Devout patrons of NintendoLife will no doubt recall that we quite liked Madden NFL 07; the unique use of motion-sensitive gestures lent the game an incredibly intuitive and refreshing feel – something that was badly needed after over a decade of relentless updates from publisher EA. However, as good as Madden’s debut on the Wii undoubtedly was, there was certainly scope for improvement and it was with high expectations that we booted up the 2008 version of this popular Gridiron sim.
First impressions aren’t really that positive. Visually, Madden 08 is virtually indistinguishable from its forebearer and even ends up looking a little inferior due to some seriously drab menus. This is uncharacteristically sloppy when you consider how polished the average EA release is. Although the graphics in 07 could hardly be called ‘next gen’, it was easier to excuse thanks to the superb controls; it’s harder to be so forgiving this year. The graphics engine is old and creaky – it’s essentially the same one used in the PS2 versions – and it needs improving.
The aforementioned controls are also very similar to last year’s effort: no bad thing. There’s been some subtle tweaking here and there but veterans of Madden NFL 07 will pick up the game in seconds. Changes have also been made to the core gameplay, with player balance and general attributes seeing some relatively minor alterations that will only register with hardcore fans of the series. EA have certainly had enough practice in perfecting the ultimate American Football game and Madden NFL 08 represents another positive step forward in that regard.
Sadly, the CPU AI doesn’t seem to have benefited from EA’s time and attention. It’s still susceptible to rookie errors and you’ll often find your computer-controlled players making unforced blunders that cost you vital yardage. The sport of American Football is an extremely complex one and we don’t doubt for a second that it’s a very difficult proposition to create a totally faultless AI system. But, when you consider the fact that many of these shortcomings have been present in the past few Madden instalments it’s annoying that EA has failed to tackle such issues head-on by now. Having said that, the AI problems can hardly be deemed as game breaking and most casual players will probably remain oblivious to them.
One area in which Madden NFL 08 unquestionably succeeds in is the wide variety of play modes and options that are on offer. The disc is literally bursting with different gameplay choices. The usual exhibition and league modes are all present and we also have the Superstar Mode and a range of mini-games. Superstar mode is very much like the career option found in Konami’s last N64 International Superstar Soccer game, and offers you the chance to ‘become’ an American Football player and enjoy the various benefits that such a life brings – press calls, training, starring in Hollywood movies…that kind of thing. It’s an interesting diversion that will grant hours and hours of playtime, providing you’re committed enough to stay the course.
But everyone knows that when it comes to sports titles, single player is barely half of the equation. Multiplayer has always been a key focus of the Madden series, going right back to the classic Megadrive version of the early 1990’s. Madden NFL 08 really makes an effort when it comes to this side of things, with a wide range of party modes and a near-essential online multiplayer option. Despite some niggling latency issues, the online mode (which uses EA’s own online service) is refreshingly easy to use and will serve as a perfect alternative for when you’re unable to play against a friend locally.
Although these extras are impressive, one of the neatest additions has to be the ability to humiliate your opponents during action replays. By using the Wiimote as a pen, you can draw lines on reply footage and highlight where they went wrong and where you scored the big points – just as the actual commentators are so fond of doing. It’s a throwaway feature for sure, but that doesn’t stop it being fun - especially when you come off the back of a huge win over a friend. The chance to rub their face in the mud is appealing and never grows stale.
Madden NFL 08 may not be the audacious playmaker we all hoped it would be, but it certainly talks a decent game and will keep fans of the previous iteration more than happy. Hopefully next year EA can overhaul the graphics engine and improve the CPU intelligence. If they do, then we’ll be looking at one of the finest representations of America's favourite sport ever created. In the meantime, Madden NFL 08 is certainly worth picking up should you hanker for more Gridiron action.