Longtime GBA Madden fans will notice a few cosmetic improvements when they first fire up Madden NFL 2005. The playbook interface now looks more like the interface used in the recent console versions, instead of the one used in the decades-old Sega Genesis Madden games. The variety of different player animations hasn't changed since last year's game--there are still dozens of them--but the camera viewpoint has been pulled back and player bodies have been slimmed down, which makes the action more realistic and easier to follow. When you really dig into the game, you'll discover that Madden NFL 2005 is much more than just a cosmetic rehash of Madden NFL 2004. It's a complete overhaul, with better artificial intelligence, customizable skill settings, and a greater degree of control over play calling.
Console Madden games have had adjustable skill settings for years. Madden NFL 2005 is the first GBA version of the franchise to include such a feature. In addition to being able to pick from four general difficulty settings, you can now tweak the CPU's skill in 18 specific offensive and defensive categories. Sliders allow you to adjust settings such as coaching aggressiveness, run-pass ratio, interception ability, and QB accuracy in your favor (or out of it) by moving a tick mark left or right. The frequency with which referees call various penalties can also be adjusted.
The playbook interface received a makeover as well, but, more importantly, the process of surveying the line of scrimmage and invoking audibles on the fly was made easier. Now, before the snap is made, you can pull back the camera to get a bird's-eye view of the entire line of scrimmage, instead of just the five or six players huddled in the middle (like last year). If you don't like how the opponent is lined up, you can use one of your audibles to change the play you want to run. Basically, audibles are a feature of the playbook that allows you to assign a specific play to each button before the game starts. Madden NFL 2004 provided a very short time window for calling audible plays. In Madden NFL 2005, you can call one right before the snap is made and for a few seconds after a play ends. In general, selecting and running plays is much easier in Madden NFL 2005 because the graphical diagrams in the playbook now actually show the exact routes receivers will take during each play.
One thing that hasn't changed much is how the game plays. Before the snap, you can use the A button to cycle between players at the line. After the snap, the iconic passing system lets you toss the ball from the quarterback to one of four preset receivers using the GBA's button array. On defense, you can make your linemen sprint, jump, and leap. Whether an interception or a tackle happens depends on where your player is in respect to the ball and the opposing receiver. On offense, the GBA's button layout lets you tell your receivers and running backs to sprint, dive, spin, and juke. The CPU in Madden NFL 2005 is more aggressive than it has been in previous Madden games. On offense, the computer is better at finding open receivers and spinning through holes in the defense. On defense, the GBA-controlled player puts more pressure on the quarterback and does a better job of guiding its defenders to where a pass will end up. Although the AI is smarter in this latest game, it doesn't cheat. Most of these changes just mean you'll need to get rid of the ball faster.
Owners of Madden NFL 2004 will decry the removal of the create-a-player feature from Madden NFL 2005. While that is an unfortunate loss, Madden NFL 2005 still has an impressive list of features and extras. The modes consist of season, practice, drill, quick play, and situation. Most modes support two-player link play. In particular, the situation mode is interesting because it lets you set up what-if scenarios by adjusting the teams, score, quarter, time left, possession, downs, number of time-outs, and yards left to the goal. Even though you can't save custom players, you can make trades and free-agent moves from the main menu or while a season is in progress. The game also records comprehensive season statistics and hall-of-fame records. Finally, the Madden Challenge has returned this year as an optional feature of the quick play and season modes. Put simply, the Madden Challenge is a reward system that gives you tokens for making certain plays. These tokens can be traded in--from the options menu--for player cards, which allow you to boost player attributes on a single-use or long-term basis.
Visually, Madden NFL 2005 looks fine. EA pulled back the camera viewpoint this year, making more of the field visible in the process. Player bodies look slimmer as a result, but that's not necessarily bad--last year's players looked like obese cartoon characters. The quality of animation is still on the choppy side of things, like it has always been, but the wide variety of different plays makes up somewhat for that shortcoming. Touchdown celebrations can be performed by tapping the A button after a successful carry or pass into the end zone.
The audio continues to center around the one-liners that John Madden and Al Michaels make after each play. Michaels is the straight man, often chiming in with comments such as "Nice play" or "The kick is good." Madden, on the other hand, is the color man. A typical John Madden comment is, "Boom, where'd that truck come from" or "Now that's what I call big-time football." Michaels and Madden speak up more often in the latest game and have a wider variety of comments than they did in last year's installment, which is good if you like their chatter. Otherwise, the sound effects are merely average: a typical assortment of grunts and collisions.
Ultimately, Madden NFL 2005 is worth getting because it's still the best football game on the GBA. Those who faithfully bought the last three installments will be comforted to know that this one is well worth picking up. If you've been holding off on another (or your first) Madden game because Electronic Arts has been rehashing the same game for the past three years, this may be the right time to take the plunge. The removal of the create-a-player option is a shame, but all the other improvements--big and small--make Madden NFL 2005 an excellent update.