or 8 catch phrases that get a little tiring after a couple games. It will be a long time before consoles can get the detail of the real thing, but we can do a little better than this, can’t we?
Ok, this is the inspiring part. All of EA’s sports titles offer the Family Control option. This allows those of us, shall we say, outside our prime to compete against more nimble foes. It’s the wave of the future! Computers will “assist” us older folks so we can live longer, play harder, run faster, and keep hold of our self-esteem a few more years. In real life that’s called cheating, but in the game it’s called just desserts.
However, this golden path is not all laced with sweets/fiber/part-time models. There is certainly enough to worry about using only the Wiimote as your controller. You can jerk the Wiimote up to hike, watch your QB scramble on his own when you should be looking for an open receiver, and make your throw with a simple casting motion. There was a couple times where I hiked the ball too hard and the residual motion caused my QB to throw the ball before anyone was ready. Thankfully, even the Defense wasn’t ready for such a gift a couple times. On one go, I threw the ball backwards! I’d like to see a toss motion+trigger requirement to prevent those in the future. Plus the lack of motion control was a little frustrating. Not only in the “why didn’t you cut to that hole” frustration, but once poor Edgerrin James was his so hard he started running the wrong way! I could not turn him around, make him fall over, or get out of bounds and I lost 20 yards before the Cornerback caught him. Fortunately, the AI wasn’t entirely cruel to let him keep running to the wrong end zone. Yet when I tried to play with both controllers I was reduced to the simplest of plays and management. So I have to say that the Family Play is a nice bonus, and once they make it
cheat perform a little better for us it will be great.
If you can play with the ‘chuk then more power to you. It does take some of those chancy factors out of the game, but you can blame no one but yourself when things don’t go to plan; just the way you like it. The D-pad can be used to pick out a receiver, but it’s not the easiest for reading your progressions. Ahead of the play you can pick your primary receiver which is a nice option after you see what the D is bringing at you. For running plays, you still use the Wiimote laterally for swim moves and spins and use the jabbing motion for speed boosts. They’ve added some button features too, like using the 1-button for stripping the ball. The extra controls are definately better than the AI for Family Control, but at least we all don’t have to go insane.
In addition to the Family mode, lots of party games have been added. You got your minigames, and they’ll keep you plenty busy. These are excellent practice modes that will teach you how to command both Wiimote and nunchuk in many aspects of the game: sack evasion, passing, running, tackling, and kicking. They can be plenty frustrating at first, but there’s no “L” to be tacked on if you don’t get to the goals prescribed. Just keep practicing and it will come to you. Trust me. However, if that is not your thing there’s 2-on-2, a telestrator option and, my favorite, a Trivia game.
The two-on-two is straight forward enough, but you can be your own Madden by playing a standard game and being able to “draw” on the field! Do your own commentary about a hole that is truly wide enough for a truck to drive through and the running back exploiting it with a classic spin move. The drawing is entirely free form so you can draw anything anywhere for a fully detailed analysis of each play in this mode. The trivia game is a blast for large parties full of the football aficionados.
Oh, did I not mention the online play? This mode is strictly 1-v-1, but there are no hefty friend codes to memorize. Just sign up for the EA free service, log in, and look around. Find games, scores, leaderboards, and there is a friends list you can use. There’s no voice chatting, but the lobbies offer a set of pre-determined phrases to getting your point across. I had a couple issues with lag, but I’m sure it was more of an issue with my service than EA. There is a bit of a delay getting your Wii-motions to a remote game (1-2 seconds before the action would take place in good conditions), but you get used to this after some time. My foes were much better than I, but were gracious and I did have fun. The playbook is a bit oversimplified, but being able to challenge friends anywhere, anytime, is a good thing to have.
Madden NFL ’08 is high value for the gameplay alone. The graphics aren’t close to the real thing, the sounds are standard if not cliche, and the Wii’s control system is not much different from last year. The game itself is a party’s centerpiece and ability to get online and play far outweigh the other shortcomings. Now that we have online play, I hope that they can focus on bringing some better sounds, effects, and look to the game, but the platform may just not be as scalable as that.