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Madden NFL 09

For: DS   Also on: PSP


Product: Madden NFL 09 | Developer: Exient | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: DS | Genre: Simulation, Sports | Players: 1-8 | Version: Europe
Madden NFL 09 DS, thumbnail 1
Large men wearing outlandish body armour, moments of balletic grace interspersed with flashes of cringe-worthy violence, and a whipped-up crowd baying for blood. No, we're not talking about the recently re-launched Gladiators TV show. We're talking football of the American variety.

For most of us born outside the borders of the US of A, this sport will likely only ever stray into our sphere of thinking around the time of the Super Bowl or, more likely, when an NFL showpiece event tears up the Wembley pitch and wrecks any hopes we had of a decent cup final.

For those of you who dig all things gridiron, though, the anticipation of a new Madden game has become an annual ritual of expectation. What will EA add this year? Will it be a radical rethink of the control system, a complete overhaul of the game engine, or merely an updated player roster and a few extra play modes? With Madden NFL 09, the answer is the latter.

EA produces consistently polished, playable and engrossing sports sims to a degree of excellence that sees them skipping away from their rivals for a touchdown time after time. Madden NFL 09, however, resembles a great NFL team resting on its laurels and failing to address some inherent flaws in its style of play.

One criticism of last year's iteration was the implementation of the touch controls. To summarise - they were a bit naff. It's disheartening, then, to find that Madden NFL 09 still hasn't got its act together. When it comes to passing play, you can either sweep the stylus to the point on the field that you want your quarterback to throw the ball to or touch one of the icons along the bottom of the screen corresponding to a specific receiver.

Neither option is particularly well executed, with the former lacking precision and the kind of clinical, nailed-on responsiveness necessary when 750 pounds of flesh and body armour is bearing down on your playmaker. The latter method attempts to provide this precision, but turns out even worse due to the need to take your eyes away from the field of play to locate the appropriate touch-icon. This makes spotting an opening and responding quickly almost impossible, at least until you can touch the correct area of the screen without having to look every time.

Being the impatient sorts that we are, we soon reverted to the classic control method of using the face and shoulder buttons. Played traditionally, Madden reverts to the slick gameplay that Madden veterans will know and love and which, at its core, stays true to this writer's first ever Madden experience way back in 1993. But really, for a revolutionary console such as the DS, is that good enough? Decent touch implementation should be the defining characteristic of Madden NFL 09 on Nintendo's handheld, because technically it's fairly ordinary.

There's the usual level of EA polish throughout, with crisp menu screens and licensed music tracks of the FM rock and mainstream hip hop varieties. Also typical is the standard of graphics in each match, which feature big, well-animated characters colliding and spinning convincingly. But even in this established area of strength for EA, there are signs of wear and tear.

Some of the menu screens have become bloated with the ever-expanding reams of statistical data and player information, to the point where they have become a little fiddly to negotiate using the stylus. We applaud EA for refusing to compromise on depth for this DS version, but a degree of streamlining would have been welcome.

As you'd expect, there are plenty of game modes to get your teeth into, with numerous tournaments and seasons to play, including the now-established franchise mode, which sees you taking a hands-on role in almost every aspect of your team's fortunes. It's as involving as ever and will keep dedicated fans plugging away until, oooh, about Madden NFL 2010.

Elsewhere the comprehensive multiplayer options return from the previous version, allowing up to eight players to meet over wi-fi, as well as single-card local play.

Madden NFL 09 also sees the return of the Paper Football mini-game, which involves flicking a paper triangle along a table, trying to get it as close to the end as possible without falling off. It's shove ha'penny with a few extra bangles on, and it's top fun.

Tellingly, Paper Football makes far better use of the touch controls than the main game. Perhaps sensing this, EA has added three new touch-based mini-games for Madden NFL 09, although none is anywhere near as good as Paper Football. Last Minute Miracle resembles a pitch-length rugby dash deconstructed play by play. Playbook Flash is a woefully simplistic memory game and Hit the Hole is an equally inane diversion.

Regardless of our misgivings about Madden NFL 09, if you're a die-hard Madden nut you'll no doubt lap this up, with the updated player roster being reason enough for a purchase. To you, we would say that you can rest assured everything is in place and as it should be. However, we'd have to point everyone else in the direction of Madden NFL 08, which you can pick up for a knock-down price round about now.

To end on a strained sporting metaphor, with Madden NFL 09 EA has reached fourth down having made very little progress with previous plays. Does it continue stubbornly with its solid if predictable game plan, or rip up the coaching manual and blaze a new path to the end zone of credibility? It's going to take a veritable Hail Mary to win back those of us who have become jaded by such incremental updates.
Madden NFL 09
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 11 September 2008
Playable and polished as always, Madden NFL 09 doesn't gain the franchise any yardage and fails to address some old control issues
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