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Madden NFL 08

Score: 93%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Los Angeles
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Sports/ Sports (Football)/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

If you've read my reviews for a while you know I'm, like, ancient. Yes, a gamer over the age of 18. Decrepit as I may be, I can still remember my days on the Sega Genesis, rocking out to Madden in 1995. Going from '95 to '08, anything would probably be an improvement, right? Sure thing. The simplicity of the old days was strictly a visual impediment in Madden due to hardware limitations. The game was deep as could be and we loved it. Now that the graphics are updated and all next-gen-y, I feel like I've graduated from dating The Girl Most Likely To Succeed to The Girl Most Likely To Be A Victoria's Secret Model. We actually had that award in my high school... not.

The Wii hasn't earned huge accolades for graphic sophistication and usually in reviews gets the obligatory apology for graphics that don't quite stack up against "the other consoles." Madden NFL 08 may look better on other consoles, but it has nothing to apologize for on the Wii. Everything from menus to action on the field is slick and smooth. Online action has a similarly smooth quality that probably depends somewhat on your connection speed. Some of the players' faces aren't much to write home about, but the majority of the facial modeling and the body animations are dead-on. Realism is well balanced with over-the-top or silly action portrayed in the mini-games included in Madden NFL 08. The sound and music is top-notch and Madden has long been the gold standard for announcements and commentary. Some comments are not always encouraging if you happen to beef a play and draw Madden's ire. You can seek advice during critical plays, but the stream-of-consciousness is steady unless you kill the sound. The music is meaty stuff, chosen for its strong-driving rock and hip-hop flavor. EA does not disappoint in building a perfectly believable simulation of the NFL Sunday Ticket experience on the Wii.


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.


Mastering the Wii gestures is a challenge for those of us accustomed to living by our wits and thumbs alone. I can admit that each successive game genre to be translated to the Wii has its learning curve with regard to the motion controls. In all cases, you'll find good examples (think Resident Evil IV) and bad (think Escape from Bug Island) in any genre. If the Sports titles packed in with the Wii are the worst example of advanced motion controls, and other third-party games like this year's Tiger Woods are in between, Madden NFL 08 is sitting at the top of the mountain. Lots of motion-control moments end up being frustrating if you don't get it quite right and lose yardage or (worse) a field goal because you misjudged the controls. There are some funky issues with the camera and the directional controls I didn't like at all. Playing the CPU is consistently too difficult or too easy, and there are always an abundance of perfect runs, jukes, and passes from the computer. If trying to muscle the computer on the field is frustrating, you can try a simulated game using the Total Control Simulation feature. This allows you to simply call the plays and stay away from the action on the field. Once you have a live human on the other controller, you'll find that the difficulty irons itself out since one person is as likely as another person to make mistakes. The most difficult parts of Madden NFL 08 are mastering the different game options, learning the controls, and reading some tiny on-screen titles and information about the players.

Game Mechanics:

Controls for Madden NFL 08 inevitably feel a lot like actually playing the game. Want to make a big hit? Push both arms forward. Want to catch? Lift up both hands in the air and shout, "I'm open, I'm open!!" Okay, you don't actually have to shout, but I encourage it. The hardest movements to simulate are the fakes and hits that require right and left motions with the Wii-mote and Nunchuk. Not that these can't be mastered, but they just tend to break up the button-mashing. Buttons used for most actions remain in use regardless of context. This means that sprinting by using the (B) button is the same on offense as on defense. Gestures are even translated this way, so that lifting the arm quickly is used to hike the ball, kick the ball, and catch the ball. The "UP" motion with the controller equates to all those real-life physical actions, just as moving your arm forward is equivalent to throwing the ball. Moving around the field is done through the Nunchuk stick and feels pretty slippery. Lots of customization is possible, including the right-left orientation of the controllers, but the hardest control to master may be simply running. Crabbing or strafing helps in some places to situate your defensive player, but running to a catch zone is often hard. Perhaps this makes sense from a design perspective since catching the ball is arguably one of the hardest skills to master in the game.

Mastering this game on the Wii is what EA and Madden set out to do. For the most part, they've succeeded and the complaints are mostly quirky stuff. The addition of a robust online mode should silence critics of how Nintendo has promoted their Web services. Who cares about using my Wii to listen to MP3s and read e-mail when I can play Madden against my friends online? I would say, "Just like back in the old days," but we weren't doing much online gaming in 1995. So many things have changed in gaming since then, but Madden continues to be a strong brand that delights and surprises. As a lesson in how easily a game's fortunes can turn, I'll leave you with the memory of another game we were playing on the Sega Genesis along with Madden '95: Altered Beast. Nowadays you can download that game through the Wii Store as a historical curiosity of "classic gaming." Madden manages to be both a classic and an innovator, which is something you don't see much of in gaming or any other form of entertainment.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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