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Who says you have to grow up? Here at SI.com's Game Room, our staffers review the latest sports video game titles to hit the market and welcome your feedback.
 
8/12/2008 10:24:00 AM

Review: Madden 09 (Wii)

 
Madden 09: All-Play (Wii)
More Madden: 360/PS3 Review | Madden Covers | Mattel to Madden | Madden Curse

Image Credit: EA Sports
Things We Like
Graphically Sound: The gameplay-driven Wii isn’t exactly known for its horsepower, but Madden 09 -- the 20th Anniversary edition of the venerable EA Sports franchise -- is the most beautifully rendered sports title for the Nintendo console to date. The Madden literature boasts the most realistic models ever (doesn’t it always?), but give EA Sports credit for turning in some immaculate work for a milestone version of their flagship title. You can practically smell the freshly cut grass -- a notoriously tricky rendering for programmers -- and the "movie weather" provides the dramatic conditions the heading implies. No problems with the frame rate either, a common problem in last year’s edition.
Runaway Victory: Riffing off the upgraded graphics, one particularly notable improvement is the strikingly realistic running game. New animations nail down what makes real-life NFL running backs so impressive: by finally capturing the balletic art of backfield running. Longtime Madden players will enjoy watching running backs automatically hurdle over fallen bodies in traffic and turn their shoulders to slip through the 18-inch openings between Herculean linemen. Running between the tackles on All-Madden difficulty is no longer the self-defeating proposition it once was.
Everybody In: While the curious absence of the Madden IQ innovation featured on the PS3 and XBox 360 versions of the game is disappointing (see "Things We'd Change"), the Wii version of Madden boasts an "adaptive difficulty engine" which similarly tailors your experience. Instead of Madden IQ, the Wii version features "All-Play" -- a reworked version of the Family Play feature from last year’s game, which enables any user to "pick up and play" with a high rate of success. In this for-beginners-only mode, almost any move can be executed by simply waggling or stabbing the Wiimote toward the screen, and red or green icons over wide receivers indicate whether a player is open or covered. But a number of the game’s features accommodate users with varying levels of expertise: The first selection on the play-calling screen is "Ask Madden," "Basic Play Set" and "All Plays" -- essentially catering to beginners, intermediates and experts, respectively. Most importantly, users preferring the regular difficulty level can actually play enjoyable, competitive games against "All-Play" users.
Diagram Plays On The Fly: What it lacks in football realism, the "Call Your Shots" mode compensates for with increased fun factor. The innovative feature enables the user to conceive Wiimote-drawn hot routes prior to any passing play -- from slants to deep routes to reverses -- to slice and dice defenses. Again, it’s not particularly realistic, but it’s truly addicting.
Giving It A Fresh Face: The developers have given the franchise’s increasingly stale presentation a complete overhaul. No addition or tweak is too dramatic, just some general housekeeping to sharpen the game’s feel without sacrificing the familiarity of the interface. Areas of improvement include commentary (Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond take over the booth), new camera angles and an enhanced play-calling system featuring instant replays of the previous play on the actual play-calling screen. (Though it’s worth mentioning a number of the advertised improvements -- like a starting lineup banner, for instance -- weren't included on the Wii edition of the game.)
Wear Movement Clothes: A fun twist for the kiddies (and the hopeless couch potatoes) on the Wii edition occurs after a user makes a game-altering play like scoring a touchdown or grabbing an interception. The game implores the user to "Wave your arms!" and "Raise the roof!" The more actively the user celebrates, the greater attribute boost the player receives -- so there’s actually a competitive advantage to be gained to this ostensibly mindless tack-on. Adult gamers might be annoyed by the incessant roof-raising -- if the feature’s divisive reception on NCAA Football 09 is any indicator -- but it’s a fun expression of the Wii’s active-play ethos.
Playground-style Pigskin: Fans of the arcade-like Wii Sports games will get a real kick out of this new mode: a "neighborhood-style," 5-on-5 adaptation with gigantic player heads, smaller teams and a simplified four-play playbook. There’s not much more to 5-on-5 Mode beyond the surface -- and the computer AI is generally awful in single-player games -- but it’s a fun alternative to play with a friend if you’re pressed for time or otherwise uninterested in playing a full-length game.
 
Video
Check out this clip of Madden 09 in action:
 
Things We'd Change
No Madden IQ?: The tag line for Madden 09 is: "The Game Adapts To You." But does it? I was disappointed to discover the Wii version of the game doesn’t include the much-ballyhooed Madden IQ feature included on the PS3 and XBox 360 editions. For those versions, a player completes a diagnostic test in four areas upon first play -- rushing, passing, rush defense and pass defense -- and the computer determines where the user is adequate or needs improvement. The game proceeds to issue the player a Madden IQ score between 200 and 800 points based on their performance. The IQ score moves up or down depending on how a player performs during his or her Madden 09 career and tailors the difficulty levels across several facets of game play. This revolutionary break from the traditional catch-all difficulty levels -- Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, All-Madden -- seemed like the coolest addition to this year’s edition. Oh well.
Nunchuk Sensitivity: Here’s a carryover complaint from last year’s edition: Just as with Madden 08 for the Wii, a user can audible to another play with a quick flick of the Nunchuk controller upward, downward, leftward or rightward. Problem is, the control is too sensitive for its own good. So when you’re facing 4th-and-long, pinned up inside your own 10 and the punt team comes onto the field, the slightest flick of the left hand will send your punter under center for a regular play from scrimmage. And since calling an audible for the "original play" isn’t evident, you’ll find yourself burning unnecessary timeouts.
Superstar Mode: Entering its fourth year as a franchise staple, Superstar Mode is a twist on the long-term Franchise Mode. Instead of guiding a team through multiple seasons, you select a rookie and guide him through his career. It’s basically Franchise Mode from a first-person point of view, where you’re boosting your player's attributes through training camp exercises and earning points over the course of the regular season based on game situations. I chose DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles -- a wide receiver -- meaning I spent most of the games throwing lead blocks downfield or running routes with very few pass attempts thrown my way. You’re not even choosing your own plays during the games, sucking most of the fun out of the game’s "chess match" element. It begs the question: How real is too real? Superstar Mode remains a tantalizing but ultimately unfulfilling game mode in Madden.
Not The Game! We’re Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice!: You wonder how much memory the developers have invested in the detailed Practice Mode and Virtual Trainer. Longtime or even recent initiates of the Madden franchise will gain almost nothing from the five mini-games designed to instruct users about the basic rules and concepts of the game and the sport itself. There was a time when a basic grasp of football knowledge was a prerequisite for playing a football sim. While I support the general effort to open up the Madden experience to casual gamers, EA Sports may be going too far with these excessive training programs.
 
Bottom Line
As EA Sports continues to develop and fine-tune the "All-Play" concept on the Wii editions of its annual sports releases, hardcore gamers will continue to be disappointed by the perceived emphasis on drawing in novice fans. With advents like the "Call Your Shots" mode, it’s not like the developers completely ignored the veteran fan base, but the long-term direction of these Wii versions is evident. In the end, if you want the most realistic football sim on the market, maybe you should rethink your future with a Nintendo console obviously committed toward bringing together gamers of all ages and backgrounds. But if you’re looking an inclusive experience suitable for any level of player -- and a perfectly enjoyable football game for the hardcore set -- there’s no need to overthink it: Madden is still the one.
Gameplay Graphics Audio Online OVERALL
9 8 8.5 8.5 8.5
More Madden: 360/PS3 Review | Madden Covers | Mattel to Madden | Madden Curse
 
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Comments:

Maddn '09 is absolutely the biggest waste of $60 I've ever spent. It's a freakin' CARTOON!!! You make passes to green bubbles, and you don't even get to PICK WHICH GREEN BUBBLE to throw to!! And the "pass" motion is either too sensitive or too stringent - because I have yet to be able to throw a "bullet" pass. ALL of my passes are floaters, and my WR gets blasted and drops the throw -EVERY TIME. I think I sprained my wrist trying to make a bullet pass.

I do NOT recommend this game to ANYONE. '08 would be PERFECT if it didn't have so many glitches - freezing, etc., but I'm still going to give my '09 away and play '08, while I wait for '10. Make sense? This game sucks.
Posted: 4:27 AM, August 13, 2008   by Anonymous Anonymous
Why say that Madden is "still the one"... when in reality is that Madden is still the ONLY one since no other company can put together a NFL game using the NFL license..
We have no way of knowing if Madden has improved as much as it could/should have since there is NO competition. Sad.
I stopped buying the game when they were awarded an exclusive license (not saying I don't have the game though).
After this review, I'll likely "get" the PC version to take advantage of the evolving AI.
Posted: 1:21 AM, August 14, 2008   by Anonymous Anonymous
@Jenny-

Those green bubbles are part of the new all-play system. Press "1" at the side selection screen to turn off all-play, and manually select your recievers.

As far as passing is concerned, I haven't had any problems differentiating between the bullet and the lob. Try recallibrating the wii-mote, and test it with shorter passes. You won't be able to throw a bullet 50 yards down field.
Posted: 8:03 AM, August 14, 2008   by Anonymous Anonymous
I still prefer 07 over 09. The new look does look too cartoony for a NFL sim, the ONLY nfl sim. Call your shot is good, but I prefer textured grass, and real refs on the field, not miis. I only hope next year they give madden for the wii a more realistic coat of paint. This game is good to play but it hurts my eyes.
Posted: 9:51 AM, August 14, 2008   by Anonymous Anonymous
I'm moving from the PC to the Wii, and I really like it so far. It's definitely a lot harder to make roster changes in franchise mode, but the motion controls make it worth it. It's just a lot of fun to actually feel like you're throwing the ball or making a fair catch call or a swim move. I'm going to play a lot of the 2-minute drill and 1-minute quarter games to learn the motions before I go online to play.

To Jenny- if you're seeing the bubbles instead of the icons, you have it on the "All Play" setting. At the game setup menu, hit 1 to switch to regular controls.
Posted: 2:15 PM, August 14, 2008   by Anonymous Anonymous
This is the first Madden game I've bought in almost 10 years, and my first on Wii (obviously).

It's the most fun I've had playing video game football since I was a teenager (I'm 31).

I think this game is amazing on the fun scale, simply because of the way the Wii controls work.

There are a few things I don't like or don't understand yet (e.g., Can I only have one User ID for the game on my Wii, meaning my friends and I can't have separate ID's that track our records against eachother if we are playing from the same console? Why can we only see 3 plays instead of the standard 6 plays? Is there any way to conceal the play you are calling from someone sitting next to you, without calling an audible? Why can you only customize the audibles for a single team's playbook?) and some of those may be able to be answered by people here. Since I'm the primary user on my Wii and stick to playing with the Redskins primarily, most of those don't really have any impact on the way that I PLAY the game, but I've still noticed them as being missing.

Anyway, those questions aside, I think the Wii version is awesome. Though the appearance is better on PS3 and xBox, I wouldn't trade my Wii controls for the improvements available on those systems. Playing without having to physically move your arms to snap, throw, kick, juke and tackle just seems so "last decade" by comparison.
Posted: 1:59 PM, August 17, 2008   by Anonymous Anonymous
If I don't want to use the nunchuck and remote is the classic controler or gamecube controller supported?
Posted: 11:32 PM, August 22, 2008   by Anonymous Johnald
I just bought this game a few days ago, and I'm already experiencing a ton of freezing, sometimes when I'm not even in a game! I just tried to check my depth chart in franchise mode and it froze. That's when I gave up. It's almost unusable. Am I the only one who is having this problem? Maybe mine is defective?
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