August 30, 2007

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Madden NFL 08 (Wii/360)
Electronic Arts, Aug. 14
By Xander Scott news@hippopress.com

More than for any of the previous annual installments, local gamers will come in droves to Madden 08 for the opportunity to line it up and have Tom Brady throw deep to Randy Moss.

Will it ever happen on the field? That remains to be seen, as Moss’s competitive fire is always in question. In cyberspace, however, the biggest Patriot off-season splash will always be motivated, will rarely be injured and will be sent deep on the first play from scrimmage for nearly every fan that picks up a copy of Electronic Arts’ perennial football juggernaut.

Madden 08 was released for just about every system imaginable, but the Xbox 360 and Wii versions offer deeply contrasting game play for fans looking for the best possible experience. Both versions offer all the bells and whistles fans have come to expect from the series, including franchise mode, which allows one to play general manager and shape all aspects of the team for decades of fake seasons.

Each year, Madden tries to add something new and flashy to the mix, and this time around, the featured additive involves weapons. No, this doesn’t mean that Tank Johnson can bring his hobby of choice to the field of play. Instead, “weapons” are offensive and defensive skills that are meant to single out superstar players from the rest of the scrubs on the field. Patriots running back Lawrence Maroney, for instance, features the “Stiff Arm” weapon, which means he’s, um, good at the stiff arm move. Just like any other year, the added features come off as gimmicky. The real selling point for Madden, as it is every year, is the updated rosters. Anybody who tells you they are dropping $50 to try out “Hit Stick 2.0” is pulling your leg.

So, what kind of fun are you in the mood for?

The Wii’s calling card of motion control is center stage in Nintendo’s version. Passing, kicking, even hiking the ball are all handled through gestures with the Wii remote, as are stiff arms and jukes. You likely won’t be sold on the control scheme until you drop back and launch a 40-yard pass down the field, hold your throwing hand in the air for added effect as the ball soars and then, after your receiver pulls the ball down in the end zone, throw in a celebratory fist pump. Then you’ll be sold, trust us, and yes, we were throwing to Moss. The Wii version also includes a telestrator feature for instant replays, which gives players the chance to channel their inner John Maddens and draw play breakdowns on the screen while saying things lik, “This is what it’s all about, right here,” or “Boom! Tough actin’ Tinactin.” Again, this is an absolute party. Throw in a stripped-down control method called “family mode” that allows a player to call plays and let the A.I. do the heavy lifting, and you have a very fun, very accessible game.

The trade-off is graphics. While far from an ugly game, the Wii version simply can’t compare to the high-definition eye candy on display on the 360. The Xbox version plays pretty much like it has since the days of the Sega Genesis, but for the legions of Madden fans, this is not a bad thing. It’s pretty clear that all the development cash was spent on creating the most photo-realistic presentation possible. Madden has always remained on the cutting edge of what is possible with motion capture technology, and that tradition is continued on the 360. This is one of those games that you can throw into the machine and show off the pretty graphics to guests.

As for bragging rights, the game also includes a “trophy room,” which details all of your online conquests and records through a series of displayed knick-knacks and rings. If there’s one thing Xbox gamers enjoy, it is toiling for endless hours to earn worthless achievements.

There’s one other bizarre difference between the two games. Apparently, no one at EA could get Mr. Moss on the phone to ask what number he planned on wearing this season. The Wii version has Moss taking the field wearing 11, while the 360 has Moss wearing number six. Weird. The jersey at Footlocker has Moss wearing 81.

Longtime fans of Madden that own both systems will want the old school control and jaw-dropping graphics that the Xbox offers. The Wii, while serviceable, can’t compete on either level. However, football fans that cooled on Madden’s same-old same-old will likely have no problem looking past the dated graphics. They’ll have a ton of fun with the Nintendo offering. On the Wii: B+; X360: A-Xander Scott