Depth of gameplay has been a feature of Madden going back all the way to my first experience with '95. The list of plays is dense but contains what players and armchair coaches alike expect. The range of options for plays is dizzying in Madden NFL 08
, but handled well and organized like a card-catalogue. Everything is customizable at a deep level, as well.
What we would have killed for or donated kidneys for back in the day is a Party Mode such as we have now in Madden NFL 08. A minimum of two players is required and support for up to four is included. There are over 20 different ways to take the action to your pals and the Telestrator feature allows you to taunt them after they lose. If you don't feel up to more pigskin button-mashing, you can just kick back with trivia and test your encyclopedic knowledge of the game against friends. The action-oriented challenges are variations of the tests you'll pass during the Mini-Camp Mode and some 2-on-2 action. If you don't have friends and don't know how to play the game - or want to know how Madden has been translated to the Wii - you can use the Learn Madden Mode. This walks you through all critical means of control and lets you test each of the gesture-based controls before you try a game. During games, you can revisit these lessons but you can't do the trials. Learning the gestures is important since the flavor of the game on the Wii is intimately connected to motion controls. More on that later.
Online play is as simple as connecting, creating an EA Games account, and jumping into the action. You can linger (or loiter) in a gaming lobby and chat (or needle) the guy you just beat. Friend and buddy lists are included and you can watch the latest scores scroll by in the Live Sports Ticker. The only complaint I had with online was that it didn't feel crowded and there wasn't a very smooth system for notifying players about availability. Trying to join a game often resulted in a long loading screen with a message at the end saying the connection was lost because too much time had passed. If there are gamers waiting to play and you can't get a game started, the frustration creeps in. If offline play is just fine with you, there are multiple ways to get your game on in Madden NFL 08. Franchise, Hall of Fame, and Mini-Camp Modes are all very in-depth modes compared to clicking Play Now and jumping into the action. If jumping in is what you want, go for it. If you aren't interested in walking through a tutorial and like the idea of using motion controls, a new feature is available called Family Play. Since the full range of control options tied to the combination of Nunchuk and Wii-mote may be more than some want to learn, Madden NFL 08 lets you use just the Wii-mote and drop the Nunchuk. Sure, you don't get all the bells and whistles in terms of control, but you can start a game and play just fine through an entire four quarters without learning more than about four motion-controls.
Franchise Mode begins by setting up current rosters for all teams and giving you 30 years (yes, you read that correctly) to manage a team through all stages from the draft to the post-season activities. Fantasy is an option if you'd rather build a team through a fantasy draft than be limited to real-life teams' rosters. The quality of play for a single player is excellent and might be just the ticket for older gamers looking for more than just a chance to don their favorite team's jersey and hit the field. If you ever wondered how it feels to own and manage a team, you'll get a decent idea through this mode. The only beef I have is the lack of good documentation and tutorial for this part of the game compared to the depth of training that goes into the other modes. If a deep experience from the player's perspective is of interest, you can launch the Hall of Fame Mode and step into the skin of a player signed to the big leagues and expected to make his way through to glory. It's harder than it looks, especially when you have to prove yourself in drills, in games, and off the field. This may not appeal to thrill jockeys satisfied by running an eternity of plays against their group of drunken, pizza-smeared friends.