IGN Review of Madden NFL 09 All-Play
EA celebrates 20 years of Madden this year, and it's pretty obvious that the company is pulling out all the stops in making this one of the best years of videogame football the industry has ever seen. On the 360 and PS3 front, another giant leap has been made into the next true generation of Madden, with the new Madden IQ system and a laundry list of over 75 new tweaks and feature upgrades to make sure players are getting the best balling experience out there; and nobody's really stepping up to try and stop them.
On the Wii front, things are taking a bit of a different turn, but not one that's overly bold this reviewer's opinion, or one that's out to alienate anyone from the game of football. Yes, EA has put the new "All-Play" name on its product this year (and more than just Madden), but after putting this year though its respective paces, we're on EA's side on this move. The company has managed to open the game of football to a wider audience with simpler control, easier interface, and an "anyone can play" philosophy that actually does come through, while at the same time making the game entirely customizable and open for the hardcore gamers. If you found it in previous Wii Madden games, you're going to find it here, and you'll most likely find it refined or improved on in some way.
Let's talk All-Play first. Does it work, should you care, and is it that different from Family Play from last year?
All-Play is the next evolution of EA's family play, so you'll get the same Wii-mote only mode, and the same "waggle does the move" control, but it goes deeper than that this time around. While WIi-mote only All-Play control is nearly identical to last year, and actually feels like an interactive version of manager mode, since you're essentially watching the players and doing short movements to tweak the more action-oriented moments of the game but there's now a halfway mark between Wii-mote only and advanced, two-handed control. This is actually the All-Play mode we'd recommend for younger Madden players that are looking to up their game (the young hardcore, if you will), as passing is easier to pull off, big hits and evasion motion works no matter which motion you use, and you'll get true AI aid through smarter pass lines and automatic defense shifts after the snap, but you still get direct control. In the world of passing, for an example, you can press any direction on the d-pad, and that'll throw the ball to a receiver in that general area. It's almost like using just QB vision from previous maddens, but actually letting the computer toss it to the most open receiver in that general area. Wii-mote only is a Family Mode thing; All-Play goes deeper than that.
For a look at 5-on-5, as well as Call Your Shot from the single player game, check out our video montage below, set to Linkin Park's "We Made It", featured in Madden NFL 09 All-Play.
All-Play goes deeper than that, and while we've talked on the topic more than a few times already, here's the final breakdown of what works, and what's actually better, rather than just different. 5-on-5 mode is a new arcade take on the game, with big heads, smaller teams, and only four plays for both offense and defense. It won't feel quite the same as 2-on-2 did before it (it's for the Wii Sports crowd, mainly), but it's still really fun. Sadly you can't play this mode online, so it'll be limited to just local play; though you can rock the new Call Your Shot mode to add a hardcore touch to the experience. As a quick note, computer AI is moronic in this section of the game; blitz, and you'll almost always tag the QB before he can pass.
Play calling has been changed up again, taking pieces from the first Wii Madden (IR control to call plays) and mixing them with a "best of both worlds" system that works for the hardcore, and for All-Play rookies; we really do believe that. In fact, it really isn't all that different from something like the 360's play calling system, though you're getting a more "everybody friendly" view of it all. You start out by doing an ask Madden, basic play set, or all plays area. Asking Madden brings up his Mii and just one play, the basic play set is things like basic HB runs, slant passes, play actions, pitches, and dive plays (basically anything a rookie Madden player would be searching for among the hundreds of other plays anyways), while the bottom option is actually your team-specific (or custom, if you set it up) playbook.
The hardcore users can still go in there, select plays by type or formation, and find exactly what you're looking for so All-Play isn't stepping on any toes in the play select section of the game. Where it does though, is the Mii integration, which will always make use of the Refer-Miis (with some pretty lame cut-out portraits, rather than on-screen officials), Madden's Mii, and your own Mii face for all in-game celebrations and icons. You're not going to shake those in any mode of Madden, so if that's a deal breaker for you, we'll go ahead and apologize on behalf of EA right now; it's in there, and it's everywhere.
And really, that's all there is to the All-Play idea. It's different, yes, but it also works, and leaves enough options (on everything but Mii interface) for the hardcore to tweak. In fact, if you play on All-Pro or All Madden, all those options turn off anyways, so you won't get assisted motion, you can't use All-Play controls, and you basically have to revert back to the hardcore controls from 07 and 08. But yes, still Mii referees and icons.
As far the mode offering goes, things may look a little light in the "new additions" category, but pile it on with everything from 07 and 08, and its still really respectable. 5-on-5 is new, online is back and far more fleshed out, but then you've got the laundry list of other modes from previous games, including of course play now, party mode, multiplayer mini-games including the classic 2-on-2, kicking combine, YAC attack, rushing attack, and mini-camp competition, as well as franchise mode, superstar mode, a learn Madden section for newbies to the game, and a custom practice mode with in-game, solo, or customized situational drill practice.
There are a few annoyances, but all around it's a robust package for 09. The real issue is that, while EA worked hard on making All-Play, refining online, adding 5-on-5, and upping the overall on-field look of Madden, all the modes you remember from 08 and 07 are left almost identical to what they were previously. All the mini-camp and multiplayer games are identical, even looking to use the old models and animation for what is obviously pre-canned post-game celebrations in mini-camp and the like. Franchise mode has updated rosters, but nothing more, and the same goes with superstar mode, adding the 2008 roster into the mix, but not changing much else as far as we can see. It still works great, mind you, but if you're hot off the 08 Madden franchise or superstar modes, we can't see you wanting to go through it all again with how little has changed. Maybe you do though. Maybe the new rosters, schedules, and in-game improvements will encourage you to take your team to the top once again. For us though, it just didn't feel fresh.
The hardcore shouldn't write Madden 09 off though, and there's a good reason why not. While EA didn't go into specific modes and tweaks for the hardcore players, the company did make global changes that improved the game for everyone, and they paid off in a big way. Characters look better in-game, now with more grit and uniform detail, the arenas look better, and the optional add-on visual effects (which I personally like, since they're a mix of arcade and classic Madden visuals) really give All-Play it's own attitude. Remember, they can be turned off if you aren't into them. More importantly though, the game is just cleaner. In our whole time previewing and reviewing the game we never had the random pass bug from 08, didn't have moronic frozen AI or route bugs, and only once had a play halted for a few seconds while some random player had to find his way back to the front line, and that was once out of over 40 hours of gameplay. This year's Madden is cleaner, and it's obvious EA paid attention to the cries of its fanbase after 08 launched, as we saw a much stronger on-field offering this year around. The bigger on-screen icons for passing can be a bit annoying though, as they now take up nearly the same size as a player model. Icon size (or style) should really be an option for Madden 2010.
The number one reason to pick up Madden 09 though, is the new Call Your Shot mode, and if EA realizes what an incredible gameplay addition it has on its hands with Call You Shot, you'll see dozens of features based on it for next year. Call Your Shot allows for active, IR-made hot routes during any passing play, so a simple tap of the A button lets you re-draw any receiver route pre-snap, and decimate the competition. I've had whole games where I use just Play Action and Call Your Shot to destroy a defense (a quick click can set up buttons, slants, deep routes, screens, or even reversal-like backfield routes), and once you factor in already-tricky plays like the HB Pass, Flea Flicker, or option plays, you've got a never-ending list of plays to call, and it's fast.
In fact, it's common to no-huddle all the way down the field (don't worry, hardcore players, there's a "fair play" area where this can be turned off, along with other cheap tricks, and that is also available online), using just one core play and destroying the defense with customized air attacks. This is the one true feature that Wii has over the 360/PS3 builds of the game, and it's a big one. Just like Pro Evo Soccer's pointer control, Madden's Call Your Shot has evolved football to a whole new level. In this reviewer's opinion, it's the single best gameplay advancement I've seen in Madden for years, and I'm talking any version of the game.
And if EA wants to keep the hardcore, the company needs to do everything we wish it did this year with Call Your Shot (a year isn't much time to implement new designs though; we understand its simplicity this year). Players should be able to use Call Your Shot to make and save new plays, change AI run routes for running plays, as well as passing, use Call Your Shot to move the defense and set up man or zone coverage with the click of a button, and - if the developers want to get really fancy with it - add in a whole new creation mode around Call Your Shot, letting players make these new plays, name them, and share them online with others. Even in its most primitive form, Call Your Shot is a huge leap forward for Madden Wii. With the right backing, it could offer Wii owners something other consoles could only dream of having; total control of every player, on every play, in every situation.
And there's more to talk about, including the whole "celebrate after a key play" mode, where you waggle like crazy to boost stats (we like the boost, and we hate the waggle), and the returning telestrator from last year (now just an option in the pause menu), but the real focus this year for EA's hardcore plan was online on Wii, and it works wonderfully. Keep in mind that we're playing on a pretty quick internet connection, and at the time of reviewing this we're the only people online (shouldn't factor into the gameplay, since it's basically a two-person direct connect setup), but everything from going online, connecting with friends, and playing is a blast.
When you first head on, you'll see a sign in area, where you can opt to sign up for EA, or make a guest account with no stat tracking and the like. Once in, you can track down any EA friends you already have, or check for Wii system friends to instantly get into the game with them. That's right, there's no need for friend codes. You can use them, just like you can use the EA tag of any friend you have, but adding someone to your Wii system friend list will automatically streamline into your EA online tag, so there's no setup once you're online. Can developers out there take note, please? Friend codes make us want to beat ourselves to death with the Wii Fit board, and we're pretty sure that's not what it was made for…
Online continues to succeed with an easy friend message system (no free type yet though; keep kicking Nintendo's conservative ass though, EA. We have faith in you.), a quick ranked/unranked "play anyone" area, an overall lobby where you can join into three areas - social, casual, and competitive - to meet up with new players, and an area to check leaderboards, import custom teams and playbooks from your main game into your EA locker, and check you profile stats. Any time you enter into a game, you'll get the player's connection bar and level before you start too, so there's no unnecessary lag-fests happening this year.
On our connection, online was fluid, but there's no IR play calling, and using the d-pad to pick plays will still give you a quarter second of lag between selecting, and seeing it happen on-screen. In game though, it was extremely fluid, only popping for a frame every once in a while in display lag, but not performance-affecting pauses. Call Your Shot is still allowed in online, but it's a little odd at times for the defense, since you'll sit there at pre-snap and not see any indicator that the other player is in CYS mode. Just wait it out, and get ready for the storm. Also, games default to "fair play" mode, so the host will have to change that if you want to go for onside kicks, no huddle, and 4th down plays whenever you please. In the default mode, it'll lock those things out until the situation would call for it in a "typical NFL game."
For a deeper look into online, check out our multiplayer video montage below, featuring nothing but online play, with music by The Offspring.
Also, celebrations don't seem to be include in multiplayer mode, which is nice for those that aren't looking to waggle during some serious multiplayer gaming. EA put some serious time into this year's Madden, and it shows, as it's currently the best overall online experience we've had from a third-party Wii game, and sits right behind Mario Kart. It could still be polished up a bit, and we don't know how it'll react to a full flood of gamers, but we had no problem connecting, finding friends, and getting our game on.
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