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Scene, Sunday, August 26, 2007

Wii version of the game makes it more accessible for players

“Madden NFL” evokes one of two responses from gamers: fight or flight.

Some reserve a copy well in advance of each year’s release to ensure they can join the gridiron battle on the first day. Others flee from the game’s complex jumble of play-calling screens and its button-mashing control scheme.

This year, EA Sports’ “Madden NFL 08” for Nintendo’s Wii might convince some gamers to quit running away.

EA has created a two-tired game for the Wii. It offers an option that incorporates the complexity that “Madden” addicts love, while adding a Wii flair. It also includes a stripped-down Family Play option that’s more forgiving of newbies.

In both options, some of the basic gestures for the motion-sensitive controller are the same. The center snaps the ball with a quick jerk of the Wii remote and the quarterback passes with a flick forward. However, advanced play allows more control of where players go and what they do. It uses both the Wii remote and the nunchuck attachment. In Family Play, the players’ paths are controlled by the console and their actions are limited. It uses only the Wii remote.

In addition, the play-calling possibilities are dramatically reduced in Family Play. In both modes, gamers are given a list of basic options and then a secondary list of specific plays. Where the advanced mode offers a host of basic options, Family Play offers only “Run,” “Pass,” “Deep Pass” and “Punt/Kick.” Of course if you need more than that, you should play in the advanced mode.

In head-to-head play, opposing gamers can play in different modes, but they end up using the advanced play-calling screens.

The idea behind Family Play is to draw in new gamers — or at least those who are new to “Madden,” which has been the video-football Goliath for 18 years. In fact, the tutorial even aims at those who don’t know much about football. Its “Football 101” section offers such tidbits as: “The main objective to any NFL game is to outscore the opponent while holding them to as few points as possible.”

Family Play provides a solid and fun introduction to the game and will probably be sufficient for many casual gamers. However, I suspect that anyone with much interest in football will quickly graduate to the advanced option.

Playing with the motion-sensitive controls in “Madden” isn’t quite like “Wii Sports,” or even “Tiger Woods PGA Tour,” where the motions closely mimic those used in real sports.

My previous experience with Wii games prompted me to move the remote like it was a ball in the hands of a real quarterback taking a snap and hurling a pass downfield. However, that was a little too much motion for the Wii, which kept launching my ball into the backs of my linemen. I then realized that smaller is better. A tight, sharp jerk upward is all that’s need for the snap and a subtle flick forward is all that’s need for a pass. However, getting animated is just fine on defense, where a satisfying shove lands a solid tackle.

The controller’s over-sensitivity sometimes popped in other areas — usually in Family Play mode. The gremlins occasionally selected my plays for me and, in one incredibly frustrating instance, declined a penalty that would have given me possession of the ball just short of the end zone.

The graphics are solid, but much less impressive than those rendered in the Xbox 360 version — where player movements are fluid and realistic and stadiums are active and vibrant.

In addition to the standard NFL game simulation, “Madden” offers several other modes of play. A party mode includes mini-games, such as two-on-two play, and a trivia contest. Franchise mode allows you to draft players, set a roster and call the plays during games. NFL Superstar mode allows you to simulate the career of an individual player — conducting interviews, practicing and running plays called by the coach.

“Madden” is also among the few Wii games that permit online play. During the first week after its release, the network seemed to be packed with players.

The game also offers some interesting innovations. For example, it incorporates “read and react” icons that indicate which players present the biggest threat on the field. This feature — which is also available in the next-generation versions of the game — allows gamers to key on certain players or set up a mismatch that will overwhelm an opponent. A feature that’s unique to the Wii is the telestrator, which allows gamers to diagram what happened in the previous play — and brag about their incredible coaching and playing abilities.

Something else that Wii offers is John Madden himself. On the Xbox 360, the former coach’s color commentary is replaced by play-by-play analysis from an announcer from “EA Radio.”

With that, you have to ask yourself which console offers the real Madden experience.

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