It's safe to say that when Madden NFL 07 made its debut alongside the launch of the Wii last year, it was a real shot in the arm for the franchise. With development duties handed over to EA's Canada studio, the Wii version took the existing framework of the PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox versions of the game and then turned the whole thing into a festival of gesture controls. Not only that, it did so well, transferring all the various motions and mechanics of football into a motion-based control scheme that made sense. In some respects, Madden NFL 08 manages to live up to being a sequel to such an innovative game, with some tweaks and additions to the various motion controls, as well as the addition of more minigames and an online multiplayer mode. By the same token, several aspects of this year's game also disappoint. The graphics have seen practically no noticeable improvement and the presentation is still lacking. Additionally, some irritating bugs and glitches rear their ugly head from time to time during gameplay. Still, 08 is great fun, especially when played with other people. If you liked last year's game, you'll certainly enjoy things this time around.
For the most part, Madden's much-vaunted control scheme has remained the same. However, there have been some tweaks to how a few of the mechanics work. Big hits and ball-carrier power moves are now mapped solely to the Wii Remote, instead of the remote and the Nunchuk in tandem. The power move has actually been rebalanced to depend on what kind of running back you've got. Power backs will bowl over defenders, while scat backs will use more nimble maneuvers to duck around their opponents. Defenders trying to rush the passer or get to the running back behind the line will now rip and spin past blockers when you move the remote back and forth in either direction. Also, certain actions, such as kicking and swatting at passes as a defender, feel a bit more responsive this year.
Some non-motion controls have been added as well, such as a strip-ball feature mapped to the 1 button, which will knock the ball from a carrier's hands when timed correctly. There's also a new mechanic that lets you focus in on specific receivers before the snap by zooming back and pressing a button that corresponds with a specific receiver. It's a neat move that has a bit of a risk-versus-reward feel to it because if you double up on one receiver, you potentially leave another open. Beyond these updates, the core controls are functionally identical to last year.
That's hardly a bad thing, given that last year's controls were incredibly fun to play around with, and they remain so here. If, for some reason, you find the Madden control scheme daunting, a new option has been included called family play. For all intents and purposes, this is literally a halving of the control scheme. You simply select the family-play control option and remove the Nunchuk plug from the remote. From here, the game becomes all motion controls. The computer takes over movement of the players, and all you have to do is manage the motion-based controls via the Wii Remote.
It's a really strange system for a couple of reasons. One, it's hard to believe most people would be so vexed by having to use an analog stick to move players that this option would be helpful to them. Two, the computer isn't really talented enough to move players for you. Quarterbacks on the verge of getting sacked sometimes don't even really try to move out of the pocket, and runners tend to have trouble moving past blockers when running between the tackles. Sure, you can stiff-arm and spin manually, but the artificial intelligence seems to have periodic issues with turning the corner to find the open holes. At the very least, the average player would likely do a much better job than the CPU does. While there might be some measure of appeal to this mode for people who have absolutely no idea what they're doing with the game, anyone who takes the time to learn the proper controls won't have much use for the family-play option. Considering the deluge of tutorials to be found in the game, it shouldn't take long to learn.
The gameplay is still a lot of fun on the field. The new "weapons" system from the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions is on hand in this version as well. You get all the same icons that depict whether a cornerback is a shutdown corner or a press corner, as well as whether your QB is a smart QB, a rocket arm, or an accurate passer. Interestingly, the differences in players and play styles don't seem quite as pronounced in this version.
Then again, the AI in this game has a rather antiquated feel all around, so maybe that's not entirely shocking. It's not that the AI is awful by any means; in fact, it's decent enough, save for the family play quirks. The main issues come from balancing problems. Specifically, the running game can be overpowered in Madden 08, but the passing game feels a little underpowered. Much as in the 360 and PS3 games, the defensive-back AI has a knack for gluing itself to receivers, so it can be difficult to get receivers open deep. Conversely, any team with a good running back should have no problems eating up huge chunks of yardage against would-be defenders. The defense sometimes seems powerless to stop running backs as they juke and power through the opposition. That isn't necessarily a huge knock against the game because it's still a lot of fun regardless of whether you run or throw, but it does make it decidedly less realistic than its counterparts on other platforms.
There are also some glitches to wrestle with from time to time. Sometimes snapping the ball too hard or fast will cause the QB to pass the ball instantaneously to the default receiver on the play, which often leads to an easy interception. Holdover issues still pop up again and again, such as the offensive line bunching up into a pile that looks like a mass of vibrating, electric football players. Likewise, defenders and wide receivers get hung up on one another when they cross into each other's routes (with no pass-interference calls, mind you). These are issues that have plagued the older iterations of Madden for quite some time and are really starting to stick out like a sore thumb by now.
But you can't really find much fault with the amount of content in Madden 08. With the franchise mode, superstar mode, minigames, and online play, it's unlikely you'll run out of things to do anytime soon. Though the franchise mode has gone basically untouched, it's still incredibly deep and has tons to do over the course of the 30 featured seasons. Superstar mode has seen a bit of adjustment, with the whole "randomization of your created player's parents" aspect of the mode cut altogether, as well as an added ability to pick from any of this year's rookie class in lieu of a created player. Do you want to experience the life of a superstar, such as Calvin Johnson? Or JaMarcus Russell? Or, god forbid, Brady Quinn? Now you can. The mode itself is still a little hackneyed in its concept of what the life of a superstar player would be like, but it's less silly than the last couple of attempts. If only EA would get rid of those stupid movie roles...
Minigames are as fun as ever, and now there's a whole party mode dedicated to them. You can play all four of the games from last year, including YAC Attack, Kicking Combine, and 2-on-2. There are actually 22 different minigames this year, though many of them are just the games featured in the minicamp drills, such as Precision Passing and Chase and Tackle. With these minicamp games, you simply take turns against other players. It's a little bit of a bummer that there's no new or unique minigames in this year's Madden, but the older games, combined with the minicamp challenges, are plenty of fun when played with a group of friends. The party mode also contains a couple of new modes, including a standard game of football that comes included with a telestrator feature, as well as a trivia game where you and your friends can test your knowledge of the sport. The trivia game in particular is awesome if you've got a room full of pigskin prodigies with you.
Of course, the big addition is the online action. It's only for one-on-one play, and you can't play any of the minigames online. But considering there wasn't any online play of any sort last year, this is a good start. Getting online and playing against others is a snap, especially given that Madden 08 doesn't use friend codes of any kind. You just hop on, sign up for EA's online service, log in, and start looking for games. You can keep a friends list, check out leaderboards, and hit up lobbies to chat with other players before diving into a game, although chat options are limited to canned text phrases. The online performance of the game seemed solid through most of our time with it. Every matchup with a good latency rating featured little to no lag and proved plenty of fun. Although if you do end up in a laggy match, then good luck getting much of anything done. Onscreen action tends to lag anywhere up to a second behind your control motions, which pretty much wrecks the whole experience. As long as you are wary of the player you match up with, you should have a good time online.
One area where this year's Madden feels like it's sorely lacking is in presentation. Mainly, everything feels tired and recycled in the audio and graphics departments. This game still uses the same aging graphics engine that the older console versions of Madden have been using for years, and it really feels like it's time for a change. It's simply inexcusable for there to be tons of players that look identical to one another or for the player models to still be squat and doughy-looking. It's also inexcusable that the animation is so haggard. Some of the improved branching animations from the 360 and PS3 versions of the game seem to have been added here, so you do get some of the awesome gang tackles and things of that nature. But, to return to the vibrating blockers and the bunched-up receivers or defensive backs, a lot of work still needs to be done. Additionally, there's actually a glitch in the game that sometimes blurs the entire screen after a cutscene for the next play, which makes it difficult to see what's going on. Menus don't even look especially good. In fact, some look like placeholder menus that somehow made it into the final game. At least the frame rate stays steady at nearly all times and never dips much, if at all. On the audio front, you get the same rehashed commentary from Al Michaels and John Madden, as well as the same on-field sound effects. You also get another batch of modern rock and rap songs on the soundtrack. At some point, someone is seriously going to have to inject some life into this game's presentation because it's getting majorly stale.
In the end, Madden NFL 08 has its share of flaws but ultimately is a great game because of the new features added and because of how much fun its predecessor was to play. Save for a few glitches here and there, little of what made last year's game so enjoyable has been lost here. The addition of the party mode and online play also gives you even more ways to enjoy it. You can't call Madden NFL 08 as impressive a game as its predecessor, but it would have been hard for it to improve without totally revamping the play experience again. As it is, it's a great follow-up with a few quirks that are mostly forgivable. For fans of last year's game, or those curious for the first time about football on the Wii, Madden 08 is worth checking out.