Every year, EA Sports releases a new Madden NFL football game for the Nintendo DS. And every year, it makes a few improvements that entice football fans into dishing out another 30 dollars for the most up-to-date portable football fix. For Madden NFL 08, those improvements come in the form of minor graphical and gameplay enhancements, along with the inclusion of online play. Obviously online play is a huge boon, but even the smaller changes made to this year's game combine with its many great features to create a substantial game of football.
Compared to last year's game, the graphics in Madden NFL 08 are a little cleaner and a little flashier. The players shown in the 3D view on the lower screen are larger, you can actually make out their uniform details and insignias now, and their movements, for the most part, are fluid and lifelike. When too many players are visible, the action will occasionally slow down or the polygons that make up the players' body parts will flicker, but not so often or excessively that you'll lose track of what's going on. Stadium features, such as the field and uprights, are clearly visible regardless of the camera angle and zoom level. Each stadium's key architectural details are evident, although there's not all that much to see since the spectators don't move and the majority of scoreboards don't update. That's OK, though, because the constant flourish of hard hits, camera changes, replays, and player celebrations provides more than enough visual excitement.
Once again, audio is understated. During a game, you'll hear the roar of the crowd, the sounds of the players grunting and smacking into one another, and the occasional comment from Al Michaels or John Madden. As was the case last year, they repeat themselves frequently, but their comments are usually in line with what's happening on the screen.
On the field, Madden NFL 08 offers an insanely rich simulation of the gridiron. Every action can be controlled using the system's buttons or the touch screen. You can select from multiple playbooks and pick from dozens of plays just by flipping the page and pressing a button. Before the snap, you can change or draw a hot route for your receivers, or, if you're on defense, you can put on defensive line shifts and drag icons onto your defenders to set their role in the upcoming play. After the snap, you can change the play on the fly by calling an audible. On offense, you can pass to specific receivers by pressing the indicated buttons or by tapping the receiver's icon. Alternatively, you can use the stylus to position the ball marker exactly where you want the pass to go. Once the ball is in play, you'll run and pass the ball on offense, or you'll take control of the nearest defender and try to tackle the carrier and deflect passes. The running game lets you sprint, spin, juke, and dive simply by pressing a button or sliding the stylus.
You'll notice a few rough spots once you get your feet wet, but nothing too serious. Passes that should be caught might bounce off a receiver's body or helmet instead, sprints don't always kick in, and the CPU will occasionally forget to tackle an approaching running back. It's important to stress that while these glitches happen more than they ought to, they don't impact the final score much because they affect you and the CPU equally. Otherwise, when it comes to things like ball movement, scoring, and player behavior, Madden NFL 08 comes close to replicating what you see on TV every week. The CPU puts up a good fight, running is usually more successful than passing, and sacks and interceptions happen on both sides. If you feel that some aspect isn't weighted quite right, you can always go into the settings menu and adjust the sliders to fine tune speed, accuracy, and skill on both sides. Madden NFL 08 includes additional options for things like throwing power and defensive awareness.
While the core gameplay is pretty much the same as it was last year, EA implemented a few minor tweaks and enhancements that make Madden NFL 08 more user-friendly than its predecessor. You can tell at a glance whether it's a good idea to pass or not based on the color of the receiver's icon. Green means go, yellow means maybe, and red means you should probably run it yourself. The new iconic "read and react" system is a big help in setting up player matchups. Before every play, icons are displayed in the Xs-and-Os view on the upper screen that tell you what key players' ratings are in categories like speed, passing, hands, and blocking. Using this information, you can choose to position your toughest blockers in front of speedy linemen, send your hardest hitters toward sure-handed receivers, or set up mismatches to take advantage of the defense's weaknesses. Owners of Madden NFL 07 will also appreciate the simplified kicking interface in this year's game. The old stylus interface just didn't work. This year, they've gone back to the old power meter interface where you use the directional pad to set the target and tap the buttons to fill the power meter.
Madden NFL 08 includes a healthy selection of play modes and customization options. You can play a single game, set up a playoff ladder, work through a full season, or embark on a multiple-season franchise. Trades, drafts, contracts, and the preseason are all a part of the franchise mode. Separate practice, two-minute drill, situation, and minicamp modes let you isolate and work on various aspects of your game. Just for fun, they've also included a hilarious paper football minigame where you have to slide a triangle-shaped folded piece of paper down a table while dodging coins that are meant to represent players. When it comes to teams, you can pick a preexisting NFL roster or choose from a list of historic teams, or you can put your own team together by trading and creating players. You can even create your own plays and playbook.
If you're the sort of person who enjoys playing against other human beings, you'll really be pleased by the Wi-Fi capabilities that Madden NFL 08 has to offer. You can invite your friends over and link as many as eight systems and cartridges together in order to compete in full games, minicamp drills, and paper football matches. With just a single cartridge, you can still get a full game or a paper football match going with one of your friends. Madden NFL 08 also supports online play through Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection service. You can get a random game going against a stranger or maintain a list of your friends' codes to challenge them from afar. What's truly impressive is that wireless matchups rarely experience slowdown or dropouts, even when you're playing someone online.
The Nintendo DS rendition of Madden NFL 08 may not be as pretty or as intricate as the console versions are, but it's a solid, feature-packed football game in its own right. Furthermore, regardless of whether or not you've played any of the previous Madden NFL games on the DS, you'll appreciate all of the miscellaneous improvements that this installment brings to the table, especially if you like competing against other people.