'Madden 09': Scouting report
It's August, which means millions of football fans across the country are happily immersed in the latest version of EA's bestselling sports franchise -- and with good reason. Plus: The delightfully strange pleasures of ''PixelJunk Eden''
MADDEN NFL 09
(EA, multi-platform, Everyone)
So, here’s the thing that everyone buying this game already knows (because we’ve been down this road before): This is pretty much the same Madden you’ve been playing over the past six or seven years. The control scheme remains unchanged; the mechanics of running, passing, blocking, and tackling remain, for the most part, untouched. In other words, if you last played Madden NFL 05, you’ll have no problem playing Madden NFL 09.
That said, there are some real upgrades and enhancements in the latest iteration of this bestselling gridiron franchise. In the 20 years since Madden‘s debut, EA has mastered the art of incremental innovation. In this go-round, the most wide-ranging new feature is called Madden IQ: Before playing your first game, you go through a set of drills — testing your proficiency at Run Offense, Run Defense, Pass Offense, and Pass Defense — and the game sets your difficulty level based on your results. (Yes, you could simply set the Rookie, Pro, All-Pro, or All-Madden yourself, but then you’d miss out on the crazy, Tron-like virtual exercises.) The AI constantly adjusts as you play the game, preventing players from raining bombs or running all over their hapless CPU opponents.
The other major tweak is a Rewind feature, which plays like a mulligan in golf. If, for example, you run a play that ends in a game-detonating disaster, you can press the X button and watch the play literally rewind back to the line of scrimmage, right before the snap. Now you can run the same play again, call an audible and change it up, or signal a time-out to collect yourself. (Players can decide how many Rewinds are available per game.) Sure, it’s a gimmick, but it’s nice to be able to take back that one crappy throw that resulted in an interception and six the other way.
The game, as always, is full of next-gen visual goodness, though there’s something a wee bit claustrophobic about the field view: the players seem larger than they should — maybe some understandably proud programmers wanted to better show off their digital creations? — which makes for a sometimes crowded screen.
And, of course, the game shipped before Brett Favre signed with the Jets and Jeremy Shockey got traded to the Saints — maybe those team reassignments will get corrected in a download — but you can’t hold that against the good boys and girls at EA. As usual, they’ve delivered a solid game that’ll delight the Madden faithful, who’ll be playing long after the season’s over…and the Giants repeat. Hey, a fella can dream the impossible dream, right? It worked last year. A- —Marc Bernardin
(SCEA, PS3, Everyone)
Whether it’s the episodic release schedule of horror game Siren: Blood Curse or short-session games like the perception-based architectural puzzler Echochrome, Sony seems to be treating the PS3’s Playstation Network as a Petri dish for digital distribution and experimental titles. In keeping with that mission, PixelJunk Eden splices the WTF? mystery and simple controls of old-school arcade games with their penchant for post-modern deconstruction. In this Day-Glo platformer-puzzle hybrid, insectoid creatures called Grimps collect Spectra, fusions of light and sound that makes the Grimps’ gardens flourish. Grimps cling, jump, and spin on strands of silk throughout the abstractly organic levels, collecting pollen to grow plants that help them reach otherwise inaccessible areas where the Spectra dwell. The result is a game that’s easy to play yet unabashedly artsy. It’s not perfect, though. Putting a time limit on each level is an annoyance that doesn’t enhance gameplay, especially since the expansive levels can be hard to navigate. Still, PixelJunk Eden generates a greater sense of wonder and discovery than most other games manage these days — all for a modest $10. B+ —Evan Narcisse