At 20, Madden Scores Again

The high-definition graphics of Madden 09 are outstanding.
The high-definition graphics of Madden 09 are outstanding. (Associated Press)
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Friday, August 22, 2008

When Electronic Arts announced the retired Brett Favre as its cover boy for Madden 09, it looked like the notorious "Madden" curse (which had mangled the careers of Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and other NFL stars) was finally broken.

But when Favre decided to play again and was traded from the Green Bay Packers to the New York Jets, it looked like the curse had simply jumped onto EA itself.

By the time the dust had settled, Madden 09, the latest installment in the mega-selling football video game, was too far into production to switch Favre's wardrobe. Don't get too worked up, though: You can download rosters that feature Favre as Jets quarterback while Gang Green die-hards can even get a fresh "Madden" cover that puts the superstar in his new uniform.

All this chaos has distracted EA from promoting Madden 09 the way it would like: as the 20th-anniversary edition of the longest-running franchise in sports video games. EA is stuffing nearly a dozen fresh game modes and gimmicks into the package.

At the easiest level, the computer will select your plays for you. Later on, you can arrange your playbook by play type (power run, quick pass) rather than by sometimes confusing formations, such as Z slant wide corner or double Z LB spy.

Each time you play a game, your skill level is adjusted according to your performance. If you're particularly weak in one area, you can go to the Virtual Trainer and bone up on the necessary skills.

A few more features let you learn from your mistakes. Instead of kicking yourself over that end zone interception, you can hit the rewind button and try again. Or you can watch a backtrack video to see how you could have salvaged a botched play.

The Franchise mode, where you lead a team through one season or more, has nice upgrades as well. In games against division rivals, the pressure is ratcheted up and everything becomes more difficult, as it does in the playoffs and Super Bowl. For the truly hard-core, the Front Office mode lets you take charge of every aspect of your organization, from salaries to scouting.

Also new: Online Leagues, which allow up to 32 competitors to draft and trade players and play any games on the schedule in any order they like.

Finally, there are Madden Moments, in which you can try to duplicate some of the most memorable events from the 2007-08 NFL season.

Madden 09's Superstar mode, in which you can build your own career from pre-draft workouts to Hall of Fame induction, is one of the most addictive challenges in any sports game.

As you'd expect, it looks better than its predecessors, with high-definition graphics that come awfully close to the level of a network broadcast. The audio has undergone the most jarring change: Al Michaels is gone, and John Madden himself has been demoted to the halftime show and the training levels. Their replacements, the bland Tom Hammond and the insufferable Cris Collinsworth, are poor substitutes.

The postgame recap: If you're a longtime Madden fan, you don't need me to tell you to buy this. If you're a newcomer, now is a good time to give it a fresh look.

-- Lou Kesten, Associated Press

Madden 09 Everyone; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 ($59.99); Wii ($49.99); PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable ($39.99); Nintendo DS ($29.99) EA Sports

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