IGN Review of Madden NFL 09
Sports fans, particularly those from long-suffering organizations, are used to the phrase, "Wait until next year," especially if they annually see the exact same result from their favorite club. The same statement can be attributed to sports game franchises, particularly if a new installment is flawed or underwhelming. Unfortunately, Madden NFL 09 for the PSP winds up falling into this category. While the gameplay itself isn't defective, it's particularly disappointing in the sense that the new features aren't particularly great or useful. As a result, playing Madden NFL 09 feels like you're playing the exact same game as last year, with some ineffective features tacked onto it.
The largest addition that's been made to this year's title is the Rookie Mode, a mechanic similar to that of the newly included Family Play in the PS2 version of the game. For those of you new to this feature, what it does is simplify all of the mechanics of the gameplay to basic inputs, which allows anyone to pick up the title and have a degree of success on the field. This means that on offense, you only have to focus on hitting Circle to spin, Square to dive and X to perform all of your highlight moves; whereas on defense, you only need to focus on Circle to switch players, Square to dive and X to perform Big Hits. All other mechanics on the field are handled with assists and prompts to help you out. In the huddle, things have been mildly simplified by removing the play clock. Plus, passing plays are easier to perform by removing the button inputs for receivers in favor of colored circles that you just have to push the nub towards and hit X.
In general, it's a decent way to help ease newcomers into the game, although it does come with some caveats. For one, while Rookie Mode makes elements of the standard game easier for newcomers, it won't help them understand any of John Madden's advice. It doesn't explain why a specific play is better than another one or why you'd want to use it in that situation. Nor does it simplify packages or play schematics, which is somewhat strange considering that every other "friendly" mode for the PS2 and Wii have this feature as a standard. What's more, for some reason, the kicking mechanic (which is simplified on the PS2 to hitting the X button to kick) is still relegated to the analog nub. For those beginners who haven't gotten used to the controls, this is an odd decision that is trapped there. The simplified focus of Rookie Mode (which is an indication of the casual gamer focus presented by the handheld and versions on older systems) carries over to the new player indicators that pop up as you're passing the ball to receivers or when you're trying to tackle a ball carrier or evade a hit. During most ground plays, you'll see a word pop up that will tell you when you should hit the corresponding button to perform that action. With passes, it's a bit more flexible because if a receiver's icon is green, he's open and if it's red, he's covered by a defender.
In theory, these concepts work, but in execution, it's not particularly effective. The word phrases that you see will frequently pop up earlier than necessary and won't specifically indicate when you should hit the button, so even when you thing you've got the timing down, you're actually off. On offense, that will result in a lot more tackles than you were hoping for. It doesn't mean that you won't escape from some hits, but it's much harder. As far as passing is concerned, the icons that crop up aren't guarantees that the pass will be completed if it's green or will fail if it's red. In fact, there are some moments that you'll pass to someone whose icon is red even though he's obviously open, which makes this element seem somewhat misleading within the game. It doesn't break the ability to perform passes, but it can be truly confusing to people.
Apart from the simplified gameplay, players will also find that there's a new play calling system that gives you the option to select between basic and advanced plays, as well as Madden suggested plays for each down of a game. Again, it's a nice element, but it feels somewhat unnecessary because the Rookie Mode already runs simplified plays for beginners, while most veterans will shy away from them and stick solely to advanced play mechanics and routes. As a result, you're not really gaining that much with the playbooks being broken down in this manner. Sure, it can be argued that even Rookies can run advanced plays with simplified controls, but how many of them are going to understand the plays and run them effectively? It's just a clunky addition that doesn't really serve a purpose.
Outside of these tweaks, there isn't really a change from last year's game to this year's title as far as the gameplay is concerned. Since there wasn't the same kind of focus on augmenting or improving either side of the ball, you'll find the same problems that are attached to last year's game (and by extension, Madden 07 as well) cropping up in this year's game. For instance, you'll notice that there aren't any smart zones or spotlights of receivers to break up passing lanes, nor has the Weapon system that classifies players improve the play on the field via player matchups. Plus, the number of injuries still feels a bit too high, as you'll sometimes see two to three players go out with serious injuries in a game. At the very least, the AI is slightly improved as far as its time management and its play calling, but it can still be hit or miss. In one game that I played, the computer made sensible decisions as to its use of timeouts and other plays, while the next game was completely opposite.
As for game modes, all of the same ones that were included in last year's game have returned in Madden 09, which is fine because these were fun additions within that game. The mini-camp and mini-camp competitions add extra replayability to the game while at the same time presenting an engaging way to test your skills. The Superstar Challenge returns as well, although it's slightly new: the game situations that you engage in within the Superstar Challenge are updated to reflect game moments from last year's season, so you'll have moments with Anquan Boldin, Vince Young and cover athlete Brett Favre. Similarly, the Franchise mode comes across as a carbon copy of last year's mode, which was a great feature as far as a simplified, casual gameplay experience for the PSP.
Unfortunately, multiplayer is still an Achilles heel for the game, particularly because of the lag that constantly crops up within the game when you're playing an opponent. The worst that I noticed was a lag of five to seven seconds that frequently popped up between plays during one infrastructure game, which managed to hinder gameplay significantly. It's also somewhat difficult to successfully complete your passes when you realize that the game freezes before the ball is snapped, and as a play is run, receivers running routes hitch and stutter their way down the field. That seriously throws off your timing regardless of what you're trying to run and ruins the experience.
Visually, Madden 09 still looks good, although many of the visuals seem to have only been bumped up a small amount. That's not a horrible thing, because the animations were good before, but there is one thing that truly needs to be abolished: the newly included Defensive Camera, which flips the camera around so the offense is coming from the top of the screen down to the bottom instead of the standard way that most football games are played. There would be a creative way to play the game if the camera actually pulled out far enough to see where your players are or what your formations happen to be, especially if you're trying to make defensive shifts. Because the camera is so tight, the formation play art winds up being displayed off screen, so you'll sometimes make an adjustment and have no way of knowing whether or not a player is in the right position to make a play. Even worse, you could have the right formation, but if a ball is thrown, you might not be able to see where the defender is so that you can break up the play. Because this feature seems to throw a bigger spotlight on the camera issues from last year's game, it doesn't particularly help the presentation of the game.
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