It’s Madden’s 20th anniversary. And, boy, the game has come a long way since John Madden and Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins conceived of the game on a long train ride in the mid-1980s.
Back then, the graphics were oh-so-simple, like primitive cartoons. Now in Madden NFL 09, they’re so advanced, you’ll almost feel like you’re on the field, playing with the big boys.
Electronic Arts gave Boys’ Life a special beta preview disk for the Xbox 360 so we could preview the game for you before its launch on August 12. “Beta” means a lot of the game is there, but it’s not quite finished.
BIGGER LEAP AHEAD
So how’s it shaping up? Almost everything seems improved: from the minor graphics of TV camera people on the sidelines to the smart gameplay.
Last year’s Madden suffered from complex controls and not enough innovation when it came to online gameplay. And I’m still not sure I like the idea that players were (and still are) represented by “weapons” such as intelligence and speed. Those aren’t “weapons”; they’re human abilities. Still, Madden 08 was a very good game. But it wasn’t a big step forward.
Madden 09 seems to be a bigger leap ahead. It’s as if the knowledge of those 20 years of game history made the developers work longer and harder on this year’s offering.
What’s really cool is that Madden NFL 09 will adapt to your personal skills. Yes, there have been levels of play like Rookie and All-Star before. Now when you let John Madden act as your Virtual Trainer, you’ll get a Madden IQ score based on how you play rush, pass and play defense after completing a dozen different drills. As you improve during the season, your IQ will get better, too.
REPLAYS, RESPONSE AND REALISM
On offense and defense, the replays (called Back Tracks) are far more in depth. In this mode, the announcers’ analysis will allow you to adjust your plays so you can do better if your quarterback was sacked or your middle linebacker ended up flat on his back after being faked out by a draw play.
Some will question the fact that you can then re-do the play. But beginners will appreciate this feature. It levels the playing field between better players and novices.
As I played a few games with the Xbox 360 controller, I felt all the controls were very responsive, even when pulling off special player moves and interceptions. The stadium graphics have been given an upgrade, and you even see a birds-eye view of the traffic outside the stadium before the game begins.
Inside on the field, the players’ movements seem more real than ever. You can see them plant their feet as they run, block or throw like the players have all the human muscles needed to run and block, not just some of them. It’s the difference between looking like a human alien and an actual human.
And, if you’re inches away from that first down, you can pull off a stretch move to get it. It all comes down to control: With 85 new features and enhancements, you will have more command over the game this year than ever before.
The online mode has been seriously upgraded to include playoffs against other online leagues. Here, up to 32 teams can go head-to-head with winning The Big Show as your final goal.
While playing the disk, I noticed that the art for the crowd wasn’t that detailed. Hopefully, this will be dealt with by the time of release. Sadly, one thing that won’t be dealt with is the lack of Madden calling the play by play. I wish he’d get back in there and give us more of his folksy, knowledgeable announcing.
WII, PS3 AND MORE
I also want to let you know about the Wii version, which I saw at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). It has the Wiimote in mind every step of the way. In Call Your Shots mode, you’ll actually be able to draw a route with the motion controller for your receiver just before your play begins.
Not only does the Wii version have trivia and mini-games, you can play it online as well. It looks perfect for the Madden beginner who doesn’t want an in-depth simulation. They truly have changed the game: There are no kick offs. You’ll start at the 50-yard line. Forget first downs. You have just four plays to score.
But wait. There’s more. If you have some extra money to spend, think about the 20th Anniversary Collector’s Edition for PS3 and Xbox 360. For $90, the package includes the full version of NFL Head Coach 09 and the classic NFL Madden ’93, which is redone for HDTVs but still has those cartoony graphics where all the players look pretty much alike.
There’s a Madden 09 bonus to the Collector’s Edition: When you create your own plays in Head Coach, you can easily use them in Madden 09.
Plus, you get a video look at all the Maddens throughout history. You can really see how technology has changed through the years. Finally, if you choose to order Madden before it’s released, you’ll get by mail 10 Donruss cards featuring the top 10 rookie draft picks. Not a bad deal all around.