Madden gets a Wii facelift in both graphics and gameplay, as this year's edition separates itself from the rest of the pack.
Since the success of the Wii, EA has tried to make the Wii version of Madden its own entity that appeals to a broader market and sets itself apart from the HD versions. They made large steps last year with the All-Play label, but this year they have finally done it. Madden NFL 10 for Wii focuses on arcade-like gameplay with new multiplayer-focused modes and an exaggerated, cartoony art style. It's a giant leap over its predecessor in most respects, but unfortunately stagnant in others.
There are some small control tweaks in the game that fix the issues in Madden '09. First off, the passing system is completely redone. Instead of holding down a button and gesturing with the Wii Remote, which had many flaws, now all you have to do is point at a receiver and press the A button. It's a bit jarring at first, but after you get used to it, it becomes easy to use. On the whole, there are fewer gestures than there were in past games; most controls are now mapped to buttons.
There are some other small changes as well. Almost every part of the game is controlled by the pointer. This doesn't improve the experience radically, but it is nice to see the pointer put to good use. The Call Your Shots option, which previously allowed you to change your receiver's routes before the snap, now also extends to defense. It allows you to easily switch a defender to a zone, man-to-man, or blitz defense. Also, the 5-on-5 game that was introduced last year plays a bigger role in this year's edition, as you can choose between that and regular 11-on-11 in almost every mode. The two game styles complement each other well, as one is more of an arcade game and the other is more realistic.
However, in one of the new modes, Madden Showdown, both styles can be made absurd and unrealistic. Showdown is a one-to-four player tournament where you play shorter games and can unleash multiple changes that make the game unpredictable and crazy. These Game Changers range from "fumbilitis", where every hit causes a fumble, to invisibility, where players randomly go invisible. You can turn any number of them on at the start of the mode, and it is a nice change of pace from regular games.
Surprisingly, tournaments in Madden Showdown aren't won by just winning games; instead you need to accrue the most Showdown Points. Everyone starts off with the same amount, and then you bet on who will win each game, and other predictions such as "who will score first?" or "who will get more sacks?" It makes each game a little more interesting, even if you're not playing in it. Still, if you win games in this mode, you're most likely going to get the most Showdown Points, so there is plenty of skill required.
The other big new mode is Road to the Super Bowl, which is the opposite of Madden Showdown. In this mode, you choose a team and try to take them to the Super Bowl, with up to four people playing for the same team simultaneously. The goal of the game is similar to Madden Showdown, as you try to gain as many points as you can, although there are no predictions. The points accumulate throughout the entire year for every player, and there is a leader board for the highest scores. If you do poorly in a game, you'll get benched and the computer will take over for your player, or the entire team if you're playing alone. This mode boils down to little more than a standard Season mode, but the fun multiplayer mechanic gives it legs.
One really cool addition to the game is the Huddle Up cooperative mode, which can only be used in Exhibition. In this mode, one player plays normally while the other uses the pointer à la Super Mario Galaxy's Co-Star Mode and knocks down opponents during play. You can choose between two degrees of this feature: Unlimited, which lets you knock down opponents as much as you want, or Regular, which grants you three knock downs a play. It's almost like you're playing House of the Dead, but instead of shooting zombies, you're knocking down big football players. What makes this mode even more fun is playing two-on-two, with each team having one player knocking down opponents. This is a small feature, but there is a wealth of fun to be had, both between kids and their parents, and for people like my friends and me.
Online play is once again present, and it remains largely unchanged from last year. You can play single games online with little to no lag. If you're a longtime fan of Madden, you might have noticed that Franchise mode hasn't been mentioned yet. That's because the Franchise, Superstar, and Situation modes can only be unlocked by a code that EA Sports will give out shortly after launch. These modes are all pretty much unchanged and feature none of the new pointer controls every other menu has.
Aside from that glaring miscue, Madden NFL 10 is a fantastic multiplayer game with fun new modes, refined controls, and simplified gameplay. You can compete in Madden Showdown mode, cooperate in Road to the Super Bowl, and terrorize in the Huddle Up mode. While you're still playing a regular old game of football, the variety of ways that you can play that game is grand and makes this a terrific title for casual football fans of any age.