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Madden builds on the competant gesture controls by adding a simplified Family Play mode that literally means 'anyone can play'. These two control features, more than the novelty mini-games, hit the sweet spot for family gamers.
You may or may not know that Madden is a franchise as old as the hill. It has been around since the days of the Sega Megadrive, and whilst the intervening years have meant that the 'John' (as in 'John Madden') was quickly dropped, a lot of the game continued unabated. The franchise has had its fare share of ups and downs. So many years without real competition unavoidably meant that it started to stagnate. So then, the more recent arrival of 2KSports has meant that EA have happily had to up their game and innovate like they did in the early years.
Having played the John Madden back on the Megadrive I hadn't touched the series until last year's Madden 07 on the Wii. Once I had reminded myself of the language and pacing of the game, things started to click back into place for me. After a few hours I was glad I had made the effort to investigate the game further. Now a year later, I am truly won over the sport from the other side of the pond and was really looking forward to this next update from EA.
In addition to the widely praised gesture controls of Madden 07, this year sees the introduction of a few new touches to the scheme. For example, you can now use the 1 button on the Wii-mote to strip the ball from your opponent. You can also take advantage of the new mechanic that enables you to zoon in on specific receivers before the snap. This means you can double up on one receiver, although with the risk of you potentially leaving another open. Apart from this the same solid and imaginative use of the Wii controls persists from last year. If these didn't work for you last time, there is again the option to turn them off and use more traditional controls.
The same solid and imaginative use of the Wii controls persists from last year.
Most interestingly for me and my brood are the family play controls. Without this Madden was always going to be something for my kid to watch rather than partake in. This mode cuts the controls in half; you can unplug the nun-chuck and set it down on the table. The computer takes over the direction controls that were previously directed by the nun-chuck letting you or your little ones focus on the Wii-mote gestures.
Whilst this feature seems to be somewhat perplexing to much of the hard-core gamer press, and is unlikely to appeal to expert players, it is something of a boon for families. I can hand my four year old the Wii-mote and get her ready to throw, early catch, jink and stiff-arm her way through a play. She wouldn't have had a chance with the full controls, but the simple mode puts her within touching distance of taking part in daddy's game.
The game itself delivers the same quality play-experience that we have become used to. There are occasions when the game seems to favour one particular style of play over another. The running game seems a tad overpowered at times, whilst the passing feels more problematic. This is extenuated when playing the artificial intelligence (AI) as it has an uncanny knack of close guarding you receivers.
One person's unbalanced play is another's good game modelling, so it really does come down to how you see the real life game. The Madden designers are obviously in the camp that would have teams call more running plays than anything else. As a brit who hasn't played the game in real life, who am I to argue. I just note that others with more experience and knowledge of the game are asking some questions of the wisdom of EA's approach to balancing.
In addition to the main game, a clutch of mini-games are provided for those days when you don't have the inclination or time available for a full game. Over twenty of these little gems provide all the variety and distraction you could ask for. More importantly, the majority of the games provide as reasonably good practise for different aspects of the main game.
Most interestingly for me and my brood are the family play controls.
Maybe the biggest addition this year though is the online play. Whilst other EA sports games are holding back before delivering this on the Wii, it's refreshing to see the Madden team dig in and serve up a very respectable online offering. After registering, you can jump into a game against someone else of a similar ability with little trouble. Add to this the long desired ability to maintain a friends list, check up on leader boards, and browse lobbies for games. This is getting surprisingly close to a proper online offering. Now if only Nintendo could get behind this and co-ordinate a cross-developer environments for these features, the Wii could easily position itself as a proper online games machine.
Whilst the game itself and online features all exhibit a fair degree of innovation and development, the visuals and sound on Madden are starting to show their age. Whilst the action is rendered on a par with the PS2, the adoption of a cleaner more iPod-esque look and feel of other Wii franchises games means that Madden is really starting to lag behind. In addition to some innovation the robustness of the animations and flow of character movement needs some attention to maintain the illusion of real onscreen football.
Overall, EA have continued their yearly cycle of innovation followed by consolidation. Last year's innovative controls have now been shored up with a few consolidatory features this time around. The addition of an online mode is the only aspect of Madden 08 that breaks this mould, and EA are to be praised for this. A couple of years back you could not have expected the Wii version of Madden to put up a fight against the other next generation consoles. However, it's combination of robust gesture controls and none too shabby online play make it hard to ignore. The addition of the family-friendly controls is possibly the winning feature for those of us who want to include our offspring in the football action.
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