Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: August 12, 2008
Madden '09 All-Play is in a unique position for the Madden series. While minor changes have always been made between games in the series' 20-year history, the Wii can provide significantly more innovation than we would usually see in the franchise's annual updates. This year's Wii version of Madden has a fair number of new features, although many of the standard features remain in place and are completely unchanged.
The biggest change to the Madden formula this year is the All-Play mode, which is a perfect fit for the Wii console. With the Wii's target audience increasingly becoming the casual gaming crowd, the idea of All-Play works perfectly by simplifying the controls to use only the Wiimote. Essentially, All-Play mode is a glorified manager mode in which the game controls movement for you. You can still go for interceptions and execute big hits on defense, but that's about it. Playing as the quarterback means that you have absolutely no control over where you move and who you pass to. Every receiver has a very large red or green light over him, with red meaning that the receiver is covered, while green means that he's open. When you pass the ball, the game selects an open receiver and passes the ball to him. To any Madden vet, this is going to seem like a dramatically oversimplified control scheme, but this allows for anyone to pick up the game, play, and not feel like a moron.
Most players will stick with the standard control scheme, which fully utilizes the Wiimote's motion capabilities and Nunchuk. The control scheme generally works very well, seems very intuitive, and makes you feel involved. Passing the pigskin actually requires arm movement. Doing it quickly results in a bullet pass, while a slow movement will result in a lofted pass that might get over the linebackers but could result in a jump ball between the cornerbacks and the receiver when the ball reaches the target.
Madden '09 is even nice enough to give you an on-screen head's up of when it's a good idea to use a power move, which is controlled by shaking the Wiimote. Executing one of these makes you more likely to fumble the ball when you get hit, but a successful power move can evade a tackle. I only had two problems with the controls: the entire kicking system and the command to swat the ball out of the air. The kick controls are very hit-and-miss, and the same motion results in an amazing kick or one that travels 20 yards. This is extremely frustrating, so hopefully, it's something that will get fixed or overhauled.
Aside from the kicking, all of this is very easy to master, and you'll shortly find yourself in very high-scoring games against most computer opponents. Lower level computers tend to make lots of bad decisions, and it's very easy to defeat them. Things get better on the higher difficulties, but computers are still fairly easy to beat.
The most successful new feature in this year's Madden is Call Your Shots. Instead of being limited to a few quick hot routes you can assign to a receiver after the huddle, pressing the A button on the Wiimote will let you select a receiver, and then you can quite literally draw the route you want him to take. This feature is absolutely amazing and adds a ton to the game. I really hope to see more things that use this feature in future versions of Madden.
The final new feature that comes into the spotlight is the new version of celebrations. Instead of watching your player dance like a maniac on the field, it's now up to you to move around. Dancing around the room well enough will result in a stat boost for the celebratory player, so it's usually worth it to wave your arms around like an idiot for a few seconds. However, you're going to feel like an idiot when you do it, especially when you're playing with friends. You'll eventually realize that it works just as well if you just sit there and quickly shake the Wiimote up and down. This feature feels much more like a gimmick and should probably be removed from Madden '10.
One thing I cannot say enough good things about for Madden '09 is the online component. Without a doubt, this is the single best online experience I've ever had on the Wii. EA has done away with Nintendo's awful online service and opted to use its own servers for the game. When playing on Xbox Live, seeing the words "Connecting to EA Servers" usually meant bad things, but it's a welcome change here. As a result, there are no friend codes; you simply need to make an account on the EA Web site, which is very easy to do. From there, you can access standard ranked and unranked matches.
You can also invite a few friends and play against them in the game, and with the All-Play feature, none of your friends will really feel like they suck while they're playing. There's a large sum of mini-games to take your friends into if you're so inclined, but none of them are really that much fun. The biggest new "mini-game" is five-on-five football with schoolyard rules. While this can also be done in single-player, the most fun to be had with it is in the multiplayer. Here, everyone has big heads on a small field, and you have four downs to march the length of it. First to five touchdowns wins. While it's not very deep, there is fun to be had in a quick game of arcade-style football.
Once you get into the online games, Madden '09 starts to shine even brighter. There is almost no lag while playing, and the title enforces something dubbed "fair play," which means things like the celebrations vanish. This also means that the game will not let you go for it on 4th and 15 during in the middle of the second quarter from your own 20-yard line. You have to punt. This makes the game feel much more realistic and not like you're just playing against someone who loves to throw it deep 24/7.
Things aren't so great on the graphics and audio side of things, though. The graphics could really use some work. Madden '09 looks like it was probably ported from the PS2 version of the title, and the graphics took a bit of a hit in the process. Weather effects are almost completely absent. A rainy game features a darker colored field (which is pretty much just a green pitch), and when players fall to the ground, there's an ugly-looking splash of water. The players look passable, certainly more could be done. After playing Madden '09 All-Play, I went back and popped Madden '05 into my Xbox and found that it looked noticeably better.
As stated, the audio in Madden is also pretty bad. John Madden and Al Michaels may be legends, but their voices do not lend well to these titles. Al Michaels just doesn't have much of anything interesting to say, and John Madden is just one of the worst announcers I have ever heard. "Getting sacked can cost your team the ball." Really, John? I had no idea! While the series may be dead in the water, the 2K football games' announcers are light years better than these two. On the musical side of things, you have your standard EA Trax songs, but for whatever reason, every other time a song played, I was forced to listen to either "Shinedown" or Disturbed. I actually liked those tracks before I started playing the game, but now that I've heard them both so many times, I never want to hear them again.
There is a fair number of new features in Madden '09, such as Superstar mode, where you create a rookie and lead him through his career. Franchise mode has remained almost completely unchanged, which is very disappointing, as these are generally the main single-player offerings. When these remain completely untouched, you start to feel that you're "paying for a roster update" when you start up these modes.
Madden '09 All-Play for the Wii still plays a pretty good game of football. The new features are very unpredictable, but with the Call Your Shots feature and the best online experience I have ever experienced on the Wii, I had fun with this title. It's certainly not perfect and could use some work in a few important areas, but if you have nothing but a Wii and need to get your football on, Madden '09 is your best bet, and you'll probably have some fun while you're at it.