VIDEO GAME REVIEW 'Madden NFL' scores another win for '05

The game is a sure success with every new edition.
John Madden's video game football franchise is the envy of businessmen worldwide. It's an automatic monster hit every year, and gamers would happily plunk down $50 for each new edition if programmers simply updated the rosters and uniforms, and spiffed up the graphics.
There's nothing a game designer -- or movie studio, for that matter -- wouldn't give to have such a reliable money earner.
Since competition is sparse, there's no real need for vast improvement in each new "Madden" game, including the intense and brisk "Madden NFL 2005," released last week. Yet Electronic Arts' "Madden" team consistently bests its previous effort with each new edition.
Like snarling Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis on its cover, the new "Madden" football game tears its way into the backfield and slams to the turf any fears that the latest game won't surpass expectations.
Even with the improvements, it's starting to seem that "Madden" will never approach the spirited, pad-rocking intensity of the old-time "Tecmo Bowl" series on the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo. The "Tecmo Bowl" games were highly stylized and graphically poor, but they perfectly captured the spirit of all that makes the NFL lovable. The "Madden" games don't pack as much juice, but they continue to thrive as the most accurate football simulation available.
It's in the details
"Madden" wows gamers with its sheer amount of detail. Play a game at the Arizona Cardinals' Sun Devil Stadium, and you'll see the "Frank Kush Field" label on the concourse.
Little touches capture nuances you'll see on real-life football fields, such as players clutching onto opponents' jerseys. After the St. Louis Rams thrash our Arizona Cardinals 62-20 in an exhibition game, the likenesses of Rams coach Mike Martz and new Cards leader Dennis Green shake hands in the middle of the field.
The most fascinating new addition is the "hit stick," in which players can shift the right analog joystick on controllers to go for an extra-vicious smack on opposing tacklers. A warning: Using the hit stick to tackle is highly addictive -- and dangerous. If you miss, the offensive player will likely scamper off for a touchdown. Still, it's worth the risk. Once you've met the hit stick, regular tackles won't seem the same ever again.
Franchise mode
In franchise mode, players can set coaches' salaries and even decide how much they'll charge for concessions.
Another new franchise mode feature lets pretend owners listen to Tony Bruno's talk show and scan local and national newspapers for stories, to see if players are complaining about their contracts in the press.
Running commentary by "Monday Night Football" booth mates Madden and Al Michaels is thoughtful and voluminous. The announcers will question your logic when you decide to go for it on fourth down rather than punt, but if you make it, they'll praise you for your guts and wisdom. Turn the ball over on downs, though, and they'll rub it in. That's life in the NFL.
X"Madden NFL 2005." Rating: E for everyone. Publisher: Electronic Arts. Price: $49.99. Platforms: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox.

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