The Nintendo Wii version of Madden NFL 07 might just be the most unique take on the long-running football franchise ever seen. The control scheme, which takes extensive advantage of the Wii's wireless controller and Nunchuk attachment make the game more interactive and visceral than you might expect, and, even better, the game includes all of the single-player modes found in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. The game will also include a trio of multiplayer minigames that aren't found in the other versions of Madden, and they just happen to be one of the best aspects of the Wii version. We got a chance to try out the three minigames, in some cases multiple times, during a recent demo session with the folks at EA Sports.
Though minigames are nothing new to the Madden franchise, those found in the Wii version have never been seen in the series before. The trio includes Two-on-Two, Kicking Combine, and a mode called YAC Attack. All can be played with up to four players on the same Wii console, and in some cases, two players can join together to take on the computer.
The first minigame we played, Two-on-Two, featured two players per team in a series of wide-open passing and catching that played a bit like your old schoolyard pickup games. The goal here is to score as many touchdowns as you can for each of the five plays of your round. Should you intercept a ball and run it back to the opposite end zone, you get two points. Each team gets a set number of downs per round, with one player acting as the quarterback and the other acting as the wide receiver. On the defensive side of the ball, one player controls a defensive back and the other plays as a linebacker, rushing the quarterback. Just like the old-school games, there is a set amount of time before the linebacker can cross the line of scrimmage to rush the QB, counted off in "Mississippi's" that flash up on the screen (as in One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, and so on). Once you get to the set number of Mississippi's, the linebacker can cross the scrimmage line and lay a beatdown on the QB.
During Two-on-Two, every player will get multiple chances to play every position. In the first round, you might play quarterback on offense and linebacker on defense. In the next round, you'll play as a wide receiver on offense and a defensive back when playing defense. Your responsibilities, naturally, change depending on the position you're currently playing. As a wideout, for example, your job will be to get open, running whatever kind of route you wish. When the ball is thrown your way, you'll have to manually catch the ball by motioning up with the two controllers simultaneously. Your quarterback, on the other hand, will have a few moments to wait before he's under pressure; once the wideout is open, he'll toss the ball by pressing forward with the Wii controller. The power you put behind the Wii controller "throw" motion will determine the type of throw you make. A quick motion will make for a bullet pass; a slow movement will result in a lob pass.
On defense, the primary objective of the linebacker is to put pressure on the quarterback, though he can drop back into double coverage, as well. Though he can only begin his rush once the time limit is up, you can speed up the Mississippi countdown by vigorously drumming the Wii controller and Nunchuk up and down. The quicker you drum, the faster the countdown will go, putting that much extra pressure on the QB. Finally, as the defensive back, your job is to knock down, or better yet, intercept the pass. You can swat a pass by holding up the Wii controller when the ball reaches you; to attempt an interception, you hold up both controllers as if you were playing receiver.
Over the course of a full game, you can expect to score a ton of touchdowns and, for the most part, it's a rollicking good time, especially with four players. The ever-changing routes of the wide receiver and the constant pressure on the quarterback make for some laugh-out-loud moments of tension. It helps too that there's no such thing as pass interference in this mode, so when playing as a defensive back, you can impede the wideout's progress by getting ahead of him and slowing him down. There are some frustrations--catching the ball is sometimes more difficult than it should be, and tackling is sometimes pretty difficult--but for the most part, it's a great time.
The second mode, Kicking Combine is, as you might expect, a kicking contest. Up to four players can take part, first choosing their team (and thus their kicker), and then using the Madden Wii kick mechanic (hold down the A button and move the Wii controller up quickly) to nail field goals from increasingly longer distances. The space between the two goal posts is color coded, and the closer you are to splitting the uprights down the middle, the more points you'll earn. To add challenge, all of the other nonkicking players in the game can generate "wind" by quickly drumming their two controllers in the air and pressing the Nunchuk's analog stick in any direction. The quicker everyone drums, the stronger the wind you'll generate and the harder it will be for the kicker. To make things even more difficult, you only have a few seconds to make your kick attempt before the next person takes his or her turn. Of the three, this was perhaps the weakest of the minigames, if only because it seemed overly difficult to make kicks with a strong wind working against you (the purposeful lack of an aiming arrow didn't help here). Then again, no one else seemed to be having too much trouble going all Adam Vinatieri on us, so perhaps the trouble was ours alone.
The final mode, and our favorite of the bunch, is known as YAC Attack. The "YAC" in YAC Attack stands for yards after catch, which means this is yet another pitch-and-catch minigame, though this one has a definite twist of its own. Essentially a three-on-one matchup, YAC Attack has one player acting as the quarterback for any NFL team, while the three remaining players are defensive backs looking to defend against the pass. When the quarterback hikes the ball, it's up to that player to find an open receiver; the three defensive backs will look to be swatting down balls, tackling receivers, or otherwise disrupting the momentum of the player on offense. If you've played defensive back in Madden NFL 07's Superstar challenge, you know that this is one of the more challenging positions in the game, but in YAC mode, that adds to the challenge. There is also the added benefit of your teammate picking up your slack if you blow your coverage and making the tackle or, better yet, breaking up the play altogether.
The twist in YAC Attack mode is that everyone is always competing against one another, even if they're playing on the same team. This is because how you perform on the field will earn you points, and the player with the highest number of points at the end of the game is the winner. On defense, making a big tackle or interception will earn you points, just like making a big pass will on offense. Simply completing passes isn't enough, however. The real goal on offense is to make a pass and then get those all-important yards after catch, which will really add to your point total. That said, it's not unusual to see someone leading the game mostly through skillful defensive play--a smart design choice that ensures everyone is in the game, no matter what side of the ball they're playing on.
The only annoying thing about this mode, beyond the occasional dropped pass, is when receivers get far down the field and become covered up by the individual player score graphics at the top of the screen. It's easy to lose track of your defensive assignments at this point, and a smart QB will take advantage of that. Still, the trash-talking possibilities in YAC Attack mode are pretty much off the charts, especially when the three defensive players gang up on the quarterback to throw him or her off their game. Even better, there's nothing better than shutting up the defensive yahoos with a sniper throw and a subsequent 30-yard touchdown run. Simply put, when YAC Attack mode is at its best, it's the best minigame of the bunch.
Though all three minigames in the Wii version of Madden NFL 07 have their charms, it's the interactive and energetic nature of the Two-on-Two and YAC Attack modes that impressed us most--if only because they seem most in line with the four-players-on-the-couch ethos that's at the heart of the Wii console. We look forward to spending more time with these minigames and the rest of what Madden NFL 07 for the Wii has to offer when the game launches later this month.