IGN Review of Madden NFL 09
So here's how it works. Every year EA pushes out a portable version of Madden to go along with its main console versions, and every year -- dating as far back as Madden on GBA -- we've waited to see if our highest hopes, gameplay suggestions, or anticipated fixes from the previous year would be included. Take the play calling options, for instance. During the unveiling of GCN's connection cable with the GBA, we instantly thought that GBA-to-Cube connectivity would be used for calling plays for local competition. It's easy, right? Why not make use of the technology? Then, when the DS was announced a few years back, we saw the touch screen an instantly thought "touch play calling; that's where it's at with Madden DS". Every year we push to see EA take the portable reigns and deliver a sports game that really makes use of the hardware, and one that the smaller -- but dedicated -- Nintendo sports community could get into. Looks like we'll have to wait for Madden 2010.
Madden NFL 09 for Nintendo DS isn't a bad game; in fact, it's functionally stronger than last year, cleaning up a lot of the bugs and gameplay issues we mentioned in our 08 review almost exactly one year ago. In fact, as far as the core game is concerned EA has again delivered one of the best portable Madden games on a Nintendo console thus far, as you've got all the options and modes that made 08 great, and then some. It just fails to innovate once again, and after four years of the same core game, it's time to change some things for the better, rather than just fixing bugs and adding a new mode here and there. We've gone nearly half a decade with DS Madden, and it's high time some serious effort was put back into the innovation of the system.
As far as the general "Madden feel" though, 09 is a carbon copy of 08's effort, now with a few little tweaks. You'll get the same touch interface, impressive online and single-card multiplayer, franchise mode, season play, custom leagues, tournaments, the Coach's Corner (where all the mini-camp events have been moved), and situation-based, "Madden Moments"-inspired challenges. There's a lot here, but it's basically the same offering as we found last year.
So what's new?
For the most part, 09 fixes a few of the crippling issues that held back 08. There's no sprint freeze bug, no random AI that doesn't set up for plays, no strange poly pop-in going on with the characters on-screen, and far less "ball of the helmet" moments that made 08 a frustrating experience. Everything I just listed above? Fixed, fixed, fixed. That's a step in the right direction.
The Rec Room has also been added this year, but it's a pretty big waste, to be honest. The same paper football mini-game makes a return (it isn't too hot, either), and it's now joined with three more "arcade-inspired" mini-games, including a dodge-based Last Minute Miracle game, a very sketchy, touch-based Hit the Hole challenge where you draw your character between shifting lines of defense to score touchdowns, and a mini-game that actually infuriates us to see; Playbook Flash. In this game, plays from a playbook flash on the screen, and then it's up to the user to draw the play with the stylus. Wait... Draw the play? So why use the stylus for non-game play crafting, and still leave create-a-play as gimped as it has been for four years running now? While we're at it, why not use that to make a DS Call Your Shot mode? For the first time since the DS's birth, we're drawing plays with the stylus, but it's used in a memory game, and about as far from the field as can be. EA. Seriously. What the hell?
When looking at the main gameplay, there are certain things that simply need to be changed as well. For starters, even a play now game takes about 20 seconds to begin on DS, since there's no way to skip some of the scripted, console-like moments in the game. Even between plays the game focuses on random scripted sequences, such as the referee running the field length to pick up a ball, bring it to where the kicking tee is, and then run off again so the play can begin. That kind of setup isn't needed (or included) in the console versions, and the DS should be faster and more to the point in nature regardless. Overall, there's still an overly mechanical feel to the whole game too. Running feels like you're just banging players together, characters don't really block, so much as physically restrict others from making mad-dashes at the QB, and once someone does get through it's a B-line, single-speed rush to hit him and flop to the ground. Running is still just as painful as ever, since any touch from a defender means you're down (it's still an "avoid" game, rather than "power through" one), and the mindless AI is still abundant, as receivers run routes without turning or chasing the ball, and teammates watch as you catch a kick or punt, only setting for a block a second before you run past them.
Another odd thing we didn't notice in 08, but now is apparent in 09, is that players with the ball (receivers specifically) slow down so that defenders can catch up. This means if you throw a deep pass to Moss, and he catches it a few steps ahead of the defender, he'll still only get a few more yards out of the play most of the time. If you beat a defender in the NFL, you're going to the endzone. That's not the case here.
©2008-08-12, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved