LOS ANGELES--The demo station in the Nintendo booth referred to the game as Madden NFL 07, but the Wii version of the next Madden game plays like no console football game you've experienced before. We were in line bright and early this morning at E3 2006 and, as soon as the Wii doors opened, made a beeline to Madden for the Wii in order to get our hands on this innovative sports game.
The brief demo consisted of three separate segments comprised of two minigames--the passing challenge and the field goal-kicking exercise--and then a quarter's worth of actual gameplay. Players of previous versions of Madden will recognize the two minigames, as they've made appearances in previous versions of the game. However, thanks to the new Wii controls, they play unlike anything else. The passing minigame featured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and five stationary dummies that acted as receivers. To select a receiver, you simply pressed the directional pad in one of four directions (up, down, left, or right) or pressed the A button (the big button underneath your thumb when holding the Wii controller in its vertical position). To throw the ball, we simply reared back with the controller and pushed forward, an approximation of an overhand throw, and Big Ben let loose with the pass. Just as advertised, the quicker the motion of the controller, the harder the throw; a gentle toss resulted in an arching lob ball. All the while, we were intent on keeping the quarterback within a specific zone for the passes to count in our favor, and we moved him around with the analog stick found on the left-hand nunchaku controller.
The next minigame in the demo was the kicking challenge, a timed test that challenged you to make as many field goals as you could in a certain amount of time. You aim the kick with the nunchaku analog stick and then press the A button to initiate the kick. As the kicker approaches the ball you hold down the Wii controller and then rapidly move it up, mimicking the motion of the kicker's leg. The twist here in that you want to focus on keeping the Wii controller as level as possible--tilt it too far to the left or right and you'll shank the ball off in that direction. As a game producer told us, QA folks for the game have actually been able to make kicks without aiming the directional arrow, instead focusing on accurately "shanking" the ball into the goal. In practice, we found the kicking controls to be the easiest and most natural movement in the game.
The final segment of the demo was actual gameplay, where you could put all the skills you learned in the minigames to work for you in a game situation. However, because we hadn't practiced any of the running game moves yet, it was a trial by fire on the field. By moving the controller left and right, you could pull off juke moves in those specific directions, by shoving the controller forward you could put out a stiff-arm and make a defensive back pay for trying to tackle you. Passing in a game situation was a considerably different experience than in the drill; having to deal with pressure from the defense meant you had to keep the quarterback moving while still looking for an open receiver. Still, with a little practice, we were driving the ball down the field like champs (or at least, playoff contenders). One other neat little touch: To pick play from your playbook, all you had to do was point at it on the screen with your Wii controller.
So while we're pretty positive on the overall control scheme of Madden Wii, there are a few things that still need to be ironed out. First of all, the game's animations, particularly when throwing the ball, looked a bit rough to our eyes. In fact, the overall look of the game didn't seem like that much of an upgrade from the PlayStation 2 or Xbox versions of the game. Producers said you will eventually be able to lead receivers on routes, something you couldn't do in the demo we played. Finally, we're not sure how the Wii controller will work into the defensive game, as we weren't able to play any defense in the demo. Still, with more work to do before the game is released, we'll be keeping our eyes on how these issues are addressed in the coming months. Stay tuned.