After sticking to its 2D sprites for so long, it took a 64-bit system to begrudgingly bring the Madden franchise into a fully polygonal world. The transition was a successful one, because Madden 64 keeps the series' tried-and-true gameplay intact while drastically improving the game's graphics.
While Madden 64 may not wow the masses with revolutionary high-resolution graphics, its 3D look is still very attractive. The players are very detailed, and their motion-captured animations are used well on the field, unlike many other sports games. The full extent of these well-defined graphics cannot be fully appreciated until you use the game's instant replay feature to zoom in and view the players from different angles. Without having to squint, you can literally see the black grease markings underneath the players' eyes.
The game is best played from an elevated camera view, which does little to flatter the game, so you can see all your receivers. At times, it makes the graphics look a little blocky and messy. Also, these players don't wrap-tackle like most tackles in the NFL. Instead, they bounce off of each other during tackles like the old 2D games. The polygonal graphics should have liberated Madden 64 of this annoyance, but I suspect the short development time hindered the game in this aspect.
Despite any of these shortcomings, Madden 64 is by far the most realistic football title on the Nintendo 64. It uses the same gameplay and AI from the 32-bit versions of the game, which were also impressive in this aspect. Although EA may annoyingly call this Liquid AI, it really does have something to brag about. I've been a football fan for a long, long time, and I've never seen anything that resembles the NFL more than this game (and that's amusing, since this game doesn't even have an NFL license). Defense players cover receivers like they should, thus eliminating the "money plays" that plague every football game (in comparison, Quarterback Club 98 has a ton of them). If you know how to read a defense, you should have no trouble on offense, but if you don't, there's a rookie mode that should ease your transition into this great football simulation. The only major flaw in this otherwise stellar AI is that the computer offense is a little incompetent at times, partly because it rarely runs the ball.
Along with great gameplay is a deep host of options that make Madden 64 a complete football game. The Fantasy Draft option that lets you hold a complete player draft to create your own teams from the ground up is a great option that is usually only found in PC pigskin games. Other team-building features such as the trading, creating, releasing, and signing of players is available, and they can be refereed under the salary cap and trading deadline.
Although it has a few flaws, Madden 64 is still the best football simulation on the Nintendo 64. Ironically, the most realistic NFL simulation on the market lacks an NFL license, held exclusively by Quarterback Club 98. Still, I urge football fans to buy this title, unless having the real NFL teams and logos (this game does have the real NFLPA players) is of supreme importance to them.