Madden NFL 10 Review (Wii)
The Wii console has thus far been a conundrum for the sports gamer. On the one hand, some of the platform's most popular games fall within the sports genre: Wii Sports, Wii Fit, Punch-Out, etc. On the other hand, mainstream sports games are either non-existent or seemingly a developer's afterthought on the Wii.
This year the 360/PS3 version of Madden received a ton of enhancements, improvements and press coverage. But while everyone was focusing on that version of the game, some pretty big changes were quietly taking place on the Wii side of things. A new graphical style was implemented, new modes were put in place, and some refined controls were adapted for the Wii to make Madden 10 the benchmark of team sports games on the console.
However, despite the fact that there is fun to be had, this game itself is a conundrum, a confusing mix of traditional and innovative ideas that don't always mesh.
Sure these aren't groundbreaking visuals, but that's not the point on the Wii.
First, the most notable change is the graphical style. Departing from earlier realistic, yet sometimes crude graphics, Madden 10 redefines itself by using a cartoon-like and more stylized approach. This new look makes for a cleaner experience, and it's one that seems to fit the console better. The streamlined player models make it easy to tell player size/types apart, and they generally look better while in motion.
At times, though, the look reminded me of NFL Blitz on the N64, and it won't do much to win over friends who place an emphasis on graphics. But I like the different approach (as opposed to "watering down" realistic graphics).
If the graphics grab you (or at least don't drive you away), you'll find a couple new modes that make for a pretty different Madden experience. First is Madden Showdown, a tournament-style foray with a wide range of customizable options. Want to play Canadian-style, with three downs? It's possible. Choose between five-on-five or full 11-man teams, add in school-yard "Mississippi" counts, and turn on crazy mods like "fumblitis" and you'll have a one of a kind gridiron tourney. Even though the customization options aren't endless, there are enough rules to tweak to make each playthrough unique.
That said, some fundamentals of football are missing. There's no kicking game in this mode, so don't look for any big returns or clutch field goals. Nor are there first downs -- you simply have a number of tries to score. I suppose that these limitations (which are only in this mode), serve to make it an "entry-level" experience, but it would have been nice to have these as options too.
Layered on top of this whole tournament is a points system that makes winning the whole shebang a little unpredictable. Before each game, regardless of whether you are playing or not, you'll be presented with an opportunity to wager on various parts of the game. While you can't bet against yourself and throw the game intentionally, you can put points on the line for total rushing attempts, passing yards, etc. Having something riding on racking up the most yards on the ground effectively changes the way you might play. This entire wagering system is simple and clean, and adds a fun element to this mode, especially when playing with your friends. In fact, while this mode can be played alone, it certainly is geared toward the casual party atmosphere.
The Wii version of Madden is much more accessible to newcomers to the series.
The next mode is called Road to the Superbowl, another component best enjoyed with friends. It essentially replaces the traditional season mode, but does so in a very restricted fashion. Here, your choices are limited to a full season, half season or playoff, and the aforementioned five- or 11-man teams. Playing off of games like Rock Band, this is a cooperative mode that penalizes individuals for poor play. In fact, just like rhythm games, any player failing to hold his own is "benched." If you get benched, the artificial intelligence (AI) takes over, and it's up to the remaining teammates to "rescue" him via some quality play.
While this does replace season mode, it's important to note that there are no options like trading or drafting. There isn't any stat tracking, player editing or mini-camps. This is about as stripped down as a season mode can be, which eliminates a great deal of the fun for more sim-oriented football gamers. And, again, this mode doesn't have much lasting appeal if you are playing by yourself.
It should be noted that I enjoyed both of these modes better in their five-on-five incarnations. The game already leans toward an arcade feel, and the reduced team size seems to make sense (at least to me). This comes down to personal preference, but seeing as how this game doesn't really try to replicate "what you see on Sunday" in any way, five-man teams just felt better to me.
Beyond those two modes, there are some mini-games and challenges, which are not groundbreaking. "Play Now" and online play round out the mode set. There is a "huddle" mode for two players that's designed for an experienced and non-experienced partnership. Other modes like Superstar and Franchise are there, but they must be unlocked and actually look like they are running in an emulator. They feel lifted from a completely different game. These modes don't seem significantly different from past incarnations either. They do retain the new graphical style, at least in-game, but feel completely like an afterthought. It's telling that you must find a code to unlock these expected modes.
The controls are very solid.
Control-wise, Madden is hit or miss. A new passing method is essentially "point and click," but works well enough, especially for beginners. I personally like the older Wii controls, where you press a corresponding button and flick the controller as if throwing to the receiver. That method is still intact, but "hiking" the ball with the Wii remote is gone.
On the offensive side of the ball, the controls are well-mapped and are pretty intuitive. That said, I found myself checking the manual a number of times, just to be sure I knew what I was doing. All-Play is still there, offering an accessible level of control for younger players. The "point and click" method is prevalent throughout All-Play.
On the defensive side of the ball, things were not so smooth. I don't feel like the Wii controls offer the same level of precision as a standard controller, and I would often miss a tackle or swat at a pass too late. I got frustrated, too, when my linebacker was consistently thrown to the ground by Kurt Warner, a relatively immobile QB. I'm still not sure if that was an AI cheat, or if I was mistiming the tackle.
One of the best features is "Call Your Shot," which allows you to essentially draw offensive and defensive hot routes right on screen. This is one of the best uses of the Wii remote in a sports game that I've seen, and it works well. This is especially useful when playing with only five platers on a team; in those cases, you are only given four plays to choose from. With the "Call Your Shot," you can completely rearrange what routes your receivers are running.
That Stadiums aren't bad considering this is the Wii.
I mentioned that this game will likely confuse gamers, not because of its substance, but because of its aim. The style, modes and control, suggest that this is an arcade football game, not too far removed from Blitz or NFL Tour. Yet, by shipping with the Madden name, you would expect a certain level of serious football. While the 11-on-11 is relatively sim-oriented, it's wrapped in arcade-like modes that undermine any authentic NFL experience (ignoring the untouched and "hidden" franchise mode, which truly feels like an afterthought). Basically, if you only own a Wii, you aren't getting a true NFL game this year.
Still, this game has its merits. It's a blast to pick up and play with three buddies, and if viewed as a party game, it's probably one of the best team sports game on the console. All of the new modes encourage multiple participants, and through devices like wagering points, keep all involved.
The best advice I can give is this: If you own both a 360/PS3 and a Wii, this game can almost serve as a multiplayer "expansion" (albeit an expensive one, at $50). It's an excellent complement to the more serious Madden on the more powerful systems. If you only own a Wii and also love football, this game is worth your time and money -- just don't expect what your friends are getting on the other systems. In either case, avoid this game if you are a solitary gamer.
On the Field: A fun and loose gridiron game, with lots of customizable rules, questionable controls and a strong focus on multiplayer.
Graphics: The new style is a welcome change and a unique solution for the underpowered system, but it also contributes to the casual or arcade feel, which may turn some people away.
Sound: Much of the commentary (which isn't present when playing five-on-five) is lifted from other versions. A player will occasionally "yell" through your Wii remote, which is a nice touch.
Entertainment Value: There's a lot of fun to be had here if you have friends to play with. Otherwise, this game probably only warrants a rent, especially for the die-hard football or Madden fan.
Learning Curve: All-Play is geared toward everyone; the "advanced" mode might have you checking the controls in the instruction manual for a while.
Online: A relatively smooth experience for a Nintendo product, but there weren't many people online.