Things We Like
Retooled for '10: You know the NFL season is right around the corner when a new Madden game hits the shelves. With Madden NFL 10, the developers at EA Sports have rebuilt the engine from the ground up. And for the first time, a Madden game for the Wii feels like a Madden game made for the Wii -- not just a port of a game designed for a more powerful console. Embracing a much more arcade-type style compared to its hyperrealistic PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts -- highlighted by five unique body types for quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers, linemen -- the latest Madden effort for Nintendo is likely to repel audiences hoping for the classic Madden experience. But it's sure to please those willing to embrace a different style of game which plays the Wii's strengths.
All-Play improved: The pick-up-and-play "All-Play" mode, which debuted with last year's edition, was always a nice idea in theory -- but the execution in Madden NFL 10 has finally caught up to the concept. The innovative "Huddle Up" feature -- described as the "perfect father-son, boyfriend-girlfriend cooperative mode" -- enables one user to control the players while the other controls lead blockers and pass protectors.
Showdown sensation: The grand new playing mode in this year's installment is Madden Showdown, a tournament mode for one to four players consisting of 11-on-11 or 5-on-5 scrimmages -- spiced up with eight different playing options like "All Running Plays," "All Passing Plays," "Tug of War" (when you only have one play to advance the pigskin before turning it over to your opponent) or "It's Alive" (when play doesn't stop for regular dead-ball situations like incomplete passes). Care to make it a little interesting? Both participants and observers can wager Showdown Points on the outcome of the game (as well as various statistical categories) with a detailed and engaging Prediction System. Can't speak for the long-term replay value, but the first several go-rounds were a blast. There's never been anything quite like it in a football video game.
Shots hits the mark: Remember "Call Your Shots," the best new feature from last year's edition, where a player could conceive Wii-mote drawn hot routes prior to any passing play -- from slants to deep routs to reverses? It wasn't the most realistic feature, but it sure was addictive (and it fit nicely within the game's arcade-style concept). Well, EA Sports has introduced an identical feature for the defensive side: Choose a player and change his defensive assignment on the fly, from man to zone to spy to blitz. "Call Your Shots" gave the offensive player such an advantage in last year's game that it was almost unfair. This year's defensive addition is a great -- and necessary -- equalizer.
Online mode: It's unchanged, for the most part, but without the frame drops and general slowdown common to the online modes of many previous EA Sports titles for the Wii.
Things We'd Change
Road to nowhere: "Road to the Super Bowl," an "experience" for one to four players that enables a group of friends to play together through an entire NFL season, proved underwhelming. My enthusiasm for this feature was high when reading advance press materials about it -- but it ended up a half-baked disappointment. No trades, no practicing, none of the bells and whistles of the most rudimentary season mode -- just games. If your performance during a game is substandard, you can get benched and the computer will take over your place. That's fine -- if somewhat annoying -- if you're playing cooperatively with a friend. But it's not so much fun to watch the computer if you're playing by yourself.
Franchise? Superstar?: Hunting for the Franchise and Superstar modes I'd come to enjoy in recent Madden installements for the Wii, I experienced two stages of shock: an initial jolt when I discovered these have become bonus modes which a player must unlock -- and a second and more jarring shudder when I discovered they've changed nothing about these modes from Madden NFL 09 besides updating the rosters -- not even the much-improved Wii-friendly point-and-click menu interface from the main menus. It's kind of a buzzkill to go back to the D-Pad.
M.I.A.: Real-life commentators Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond call the action. The commentary is fine. But a Madden game without so much as a peep from the man himself? What gives?
EA Sports typically overhauls its franchise engines, like they've done with Madden NFL 10, once every three years. It's debuted in Year 1, tweaked and refined in Year 2 and, in theory, perfected in Year 3. The first Madden game of this three-year cycle is going to strike veterans of 07, 08 and 09 as vastly different in many different areas. If you can get beyond these improvements, you'll find a very palatable and accessible gaming experience. But those enamored with the true-to-life simulation days of Madden games from previous years (and for other consoles) are setting themselves up for disappointment.
-- Reviewed By Bryan Armen Graham