By Lou Kesten
Many features are geared toward helping the novice.
When Electronic Arts announced the retired Brett Favre as its 20th anniversary cover boy, it looked like the notorious “Madden” curse — which had mangled the careers of Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb and Shaun Alexander — was finally broken.
But when Favre decided to play again and was traded from the Packers to the New York Jets, it looked like the Curse simply reversed onto EA itself.
By the time the dust had settled, “Madden” (EA Sports, for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, $59.99; Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, $39.99; Nintendo DS, $29.99), the mega-selling footballvideo-game franchise’s latest installment was too far into production to switch Favre’s wardrobe. You’ll be able to download rosters that feature Favre as Jets quarterback, and Gang Green diehards will be able to download a fresh “Madden” cover that puts the superstar in a New York uniform.
But all this chaos has distracted EA Sports from promoting “Madden 09” the way it would like: as the 20th anniversary edition of the longest-running franchise in sports video games. EA has always delivered new features in each installment, but this year it’s going long, stuffing nearly a dozen fresh game modes and gimmicks into the package. (I reviewed the Xbox 360 version; your mileage on other consoles may vary.)
One of the problems in a series with so much history is that it can be somewhat daunting to a newcomer. Many of the new features in “Madden 09” are geared toward helping the novice. For example, play selection can be as simple or as deep as you want it. 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 like Z slant wide corner or double Z LB spy.
You start off with the Madden Test, which gauges your skill in passing, running, pass defense and run defense, then adjusts the game’s difficulty to your strengths and weaknesses. 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, a holodeck-like gridiron, and bone up on the necessary skills. I’m hoping all this will put a stop to the 56-7 blowouts my brother’s been inflicting on me for the last 10 years.
A few more in-game features let you learn from your mistakes. Instead of kicking yourself over that end zone interception, you can hit the Rewind button and try the play again. Or you can watch a Backtrack video, in which the game shows you how you could have salvaged a botched play. “Madden 09” also does a great job with onscreen menus that provide a helpful guide to all your options.
This game rates three out of four stars.