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Nintendo Wii Review: Madden 11

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(editor’s note: a review of the Xbox 360 version is available here)

The Nintendo Wii, as we all know, cannot compete, graphically speaking, with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.  As we have been told plenty of times, Nintendo’s idea was to create a more fun experience for everyone; to create a system where everyone could simply pick up a controller and play.  While I don’t believe it has been a successful endeavor in every genre across the board, almost without exception I would rather play a sports game on my Wii than on any other system.  The Wii, with its motion-based play is able to approximate sports moves exceedingly well, which adds a little bit extra to my enjoyment level.

With the Madden franchise over the past few years, EA Tiburon has made a very overt decision to not have the Wii edition of the game remotely attempt to look like the PS3 or 360 editions.  The graphics on the Wii version are exceedingly cartoonish and with very exaggerated features.  It feels like a choice made to remove the ability to compare the Wii edition with the others rather than an attempt to play to the Wii’s strengths and circumvent its weaknesses.  The graphics look good for the Wii, but are definitely not the game’s strong suit.

While online play, mini-games, Madden Showdown, Huddle Up, and Road to the Super Bowl all return as modes this year, the heart and soul of Madden – and one place where this year’s version is quite good (and revamped) – is in the Franchise mode.  It is here where any serious player of the game will spend the majority of their time – building a franchise, playing week to week, and seeing the dollars and trophies roll on in through the years.  Very importantly, and unlike last year’s version of the game, you do not have to unlock the Franchise mode by doing other things in the game first – Franchise mode is placed front and center just like it ought to be.

The new Franchise mode now provides you and your chosen team with a campus and several advisors to tell you about the different aspects of the franchise (fans, money, team, and an assistant to keep the advisors out of your hair).  Each advisor sets a goal at the beginning of the season (have such-and-such a record by year’s end, have “x” number of fans visit the stadium, net “y” dollars).  You won’t instantly lose the franchise mode if you don’t hit your advisors goals, but your campus gets prettier if you make them and you won’t risk getting fired.  The game also tracks your long term progress in the mode with the goal of creating the best franchise of all time. 

Your campus consists of four separate areas.  First, there is the stadium, where the games take place and you can check the standings and schedule.  Next, there is the hall of fame, which allows you to view the expectations, check your legacy score (which is how you know where you stack up all-time), and look at your awards and the upcoming Pro Bowl.  Third up is the front office, which as the name suggests allows you to make all your front office roster, franchise, and gameplay settings decisions.  Lastly, there is the practice facility where you can try out plays and players and tweak your playbook and philosophy.

One of the main innovations you’ll see this year outside of the Franchise mode – and certainly the most loudly proclaimed one – is “GameFlow.”  GameFlow is a system of situational playcalling wherein you can either have the game call a play for you or choose from an extremely pared down selection of runs, short passes, long passes, and special teams plays (four of each).  The selection can be tweaked prior to the game and certainly ought to be as not doing so can lead to downs where all four of the runs you are allowed to choose from are variations on the draw, a terribly frustrating experience if you and your back are more fans of the outside. 

Essentially, GameFlow is like an expanded version of the old “Ask Madden.”  It works, and you’re not limited to using it (see below).  All in all, it feels like a good tweak to the old system, and the fact that with some work it is customizable really helps.  The two biggest issues with it being turned on is that your playbook is instantly cut back even if you don’t choose to go with the auto-call and that if you take too long to select whether you want the GameFlow play or to call your own, the choice is made for you (GameFlow it is).

Conventional playcalling (as well as a simplified arcade playcalling setup) is still available as well, although it doesn’t seem to be possible in conventional mode to set the menu to allow you to choose from various run and pass categories as opposed to having to choose from different formations.  Switching from one formation to another can rapidly deplete the play clock and be frustrating if you’re the kind of player who thinks “well, I know I want to run the ball, but what kind of run do I want.”

Gameplay itself unfolds exactly as you would expect from Madden on the Wii.  You can again opt to go with either simplified, arcade, controls or the expanded, conventional, ones and within those selections you can choose to either pass by pointing at the receiver and throwing or the more traditional method of selecting a receiver via one of the buttons and then throwing.  The graphics are little bit improved from last year and there are updated stadiums and uniforms. 

Whether or not the cartoony look that EA Tiburon has gone for the past couple of seasons works for you individually and whether you prefer a traditional controller setup and better graphics or not, the basic problem with Madden NFL 11 on the Nintendo Wii is that it feels almost unfinished.  Some menus require that you point with your Wii Remote and click, others give you the choice of using the D-pad or pointing, and still others only allow for the D-pad to be used.  Scrolling left-to-right to see a player’s or a team’s stats can be exceptionally frustrating depending on how large your TV is and how far you are from it. 

Beyond the controlling of movement in the menus though, the in-game experience is just a little lacking as well.  The biggest of these issues lies in the all-too-often occasion when you’ll swear that you swung your arm up in the exactly correct fashion to give a decent if not spectacular kick, but the game will merely register your pushing of the button to initiate the kick and no swing (which provides force to the kick) whatsoever.

There are also issues in terms of playcalling.  If, while on offense, you see the defense come to the line and you decide to flip the play or call an audible, odds are you’ll hit button to make the change too soon and all the choices will be grayed out.  Close the menu and then return and all the choices will be accessible, but you’ll have wasted a few seconds on the play clock waiting for the game to catch up to you and that should never happen.  If you can see the defense and your players are, or nearly are, set you should be able to audible.

As another example, the net that catches field goals rises beautifully before an attempt, but it magically disappears after the attempt every single time.  If you are going to go to the trouble of making the net go up instead of just being there after selecting to go for a field goal why not have it go down as well?    

Additionally, there are a coupling of niggling problems with the commentary, delivered this year by Gus Johnson and Chris Collinsworth.  While we all know to expect a great deal of repeated phrases from our play-by-play and color commentators, Collinsworth suggesting that a 21 point lead is a “one-score game” is – if my understanding of how points are scored in football is in any way reality-based – ludicrous.  That’s certainly not Collinsworth’s fault, but it makes you hate him just a little bit when you have the game well in hand and he’s jabbering on about how the computer can catch up by scoring some magical 21 point play.

These issues are all, on the whole, small things and the exact same sort of problem we’ve gotten used to seeing in Madden over the years.  However, that does not make them less distressing. 

GameFlow is the sort of addition that fans of the series will debate endlessly, and makes for a perfect selling point for the game (“this year we’ve completely revamped the way playcalling takes place!”).  I, however, think that the game of football that Madden puts out on a yearly basis is a ton of fun and don’t need to be convinced to buy the new version so I can get whatever difference they’re putting forward from year to year.  Some of the changes are good and some of them are less than good, but I what I want is for it feel finished, to feel polished.  Rather than including tons of new animations for different things (and they did this year), fix the animations that are currently there (or not there, like the magical disappearing net).  The new animations look good, but they only make the problems with the old ones more glaring.

All of that being said, I still would probably buy this year’s version over last year’s.  The facelift Franchise mode has been given is fun, much like the rest of the game allowing for depth for those who want it and letting those who simply want to play season after season do that too (the advisors are largely ignorable if you win your games).  GameFlow isn’t perfect, you do need to spend time customizing your play choices if you want to really use it successfully which kind of goes against the accessibility thing EA promotes.  However, I look forward to seeing how it gets tweaked down the line, it isn’t great, but it hints at possible greatness in the future. 

Madden is the football videogame, it has been for years and still is.  The choices players have may be expanding with some new NFL- and NCAA-based titles, but Madden is not just the granddaddy of them all, it can still hang with the kids.

Madden 11 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PS2, PS3, PSP, Xbox 360 and Mobile Phone.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • Doyle Hayes

    why no build your own franchise mode for the w11

  • a

    How do you make your own gameflow gameplan?

  • Zach

    Can you edit players of rosters during franchise? Say I want to have an actual Andrew Luck on my team but I wait till The year he is actually drafted.

    • blek

      nope