Games Are You Ready For Some Xbox?
posted by September 5 at 13:59 PMon
As the real NFL season kicks off this weekend, I have bad news for fans of the fake season (and I don’t mean fantasy, Jonah). Currently, if sports gamers want to simulate Julius Jones’ bumps into the line of scrimmage and gains of only two yards a carry, their options are as limited as the Seahawks’ pool of running backs.
Used to be, a new football season meant heated competition in the virtual pigskin category—two, maybe up to four, franchises vying for your buck. A few years ago, Electronic Arts changed that, snapping up exclusive rights to the NFL. It’s alllll Madden these days, unless you want to play the dated Blitz: The League series (tip: don’t) or consider the forthcoming Madden en Español an actual alternative (“¡El boom!”).
But with Brad gone and Jonah sick, somebody’s gotta pipe up about the NFL’s opening weekend around here. May as well do so with a nerdy Madden NFL ‘09 vs. Madden NFL ‘09 wrapup.
Madden NFL ‘09 (Wii): This is the keynote game in EA Sports’ new “All-Play” series. Translation: they want the Wii Sports crowd. Seems like there’s hope; fewer buttons, simpler plays, and party modes? I’ll bite.
Like other Wii Madden games, you use the motion-sensitive remote to hike the ball, throw the ball, throw up stiff-arms, tackle, and so on. It’s a fun twist at first, but this gets old fast, especially once you realize the “motion sensitivity” doesn’t exist. You can wave the thing up, down, sideways, or like you’re sawing something in half, and it’ll trigger the same move in a given instance. Kinda takes away from the feeling that you’re in the game, and worse, if you’re defending a pass, you can’t choose whether your waggle dives at the receiver or jumps to swat the ball. It picks for you.
What’s changed this year is a relative reduction in button presses. Assuming your wrist isn’t as decrepit as mine, this works out well, with one exception—on default controls, aiming at a receiver in a pass play is impossible. Do you hold the control stick in the direction of your fave receiver? Point the remote at the screen? Stick the remote up your ass? I could never figure it out; the game always chose for me. There’s an “advanced” control set that fixes this to save you an interception or seven, thank God.
What else? The game’s highly touted five-on-five mode tries to be like Tecmo Bowl, with only four plays per team and a lot of ridiculous deep-ball throws. My nostalgic juices were flowing, I’ll admit. But the mode instead plays like a super-simple Blitz (which is simple to begin with). I really wanted this to be a four-player winner, but my groups of friends tired of it quickly; we preferred the two-on-two mode which, for whatever reason, is deeply buried in the game’s menus.
You can create your own plays by pointing at the screen and drawing receiver routes. This would be an awesome thing, and would greatly improve five-on-five mode, except you can’t design plays outside of an actual game. How, then, do you surprise your buddy on the couch next to you? Fail.
The party games blow. There’s NFL trivia, which is robust but won’t win over any casual Wii Sports fans, and there are a ton of dud mini-games like “see who can punt the ball furthest!” A punt-fest where everyone has to wait to take turns? Meh.
But what about the basic, core play?
(jump for the Xbox 360 edition’s review)
Madden NFL ‘09 (Xbox 360, PS3): For traditional 11-on-11, Wii Madden can’t hold up to more powerful consoles. It’s not just that the Xbox 360 version looks a helluva lot better; it feels more balanced and refined. I talk too much about weight and heft in newer games, but when 22 dudes in shoulder pads are running, dodging, and colliding like some homoerotic game of pinball, the realistic feel counts. If it’s a floaty, zippy game like the Wii version, you lose the satisfaction of a big hit or a breakaway run. Not here.
The trade-off is having to learn the controls, which the game has little interest in teaching (unlike the Wii’s endless, and incredibly helpful, tutorial menus). For example, if I need to dodge someone, do I hop, spin, stiff-arm, juke, or lower my shoulders? The “Madden IQ” mode is supposed to help with these zillions of options, but its lessons don’t translate. Time for nitpick city: in the running training, you have a button flash on the screen when someone’s about to hit you. A guy is coming straight at you? The game says to spin. Another guy comes in the exact straight direction? Now it wants you to lower your shoulders. If you try to spin this time, in the exact same way, you’ll get tackled and lose. I tried this over and over to double-check, and it’s seemingly arbitrary (and consistent for all training modes).
Even for someone who will put up with virtual burdens and control issues to review a game, I felt abandoned by this mode. It never lived up to its promise of balancing difficulty and easing casual players in.
Madden lifers will have less trouble, as the base game has been merely tweaked and fixed. This isn’t a bad thing; for complete, NFL-authentic gameplay, there is absolutely nothing missing here. Playbooks are deep; formation tweaks are plentiful; the check and balance of different coaching strategies plays out the way it should. Once I got the hang of the game, I couldn’t touch the Wii version without fuming about the lack of customization, moves, and options (especially the crazy online season modes).
But for casual pick-up-and-play football, I’m still all about 1989’s Tecmo Bowl. Even the Wii Madden is too beholden to football’s every little detail; Tecmo Bowl stripped much of that stuff out to make an enjoyable, rock-paper-scissors game with football wrapped around it.
A new Tecmo Bowl will see release on the DS in a month or so; its Wii edition might be out in time for the Super Bowl in February. Madden will have to tide me over until then.