Taking its graphical cues from the recent Grand Slam Tennis, Madden NFL 10 on Wii eschews the hi-def emphasis on recreating every detail of the game, favouring a more stylised - though hardly cartoony - approach to the presentation. Defensive backs are bulky chunks of muscle, wide receivers are gangly running machines and everything’s slightly more caricatured than in other incarnations. The animation is fantastic, with players hurdling over despairing dives and spinning away from tackles, and the all-new “Spotlight Moments” slow the action down to a QTE-style event where a quick flash of the Remote can see your receiver escape a last-ditch takedown or take a big hit and lose the momentum. Presentation-wise, as always, EA excels with an engaging and innovative-looking game that, for once, makes the most of what the Wii can do rather than draw unfavourable comparisons with its bigger brothers.
That’s not all that’s new to Wii, though: last year’s exclusive 5-on-5 mode returns, and plays a much quicker game of American football – the pitch is half the size, you quickly select plays with a tap of and it’s a touchdowns-only game, with each touchdown worth a single point and the first team to five points winning. It’s immediately gratifying and a great pick-up-and-play version of the sport, and one that gets even more interesting in the new Showdown mode.
When engaging in a Showdown with a friend, you can bet points on certain outcomes – who will win, who’ll make the longest pass etc. – and activate a number of “Game Changers”, essentially extra options to spice things up a little. These include Turbo Mode, Invisibility and Fumblitis, which makes the ball even more slippery than usual, quite an achievement considering in standard play the ball is apparently made out of an oiled knob of butter. Showdown mode is a highly enjoyable aside even for those with no previous knowledge of the sport, using as it does EA’s “All-Play” control method that gives novices access to every part of play with just a Wii Remote.
If you have the option to play with a Nunchuk, however, it’s recommended – player control becomes much easier with the rather than the , and although the Nunchuk’s motion-sensing abilities are only used to defend your Quarterback, it certainly feels altogether more comfortable having it in your hand.
The Madden series has been using the Wii Remote to simulate pigskin-throwing for years, with the speed of your throwing arm giving you a choice of lobs or bullet passes, but if that's not your cup of tea you can choose a point-and-pass system instead. You simply hover over your chosen receiver and press to send the ball his way, and you still have the choice to send lobs or bullet passes depending on whether you tap or hold . Other gestures from previous entries have been simplified too – catching is now a matter of holding A and flicking the Remote up, rather than holding both Nunchuk and Remote over your head, for example. It seems in previous years Tiburon got carried away adding motion controls, and now they’re scaled back it’s created a much more enjoyable and certainly less painful experience.
There’s another new mode to Wii this year, with “Huddle-Up” giving the game a new cooperative edge. Drawing comparisons with Super Mario Galaxy’s two-player mode of all games, Huddle-Up lets another player take part as an unseen force, able to hinder and knock down opposing players with their pointer, creating extra space for the first player who continues as if nothing is wrong. It’s admittedly quite a bizarre addition to the formula and one that provides some laughs, but when All-Play is designed to let everyone play at an equal standard with just a Remote, you have to wonder why Huddle-Up made it in.
In fact, there seems a big push on cooperative play this year – Road to the Superbowl lets four players team up to take on a half-season, full season or even just the play-offs, with each player getting assessed on their contribution. With a performance bar under their Mii character, each player earns points by completing passes, sacking Quarterbacks and the like, with the aim being to win the game and keep your performance bar out of the red and in the green. If you do find yourself on the receiving end of a few bad plays, you could find yourself getting benched and replaced by a CPU player; if that happens, it’s down to your teammates to decide whether to sacrifice their performance points and bring you back or keep playing without your bumbling ineptitude dragging them down.
EA also continue to provide well in the area of online play for Wii, with another completely friend code-less system allowing you to compete against other players and also exchange custom Rosters and Franchise files with other gamers. With little to no lag and no pesky friend codes, the only disappointment with it is the lack of any online tournaments, with single matches the only way to go on Wii.
The only other disappointing aspects of Madden NFL 10 are the dodgy-looking paper crowd – a permanent fixture in any Wii sports game, sadly – and the occasionally repetitive commentary. The commentary impresses at first, with some precise observations about particular key players, but chances are you’ll hear “he put a little exclamation point after that score!”, “you better kick it from here!” and “football is an emotional game…” at least once every match, which soon diminishes the effect.
We’re not huge American Football fans here at Nintendo Life, and certainly not in the UK office where we reviewed Madden NFL 10. That said, the game proved itself to be accessible and enjoyable to everyone, regardless of any previous experience of the sport, with the hard-and-fast Showdown take on gridiron offering immediate gratification, and the Huddle-Up and Road to Superbowl modes giving plenty of scope for matches other than the traditional head-to-heads. With plenty of unlockables too including Franchise and Superstar modes, and the option to control as much or as little of the fine details as possible, Madden NFL 10 should be tremendously appealing to gridiron fanatics as well as novices looking for an entertaining first game of pigskin.