Without much competition in the American Football genre, EA have often been accused of complacency. However, with the upcoming All Pro Football 2K8 from 2k sports, they show clear signs of raising their game.
In addition to reservations about the market dominating product, there are the issues that surround porting an existing game to the Wii. Wii-mote controls can easily feel tacked on, and cumbersome in comparison to the familiar game pad implementation.
All very well, and much of this has been said elsewhere. This review however introduces a third challenge into the mix in the form of English non-american-football-conversant-thirtysomethings. We'll see how the game introduces a bunch of us to this alien past time, in multi player mode.
Not having played an American football game since Cyberball back in '88, I thought it best to get to grips with the basics before we hit Madden for the full multi player experience. I settled down to an evening's play, and within an hour I was able to get basics down. Not without some head-scratching, I was introduced the gestures I needed to control the action. The various flicks, pushes and jerks of the wii-mote had been well chosen and before long I was able to Jink, Early catch, Spin and Throw with the best of them.
With the basics under my belt I gathered three friends for a longer four-player session with the game. Once the wii-motes were all synced up, we took our positions and chose teams for a two on two mash up. A few explanations from yours truly and we got into the action. Our initial grappling with the controls and the structure of 'football' was pretty slow going. There was an air of frustration as events on screen appeared to mysteriously unfold regardless of our frantic waving and gesturing. At times it seemed pretty impenetrable, and I had visions of abandoning the game for the simplicity of Wii-tennis.
But as the plays went on, the controls started to make more sense. Each time we realised a new aspect of the controls (such as 'A' switching players, or the double-push gesture tackle boost) our control of the plays increased. Although still a bit of a wrestle, this started slotting into place, and we were able to be a bit more tactical. I was aware that this was already a lot more fun than my session against the computer players.
We decided to switch things with a session of three of us against the computer, and here the fun really kicked began. In offence, the first player would be the quarter back, the second player was the receiver, leaving the final player to protect the receivers run. The sense of connection to the plays was complete, as each of us need to get their job done if we were to make any yardage. With the added pressure of not letting your team mates down, the moment when you successfully raise the remote and nun-chuck to catch the ball early, pull the ball into the body and dive into the end zone is an undeniably thrill.
Surprisingly, what stays with you from the game is the sense of freedom that comes from the gestures. You remember particular plays, and become aware of the different movements that put up that lob, landed that catch or strong-armed that line-back. All of us were surprised how compelling this was, and how much we wanted to play some more. That has to be a successful game, in anybodies book.