Ever since EA Sports brought the Madden franchise to Wii back with Madden 2007 they've been struggling to find their sea legs on the motion-sensing console. It began as a rehashed version of the PS2 rendition, then branched out with new controls, which lead to calling your shots breaking onto the scene in 2008 and 2009, and last year's brought a new, Wii-specific visual treatment into the mix. Now, with Madden NFL 11, Wii users will be able to enjoy the only redesigned Franchise Mode to be seen in any version of Madden this year as well as a new five-on-five mode. Is that enough to warrant a purchase or should you look elsewhere for your pigskin fix? Read on for the full review.
Being a huge supporter of Franchise Mode myself, I was happy to hear that the Wii version of Madden NFL 11 would have a redefined offering. That excitement was extinguished a bit when I dove into the mode, as some of the accoutrements they've added don't pan out that well. For starters, your three advisors (fan, finance and team) don't add much to the package. After each game you're likely to get an update from one of them and then you'll have to make a decision, the impact of which is typically negligible when compared to the impact of your actual play on the field.
I was once greeted by a question from my fan advisor that asked, "There's rumors of the team moving. Care to comment?" To which I replied, "I hear Ontario is lovely" thinking that there'd be some follow-up later down the line or an offer to move the team to Ontario in the off-season. No such luck and I still doubled my fan growth compared to what was expected of my lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
Seeing your city get prettier and prettier or degrade more and more over time is cool enough, but the advisors' functionality could've been much deeper than they are currently. Right now they're nothing more than the same advisors that were present in the Madden series years ago, but they've been outfitted with cute, cartoony avatars for Wii. I'd be fine with that if their functionality had advanced, but it really hasn't. It's cool to find some of the old Owner Mode functionality (like setting hot dog and ticket prices) within Franchise Mode, but I feel like it could've been better customized for the Wii beyond the aesthetics.
Five-on-five is the single new game mode addition, but in the end it really doesn't bring a whole lot to the table. If you played Madden Arcade on either Xbox Live or PlayStation Network, the experience is basically the same but it comes without any of the power-ups that gave the release its arcade flair. Instead you get a very vanilla version of football. You get four downs to score and there's no punting or field goal kicks. If you want to simply hop into a quick game and goof around with your friends before mom calls you to dinner, I could see the mode working out for you, but there isn't enough new content to differentiate it from the more exciting 11-on-11 action.
The gameplay of Madden NFL 11 on Wii thankfully remains at a high level despite the two main features being more mediocre than evolutionary. Action on the field feels largely solid and smooth thanks to the fact that moves like spinning and juking have been taken off of gesture controls and put on buttons. Why they didn't decide to do the same on defense, I'll never know. I still find myself having to swing the remote at the screen to make an interception, which makes it difficult to time the swing properly with the animation. I appreciate integrating gestures into the experience, but I at least want the option to turn them off.
Passing is another aspect that hasn't found the sweet spot in terms of controls. This year's Madden offers both IR and gesture passing, but neither performs as well as the typical button option. I like having the option of using IR or gesture, but there needs to be a third option (classic controller?) that lets people emulate the feel of the Xbox and PlayStation experiences on their Wii a bit better.
GameFlow, the automated playcalling system, has made its way into the Madden package on Wii. Sometimes it works better than others, with its main faults coming out when time is dwindling on the clock. For whatever reason I had several instances when I'd be down on the scoreboard in the 4th quarter and GameFlow would call running play after running play. You can turn it off if you'd like, but the real solution would've been to include the gameplanning feature that Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 users get to enjoy. It's a shame that there's none of that on Wii.
You can still call your shots (customize your hot routes) from both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, and both functions work wonderfully. It's great to draw a custom route for your wide receiver and have it work with flying colors. Same goes for crushing the quarterback with a hot route blitz that you called once you saw the opening in the offensive line.
Visuals on the field retain the same look that you're used to from last year with different character models representing different positions on the field. The treatment works just fine for Wii audiences and the inclusion of field and uniform degradation is cool to see this year. Still, being that this is a Wii game, there's plenty of jaggies and ugly textures to be had, but that's more a fault of the system than the game itself.
Mini-games and online multiplayer have been totally untouched this year. For whatever reason EA Sports has seen fit to include the same batch of drills that we've been playing for the last decade, but instead of calling them "drills" they've labeled them "mini-games" and opened them up for multiple players. Likewise, online multiplayer hasn't seen any changes and that goes for performance as well. I ran into some pretty significant choppiness and lag even on IGN's speedy connection, which is a shame.