When the first wave of Wii titles was announced, most of the staff at eToychest had pretty strong opinions about which titles were most likely to take good advantage of the Wii’s unique controller. Of the titles on the horizon, there were a particular few that seemed well-positioned to really capitalize upon motion-based input and experimental mechanics. EA’s Madden franchise was not one of the titles on this short list. If anything, most of us at eToychest were pretty convinced that football was not one of the genres in need of wacky control schemes. The annual sports arena might be one where innovation is sorely needed, but migration from a standard gamepad honestly didn’t seem like a worthwhile direction. Now, having played copious amounts of the new Madden on the Nintendo Wii, we’re happily willing to admit we were wrong. While EA’s strong initial support of the new Wii console is both surprising and comforting, the presence of Madden on the console is not a big shock. The series has made annual appearances on nearly every platform known to man, so an entry on the Wii was pretty much guaranteed from the start. That didn’t reduce our pleasure at booting up the game and taking it for its first spin around the block, however. With all of the innovation and experimentation the Wii has seen in its initial days, it was nice to dig into a traditional game of football from a publisher that knows how to turn out a solid game. In many ways, Madden on the Wii is identical to last year’s batch of games in the series, with the various modes (such as franchise and superstar), teams and players largely untouched aside from minor updates. On the other hand, while the Wii version of Madden ’07 may initially seem like the same old game of football (a prospect oddly comforting yet frequently criticized), the control innovations introduced in the game really set it apart from all that’s come before.
The first thing players will notice in Madden ’07 on the Wii is that the game has been retooled from the ground up to help new players come to grips with videogame football. The Wii is likely to draw a lot of new gamers to the hobby for the first time, so this is a pretty saavy decision on EA’s part. Tutorials are peppered throughout the game itself, giving detailed assistance with each and every action available, and there are also numerous training camps accessible from the main menu that give detailed instructions and tips on how to play the game. The really clever part of this strategy is that it will make it easy for a new segment of gamers to fall in love with EA’s digital pigskin franchise, but it won’t overtly annoy veteran players (as similar tutorials on other platforms might). This is because the Wii offers completely new ways to play and interact with the game, so even the experienced players will find something to learn in the various lessons.
But, can motion control and gesture recognition lead to a solid game of football? In short, absolutely. We’re pretty shocked to say this, but this type of interaction might be just what the stagnating sports genre really needed to get a bit of boost. Madden ’07 on the Wii has translated nearly every action required in football to some type of gesture or specific motion on the Wii remote and nunchuck combination, and the results are more than surprising. Players can now juke left and right by simply flicking the nunchuck slightly in that direction. Passing is handled by selecting the appropriate receiver with the d-pad and then making a throwing motion with the Wii remote (complete with impressive detection of different throwing speeds). Tackling can be boosted by pushing forward with both remotes, and crowds are likely to get a kick out of watching players lift both arms in the air to catch a Hail Mary pass. This is exactly the kind of extensive overhaul we were afraid of when we imagined a Wii football game, but the developer has actually pulled off most of the interactions with grace and style. The offensive game is now much easier to manage with fluid and very responsive players (we’ve never been able to juke and duck between defensive players with this much success), and outside of a few questionable tasksA