Reviewed: August 23, 2009
Released: August 14, 2009
As the top selling console of this generation, it’s no surprise that Wii is the number one target for publishers right now. More and more developers are being tasked with squeezing the most out of the Wii’s less-than-impressive hardware architecture and shoehorn in some form of motion-based input to attract the attention of the massive Wii install base. Sports game garner the most attention by far, and certain sports franchises have fared better than others in this race for motion-based supremacy – between the countless bowling, baseball, and tennis titles, it’s often hard to decide on a clear-cut winner in each genre.
But one gaming franchise that has gone all but unchallenged is EA’s Madden football. Of course, this is entirely a function of the controversial high-dollar exclusivity agreement between EA and the NFL. But don’t go thinking that exclusivity has stopped developer Tiburon from giving the Madden series a complete overhaul with Madden NFL 10 for the Wii. Rather than simply porting down the Xbox 360 version of the game, the Wii title has been rebuilt from the ground-up to take better advantage of Nintendo’s unique hardware.
Please let me start off with a little disclaimer – Madden 10 is my first foray with the franchise on the Wii. This is strange coming from someone who was once known for each year buying BOTH major football titles – EA’s Madden, and Sega’s (now 2K Sports’) NFL 2K series – but it’s as if the forced demise of the 2K franchise served to diminish my interest in the genre. In fact, since the EA-NFL exclusivity controversy first broke in 2004 I have only purchased one football game – 2K Sports NFL 2K5 and the sadly underrated All-Pro Football.
But after hearing about the ground-up Wii specific development of Madden 10, I just had to give the game a swing (figuratively and literally) – and boy am I glad I did, because the result is pretty darn fun. You say you want motion control? Well Madden’s got it in buckets. Everything from the golf-like kickoff sweeps to the pointer-based passing, from the waggle-based rushing jukes to the power slam special moves – nearly every aspect of the on-field gaming is controlled with an intuitive flick of the Wii remote.
To keep the difficulty balanced for newbies and hardcore alike, most aspects of the gameplay have been set up with three levels of input and/or decision-making – All-Play, Intermediate, and Advanced. All-Play leaves most of the situational playbook and routing decisions up to the AI, Intermediate allows gamers to pick from a very limited playbook of running and passing plays and leaving the formations to the AI, and Advanced leaves all decisions for formations and plays up to the gamer.
One really neat feature that the folks at Tiburon have done with these three levels of decision-making is that they have integrated all three simultaneously, allowing gamers to seamlessly switch between the three during each and every play call. This is a real benefit to gamers who might rather receive a hint of what type of formation to call for a given situation, rather than resorting to the ubiquitous handholding of the “Ask Madden” feature. For instance, I seem to make solid decisions offensively, but my defensive skills are lacking – so I select from the Advanced playbook on offense, but let the AI make formation decisions otherwise.
Another great feature is the choice to play any game using either the standard 11-on-11 lineup, or play a modified 5-on-5 game. 11-on-11 is pretty much standard rules NFL football, whereas 5-on-5 is NFL-Blitz inspired arcade football along the lines of EA Sport’s own NFL Tour series – replete with in-game power-ups. Either mode is solid in its own right, and each is so unique from the other it is almost like getting two distinct titles for the price of one.
When I say that the lineup choice is available for any game, I mean any game – including single player games, seasons, and franchises, as well as online and local multiplayer games. And this has got to be one of the best online experiences I have had on the Wii console – sure, chat is sorely missing, but given the fact that the online interface runs through the EA servers, I was able to link to my existing EA profile (across the original Xbox, PS2 and PS3) with a few clicks of the Wii remote.
Visually, the game fares well given the hardware. Rather than mimic the realistic look of PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, the Wii version goes for an arcade ambiance. The overall look is more along the lines of NFL Blitz – where player models are cartoon like caricatures with large wedge-shaped torsos terminating in narrow waists and long gangly legs. If this were one of the HD consoles it might be a bit disappointing to see these goofball characters, but the fact that this is the Wii and the game clips along without a hitch – well, it is forgivable.
The audio quality is overall quite solid, but the play-by-play announcing could definitely use some attention for the next iteration. It is bad enough that the game is often an event or two behind the onscreen action – but the fact that the game feels inclined to repeat the same two or three color commentary quips is inexcusable. For instance, following each touchdown a set of buttons pop up on the screen that represent player celebrations. Selecting a button sets the player into a pre-determined spike, dance, goalpost dunk, etc., and the color commentator to announce “he’s giving the fans a little extra show after that score”. Well guess what folks, regardless of whether you select a button or not – the commentator says the same rehashed quip. Apparently somewhere in the NFL, standing in one place doing nothing is considered “a little extra show” – but not in my world.
All the audio gripes aside, EA Sports’ Madden 10 is an enjoyable game of football and one fantastic value considering all of the variations of play that are available. As if the single player and multiplayer games and seasons (available as either 11-on-11 or 5-on-5) were not enough, the game even includes Franchise and Superstar modes hidden as unlockables. Add on top of that the incredibly addictive minigame challenge “training” mode, and you have one heck of a deal.
The Wii gets its fair share of pigeonholed motion-control ports of HD console titles, but Madden 10 is definitely in a league of its own. We applaud the folks at EA and Tiburon for taking the time to deliver a unique experience for the Wii gamers. Whether you are into arcade or simulation play, whether you are young or old, whether you are alone or with friends – Madden 10 is a whole lot of fun, and has something to offer football fans of all shapes and sizes.