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Madden NFL 10 (Wii) artwork

Madden NFL 10 (Wii) review

"EA Sports may have dropped the All-Play subtitle from its Wii lineup, but it hasn't abandoned the All-Play attitude. In fact, Madden NFL 10 only further embraces the casual concept. Here's the clincher. Franchise Mode, the staple of the single-player experience, has been relegated to an unlockable, accessible only with a secret code."

EA Sports may have dropped the All-Play subtitle from its Wii lineup, but it hasn't abandoned the All-Play attitude. In fact, Madden NFL 10 only further embraces the casual concept. With a retooled cartoonish visual style, simplified control options, and an emphasis on party modes, this Madden is definitely different from the others. Here's the clincher. Franchise Mode, the staple of the single-player experience, has been relegated to an unlockable, accessible only with a secret code.

The transition is a smart idea, at least from a business standpoint. The Madden franchise has earned a well-deserved reputation as an impressively realistic football sim, but not every gamer wants to memorize a hundred-page playbook or master the nuances of varying defensive schemes. With EA's exclusive agreement with the NFL, though, there isn't a Tecmo Bowl alternative for people who just want to have fun running up the score with their favorite players and teams. So the monopoly decided to compete with itself, and used the family-friendly Wii as a platform for this less exacting football experience.

While Madden strives for absolute authenticity on the more powerful consoles, the Wii's revised player models focus on exaggerating the ideal qualities of each position. Quarterbacks possess broad shoulders that taper down to a more normal lower half. Wide receivers are sleek to emphasize their speed. Linebackers have more bulky muscles, but they're nothing compared to the thick, hulking linemen that battle over the line of scrimmage. Padding protudes everywhere. None are quite caricatures, but the style immediately communicates the more playful nature of this version.

The real effort to pull in an increased audience, though, begins with the introduction of simplified pointer-based controls. Point and Pass deserves the most attention, because it changes the way you play offense. Here you target an intended receiver with the remote, and a colored icon will show if he's covered or open. When you're ready to throw, tap 'A'; the strength and shape of the pass is dependent on how long you hold the button down. This system actually does a better job of recreating the checkdown process than previous, but still present, button-exclusive schemes. When you move off of your primary receiver, you have to know where your other route runners are on the field, plus take the time to shift your focus to them.

The ease of the pointer system really comes to the fore on defense. On this side of the ball, the All-Play controls only require that you keep the remote focused on the ball carrier. Sooner rather than later, one of your defenders will break free and make the tackle. You don't even have to worry about guiding an individual player; they move around entirely on their own. It makes it supremely simple to jump into the action without worrying about learning the legacy control options.

Of course, for those who think they are expert coordinators, the pointer allows for finely-tuned reign over their squad. Last year's Madden introduced Call Your Shot, which let players draw in their own passing routes. If you saw a hole in the defense, it could be exploited on the fly. This year, Call Your Shot comes to the guys delivering big hits. A defender's assignment can be adjusted before the snap, letting you come up with creative blitzes and coverage schemes. It's a useful touch for people possessing a higher football IQ. (Or just think they do.)

The mix of simplified control options and advanced techniques meshes well with the three different levels of play calling, a setup carried over from 09. Seasoned veterans can roll through formations to find the perfect play. Intermediate players can look through a limited selection of general names like deep pass or middle pass, examine the diagrams, and understand the appropriate action. Absolute beginners are stuck with a trio of calls chosen for the situation, which lets them just go with the flow. All three levels are available simultaneously, so you can ease into a more complex system whenever you want. It couldn't be gentler; there's never play clock to rush your selection. (Even if you enable it, a bug that lets you run down entire quarters by executing just one play.)

Then there's a mode with almost no play-calling at all. Last year also introduced a specific 5 on 5 mode that was like playing backyard ball. Each side has a quarterback, two receivers, a running back, and one offensive lineman, and the defenders mirror that distribution. On a shortened field, you're given a selection of four plays with only four downs to score. In 2010, 5 on 5 is an added option for most any mode, from a quick game to an entire season.

It's the most fun in Madden Showdown, the first of this version's three main multiplayer-centric modes. Showdown is a tournament with a twist. First of all, it has an array of crazy powerups. You can cause fumblitis, where any contact causes the ball to hit the turf. There's an option where players randomly become invisible. Another lets every ball remain live – even incomplete passes – until the tackle. Although none have to be enabled, these are only a sampling of ways to liven up the game.

The real surprise, though, is how the overall winner is determined. Each player begins with a certain number of Showdown Points. While more of these points are awarded for victories and on-field performance, participants can also wager them on the outcome of other matches and make prop bets – like which team will collect the most sacks. The NFL may not want to officially embrace gambling, bet its appeal here is evident. It demands a person's attention when they don't have a direct hand in the outcome.

The second new mode is Huddle-Up, which requires at least two people for each human-controlled side. The primary player proceeds normally, but their partner serves as a sniper. By aiming at an opponent and clicking, the second player will drop their target like a sack of potatoes. That includes any player without the ball, including wide receivers striding for a catch, linebackers charging towards a tackle, or pesky offensive linemen between your team and the enemy quarterback. The game is skewed easy as it is; rushers can almost always gain the edge and see a clear lane to the endzone, and receivers drop more balls than they secure. In this mode, though, it's like there's only one team on the field.

For a taste of realistic rules, there's the final mode: Road to the Super Bowl. This lets you chase the Lombardi Trophy through a season (or half a season, or just the playoffs) with up to four human players on a side; the exact number can change from game to game. Its unique aspect is the benching system. Each user has a meter and gets awarded individual points for positive performance. If someone isn't pulling his weight, however, the computer yanks him out of the game. It then falls on his teammates to spend their points to get him back in the trenches. If everyone stumbles, though, it's an automatic loss.

The idea works reasonably well with more players, since everyone has decreased responsibilities. As a single player, though, it can be too skewed towards offense. Here's an example. In one game I spent most of the second quarter misfiring on deep bombs. No turnovers, just ugly incompletions. Even though my team was still ahead on the scoreboard thanks to some stout defense, too many three-and-outs cut the contest short before halftime and put a big 'L' on my record. That's just not right.

The other major problem with this Road is a lack of team building and stat tracking. There's no option to make trades, no exciting redraft of all the players before the season, no training in between weeks. Even injuries are turned off by default. With statistics, there aren't any season-long leaderboards. Once you've perused your gaudy numbers after a game, they disappear into the ether. Even Tecmo Super Bowl had these back on the NES; in fact, that was a main reason why players went back for season after season, to run up their own impossible records.

For those amenities, you have to look towards the classic Franchise Mode. As usual, this immerses you in the minutiae of managing a team, from front office duties like signing contracts and managing the salary cap to head coaching responsibilities like running weekly practices and managing player morale. Every little scrap of detail is there. Thankfully the new controls and features made it into this mode, too. However, it's clear that this beloved tradition was stuffed in as an afterthought; the menus look as if they were lifted directly from the last iteration.

Hopefully the unlockable status of these classics – Franchise, Superstar, and Situational modes – doesn't say too much about the series' future direction on Wii. Madden NFL 2010 actually strikes a nice balance by accommodating two audiences. Novices and casual players can cut their teeth on the more playful offerings. Yet there's still the deeper, more engaging experience hidden inside for diehard football fans. If each of these halves were tuned to hit on all cylinders, then Madden on Wii could become an excellent product with wide appeal. We'll just have to wait and see if EA calls another audible next year.


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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (September 01, 2009)

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