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Madden NFL 11 (Wii) artwork

Madden NFL 11 (Wii) review

"All of these choices reinforce your self-image, plus they present more challenges than simply winning games and piling up stats. There are many ways in which the Wii version of Madden can't ever compete with its HD counterparts, but these changes to Franchise Mode define it as a desirable parallel."

Madden NFL 10 landed on the Wii as a crippled beast. Its iconic Franchise Mode had been neglected, essentially receiving only a roster update, and sealed away as a password unlockable. With a new emphasis on multiplayer minigames, it seemed entirely possible that Nintendo's future football could permanently turn away from this single-player staple. Madden NFL 11 destroys that notion. It places the focus squarely back on Franchise with a completely redesigned, visually interactive experience.

Taking the reigns of a franchise begins with a view of the team's facilities: executive buildings proudly adorned in logos, a pristine practice field, and a multimillion dollar stadium. Every location houses a different responsibility, from tinkering with the roster, to running drills, to setting the price of giant foam fingers. Your ultimate goal is to build a dynasty, and this simulated city reflects your progress. Fall short of your objectives and garbage will overrun the premises, structures will decay, and fans will picket for your head. Exceed expectations and you'll be greeted with gold-plated rooftops, perks like a private helicopter, and sell-out crowds. The measuring stick for success is a list of the most decorated teams in NFL history. Every off-season, your team will earn legacy points based on performance, and you can conquer Franchise Mode by working your way to the top of the all-time greats.

Racking up Lombardi Trophies isn't the only component of immortality, though. Franchise Mode requires you to excel in three areas of team management, and it gives you an advisor to oversee each section. The assistant coach covets wins. The money-grubbing financial advisor wants to maximize profits. And the fan representative dreams of being treated like royalty. Each one sets their own milestones for the season; making them unhappy can land you on the hot seat and eventually out of a job. It can be a tricky balance because they're working for competing interests. For example, your greedy executive may suggest copyrighting a fan-made fight song. Going along with his advice will net a few extra bucks, but it will also alienate the team's most loyal supporters.

The game doesn't explicitly quantify the impact of these decisions, but that's not vital. It's more important that Madden NFL 11 lets you create your own internal narrative. You can be the magnanimous owner who always puts the team and fans over profits. Or you can try to work the system to roll in the cash while keeping everyone else just satisfied enough. All of these choices reinforce your self-image, plus they present more challenges than simply winning games and piling up stats. There are many ways in which the Wii version of Madden can't ever compete with its HD counterparts, but these changes to Franchise Mode define it as a desirable parallel.

Of course, it is still a more casual alternative. Those who enjoy the minutiae of front-office work will find a few features scaled back. The good news is that you can still negotiate contracts with free agents and fret about the salary cap. The college draft, on the other hand, withholds the opportunity to work out prospects and evaluate talent, so you basically have to rely on the draft recommendations of your coaching staff. The biggest hit, though, is the lack of a fantasy draft option at the beginning of franchise mode, where you can drop every player into a common pool and build a team from the ground up. If you're that hardcore, you'll have to look to a different console.

Madden NFL 11's other big new feature included in all versions of the game particularly aligns with the Wii edition's more casual philosophy. Dubbed GameFlow, this mechanism serves as your offensive coordinator, calling every play based on real-world tendencies. The system has two practical effects. First, it makes it easier for rookies to jump into the action without skimming the 350 entries in a full playbook. (Although, the beginner still only has a few seconds to understand the play as it's diagrammed on the field.) Second, GameFlow cuts the duration of a single game in half, to around thirty minutes.

I see a more profound impact for GameFlow. Going all the way back to Tecmo Bowl, football games have usually required the player to be the coach. This gives you the chance to work solely as a football player, where your only job is to execute your assignment. Of course, there will inevitably be some calls that go against your preference. A run on 3rd and long? Never! To address that concern, GameFlow gameplans can be tweaked manually, and the feature itself can be overridden at any time, relinquishing complete control to the player. But if you embrace the concept fully, the game feels radically different.

Otherwise, the product on the field hasn't changed much at all. Point-and-Pass is a notable carryover from last year's version. The gesture-based passing scheme allows you to point the remote at a receiver, then unleash a throw with a flicking motion. It's especially ingenious because it requires you to be aware of each receiver's exact location, rather than just remember which button to press to heave the ball his way. Call Your Shot also returns, which allows you to draw up your own passing routes on offense and your own stunts on defense on the fly. The only immediately noticeable exclusion is the lack of a sprint button, so running the ball is now more dependent on following blockers, and making tackles requires taking good angles.

In fact, Madden NFL 11's biggest on-field changes are cosmetic. The game still trots out stylized character models, hulking players with exaggerated muscles and oversized shoulder pads. There are updated player animations, but you'll mostly notice the ones dealing with weather. The game now features rain and snow, and players will slip and slide in the muck. When they get up, the mud will even be plastered to their uniforms.

The last upgrade comes in the booth, with new addition Gus Johnson joining Cris Collinsworth for the announcing duties. Gus provides a spark with his genuine enthusiasm, but his reputation for uncontrolled exuberance actually works against him a little. I keep expecting him to go berserk on one of my Hail Mary miracles, but so far, all his lines keep to reasonable excitement levels. Collinsworth's strength is his player-specific anecdotes, although he brings them up every time that person takes the field. In other words, keep working on it, EA.

Meanwhile, the minigames that anchored last year's effort haven't changed at all. Each can be played with a full deployment of eleven players or the more novel 5-on-5 alignment. Madden Showdown lets a group of players compete with wild variables like automatic fumbles and random invisibility. The overall winner isn't necessarily determined by the scoreboard, though, but rather by the outcome of betting on everyone's games. Road to the Super Bowl lets you play a season (or half a season, or just the playoffs). If you ever falter, you'll find yourself benched by the CPU. Huddle-up makes a team of two work as a tandem. One player controls the action normally, while the other takes out the opposing team by shooting like sniper.

The only way you'll be able to play online, though, is one-on-one. The upgrades that hit other versions, like online team play and online franchises, don't apply to the Wii version. Really, the only other feature advertised is a way to share save files. Obviously, this area still requires massive improvement.

But Madden NFL 11 is really all about the critical reimagining of Franchise Mode. Last year's entry took a risk, emphasizing the casual with its new stylized graphics and multiplayer games. This year's takes that spirit and successfully applies it to the traditionally hardcore half. After a few years of struggles to define an identity, this football juggernaut finally appears to be carving out its own niche on the Wii.

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Staff review by Benjamin Woodhouse (August 16, 2010)

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