One of the big complaints about sports games year after year is that they just don't change. Especially in the last few years, EA's Madden NFL franchise has weathered the brunt of many of these complaints, largely in light of the mild upgrades made to older console versions and the "tear it all down, build it back up" approach the company took with its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. To some extent, though, it all boils down to one question: How do you update football? The answer may very well be found in Madden NFL 07 for the Wii. At first glance, this looks like a pretty basic port of the older console iteration of Madden 07 released earlier in the year. But once you get your hands on it, you'll find a highly revamped experience that makes great use of the Wii's unique capabilities. And it's not just a few things here and there, either. Tons of the various moves and actions of football are mapped to the motion-sensing controls, with largely positive results. There are a few things that maybe don't work quite as well as they could, but by and large, Madden on the Wii is a successful reenvisioning of how football is played on consoles.
From the moment you boot up a game in Madden 07, you'll find a heaping helping of tutorials showing you the basics of the game's controls through some of the familiar minicamp games. In fact, all throughout Madden you'll find little tutorials about individual actions. Once you jump into a full-on game for the first time, before each and every play, a new tutorial icon pops up in the upper right corner, and by pressing a button, it'll bring you to a screen where it demonstrates a new action and lets you try it out. It's a phenomenal system, especially since anyone who has ever played a standard football game will need some adjustment to this new control scheme.
In most cases, the movements you make to perform an action in the game are completely intuitive. To snap the ball, you flip the Wii Remote upward with a quick snap. To pass, you simply press the button of the desired receiver, and flip the remote forward in a passing motion. When you're carrying the ball, the Nunchuk acts as your body, while the remote acts as your arms. What this means is that by tilting the Nunchuk from side to side, you'll juke in the appropriate direction, and by tilting the remote from side to side, you'll perform a right or left stiff arm. Basic tackles are handled by simply running into other players, but you can level them with big hits by holding down the Z button and pushing both the remote and the Nunchuk forward. Kicks are handled by simply swinging the remote upward after pressing the A button to start a kick.
These are just the basics, mind you. There are tons of motion-control moves to be found here, including moves for lead blocking, catching, swiping at the ball, and pulling off various presnap offensive and defensive moves. It's a complex system, but many of the moves are so easy to use that it becomes second nature after a couple of games. For instance, even though it might seem counterintuitive to use the D pad for receiver assignments, it's just as easy as it ever was with the normal button assignments in other versions of Madden. The running moves are fantastic and feel completely natural. The timing's a bit tricky in the early goings, but once you get a feel for it, it works like a dream. Even better, the game actually brings up icons to signify when you're doing something right or wrong with the running controls. If you're too late for a stiff arm, it tells you. It also occasionally pulls off a "smart" move for you when it thinks it feels a tilt but you haven't necessarily moved the controller over far enough to pull it off right.
That's not to suggest every move is perfect. Defensive moves don't always feel like they're registering properly, especially the big hit move, and trying to figure out the timing for a manual catch for an interception while playing on defense is an exercise in futility. The game also doesn't quite overcome the hurdles of mapping pre-snap controls to this controller. To do just about any of these, you have to point to a specific player on the field, and then a rather crazy map full of control options pops up. It's easier on offense, since you can dictate when the ball is snapped and take your time a bit more to sift through the options, but trying to pull off functions like the defensive playmaker controls and line shifts can be a bit of a rush job with this interface, partially because of the long list of functions, and partially because the remote pointer doesn't always go where you want it to go. There's also a bit of weirdness with kicking from time to time. Getting the timing down for kick power doesn't take long to figure out, but the controller also tracks the angle slice, so if you have the controller turned too far one way or the other, you'll send it in weird directions. However, even when you think you have it lined up perfectly, you'll sometimes get a phantom slice that shouldn't be there.
These issues aside, Madden NFL 07 plays wonderfully. Despite the initial learning curve, it's an accessible game of football overall, and it doesn't sacrifice any of the depth of the other console versions. The full playbooks are there and are sorted in the usual way, but there's also an update to the "by play type" playbook system included for newer players who don't know what an I-formation or a zone blitz is. This new system specifically categorizes plays by easy-to-use terminology, like "long pass," "inside run," or "deep pass D." These playbooks are also smaller, making them a bit less daunting for newcomers. Ultimately, both casual and longtime players will be able to find something to suit their needs, and with all the tutorials on hand and the largely responsive controls, just about anybody who likes football ought to be able to have a great time with it.
If you're familiar at all with the recent entries in the Madden series, you'll find every feature you've come to expect in Madden NFL 07. The franchise mode is mostly untouched from Madden NFL 06, with all the usual bells and whistles, such as the Tony Bruno radio show, newspaper headlines, minicamp games, owner mode, and the like. The one new addition to the package involves rookie scouting. You now have the option to play through the college all-star game and to run individual rookie prospects through combined workouts to gain more statistical information about players prior to the draft. Getting more involved in rookie scouting is always a plus, and both of these features are a nice touch.
Superstar mode remains largely as it did last year in the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube versions of Madden, letting you create your own rookie player and letting you play every game specifically as that player for the length of a career. All the secondary concerns, like interviews, endorsements, movie roles, and the like are here again, and they suffer from the same problems as last year too. The same weird disconnects between what goes on in an interview versus the actual scenario you're in tends to rear its head at times, and the amount of menu trudging you'll find yourself doing throughout the mode is rather tedious.
However, one big, new addition to the mode makes it a significantly more compelling experience than it was last year. The goal for the superstar mode is to get your player into the Hall of Fame at the end of his career. Throughout your superstar's career, a menu will depict how far along your player is toward establishing his legacy as one of the best of all time. Apart from just throwing a lot of touchdown passes while playing as a quarterback, or intercepting a billion passes as a defensive back, and so on and so forth, you also have to interact with your team and establish a personality. You do this through various interviews, which give you specific answers that gear you toward a team-minded player, or a Terrell Owens-like brat, as well as through a new influence system. Every superstar has the ability to play certain roles on the field. These roles include a field general for a quarterback, a possession receiver for a wide receiver, a rookie for--you guessed it--a rookie, and so on.
These roles actually give you tangible bonuses and control over players on the field. A quarterback using the field general role, for instance, can upgrade his passing accuracy rating as well as the blocking ratings for his various offensive linemen. Another role he can take, the team leader, lets him upgrade the awareness, injury, acceleration, and agility ratings for all the other offensive players on the field. You gain these points by upping your influence rating. This rating goes up or down based on what you do on the field. Make a huge completion for a first down, and you'll get a nice bonus. Throw a lame interception that's returned for a touchdown, and it will drop through the floor. It's a great and addictive system that actually makes you want to play through superstar mode games rather than just simulate them. As annoying as some of the holdover problems from last year's superstar mode still are, this year's mode is exponentially more fun to play with, thanks almost exclusively to this feature.
Like the GameCube version of Madden NFL 07, Madden on the Wii lacks online play. However, in its place you'll find a trio of multiplayer minigames that go a long way toward making up for that one omission. The best one is two-on-two, a schoolyard-style game of football where two players play offense and the other two play defense. You each get a set of plays to score as many touchdowns as you can or to try to defend against the offense, respectively. The defensive player assigned to the quarterback even has to count "Mississippis" before he can rush the QB, and the QB can send signals via "buzzes" with the controller's rumble function by simply pressing A before the snap. It's an ingenious little mode that's completely awesome when you've got a group of four players huddled around playing. "YAC Attack" is another fun one, which has a full offensive squad going up against a full defense. The goal here is not only to complete catches and score points, but also to burn the opposing defense for as many yards as possible. Each time you run for extra yards, points get taken away from the defense, and you get bonus points if you throw to the receiver that's being covered by a player-controlled character versus a computer-controlled one. Defenses score points by swatting away and intercepting passes. Less engaging is the kicking combine, a mode where each player takes a turn kicking the ball for however many rounds are designated. Along the way, the other players can drum on the controllers to try to turn the wind against the kicker. The problem here is that the wind is almost always too effective, making it near impossible to get most of your kicks off without ridiculous overcompensation. But even with kicking combine being less than stellar, the other two games are so much fun that they make that one lemon irrelevant.
Unsurprisingly, Madden on the Wii uses the same basic graphics engine that the series has been using for years on older console platforms. To make a direct comparison, this version looks closest to the Xbox version of the game, though maybe not quite as good overall. The game does support 480p resolution and widescreen, and it looks quite good when viewed this way. Yet, these changes aside, this graphics engine has been around for a long while, and it's not aging gracefully. The player models still have a stunted, chunky look to them that seems like it should have been reworked long ago, and while the basic animation looks solid, it could stand a bit of tweaking to get rid of some of the obvious clipping problems that continually pop up. Audio also hasn't changed much in the last few years. The soundtrack is filled to the brim with a mishmash of popular rock and hip-hop, and just like in every other year, it's a wildly varied mix that doesn't gel at all--not to mention that some song choices, such as Spank Rock's "Backyard Betty," seem a little seedy for an E for Everyone game, even with lyrical edits. Madden and Michaels are still recycling a lot of the same commentary lines they have for the last couple of years, and the on-field effects still sound entirely decent.
At its best, Madden NFL 07 can feel revelatory, if only because it takes the existing Madden gameplay and tweaks it nicely to work with the Wii technology. It would have been so easy to just cram in some lousy, half-baked motion controls and call it a day, but it seems like some legitimate care went into the updated design in this version of Madden. While there's certainly room to improve on this debut, it's a wonderful start for the series on the Wii. Even if you've picked up other editions of Madden this year, Madden on the Wii is absolutely worth playing, because it's a whole different ballgame.