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Madden 64

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Reviewed by Scott McCall In one of the biggest surprises in recent video game history, Electronic Arts took an about-face on Nintendo 64 development and decided to release Madden Football 64 for the system in 1997. After the extremely disappointing FIFA Soccer 64, most of the gaming community figured EA would not release another game for Nintendo's cartridge-based system until well into 1998. But Tiburon Entertainment, developer of the Madden series for EA, shocked the world, including many inside EA, by having a version of the best-selling sports series of all-time ready for the N64 in a mere six months. Acclaim originally thought it would release the first and only football game for the Nintendo 64 in 1997. However, the sudden arrival of Madden 64 surprised everyone, including Acclaim, Nintendo, EA, and hordes of gaming fans. Still, Acclaim had one major coup: exclusive rights to the NFL license on N64 football games for 1997. EA got the NFLPA license for all the real players, but the lack of an NFL license for this season meant Madden 64 could not have real team logos, nicknames, colors, or other trademarked properties. Nevertheless, even though it's slightly painful to choose "Foxboro" instead of the "New England Patriots," Madden 64's gameplay and intelligence are several touchdowns better than NFL Quarterback Club '98 -- even without the NFL license. And when Madden 99 for the N64 has the NFL license in 1998, it will be the undisputed king of N64 football games. Sorry, Acclaim (and Iguana), but better luck next time. The rest of this review will concentrate on what makes Madden 64 so great, along with some comparisons to its PlayStation counterpart. For a full-blown, hard-hitting comparison between NFL Quarterback Club '98 and Madden 64, check out my NFL Quarterback Club '98 review. Like a lot of other people out there, I was intending to purchase NFL Quarterback Club '98 since it was going to be the only football game on the N64. Even after Madden 64 was announced, I still didn't really want the game, figuring it would be a lame port from the 32-bit systems like FIFA 64. Wrong. Everything about Madden 64 just impressed me from the get-go. I had already bought Madden NFL 98 for the PlayStation not long before Madden 64 came out. So once I turned on Madden 64, the difference between the sprites of the PSX version and the polygons of the N64 version was immense. But, believe it or not, the only major difference between the two games is the graphics. That's right, if you're familiar with the 32-bit versions of Madden 98, you'll be right at home with Madden 64. Aside from the obvious graphic and controller differences, all of the menus, options and setups are the same. Oh, wait, the menus are tinted with a gray outline in the N64 version while the PSX version has a red tint, but that's about it. Nearly everything else is an exact replica from the 32-bit versions. That means you'll find all the same gameplay modes and, mostly importantly, artificial intelligence as with the other '98 versions. You can participate in an exhibition, season, custom season, tournament or fantasy draft. Game options include quarter length (3, 5, 10 or 15), skill level (rookie, pro or Madden), playing speed (blitz mode on or off), injuries, Maddenisms, commentary, fatigue, salary cap (yes/no), trading deadline (yes/no), individual penalty levels, controller setup, and much more. Let's quickly talk about the season mode. Even though Madden 64 doesn't have an NFL license, you can rest assured that all of the NFL cities are represented (with the actual players as of mid-August 1997). You can also rest assured that the division alignments and 1997 schedule are correct. And considering that a whole Controller Pak (123 pages) is required to save a season, you can rest easy knowing that tons of statistics are stored. Finally, I would like to point out that the game gives out awards over the course of a season, including a cool "Player of the Week" award (for the whole league) on offense and defense. Artificial intelligence is what makes Madden 64 and its counterparts better than any other football game on the market as of 1997. The brand new "Liquid AI," which is based on real defensive playbooks and schemes, makes the computer-controlled players (even the guys on your own team) act realistically depending on the situation. There's also the great "Touch Passing" (the ability to throw lobs or bullet passes), which is just nothing more than a marketing term, but it works better than in any other football game. The control in Madden 64 is about as good as you can get with the Nintendo 64 controller. First, though, I would like to point out something about Madden 64: it lets you use either the analog Control Stick or the digital Control Pad. This is good because a lot of casual game fans still haven't gotten fully acquainted with the Control Stick. Here are some of the specifics of the default controller scheme and button setup (all functions -- offense, defense, etc. -- are listed for the individual button): the A button snaps the ball, brings up the passing symbols, makes you explode forward, and lets you control a different player; the B button audibles and dives; Bottom C lets you do a fake snap, spin, and power tackle; Left C enables you to cancel (i.e., a formation or audible), jump, raise your hands for a high pass, call a fair catch; and Right C does a swim move on defense or a lateral when you have the ball. In addition to this, players can be put into motion with the Control Pad or Stick and there are stiff arms with the Z/L and R buttons. When all of the moves are written down, the game ends up sounding kind of complicated. In fact, the control scheme is actually more condensed and useful than QB Club's and will become second nature with several games of practice. Yet there are a few problems with the control that must be mentioned. Most of the problems can be avoided with some practice, but it would be nice to somehow fix these for the '99 edition. First of all, you'll notice that it seems to be hard to get off a pass at times when there's someone in your face. If you look closely at an instant replay, you'll see this is because the quarterback has decided to tuck the ball and take the sack. This is actually very realistic, but most people won't realize this at first. In order to avoid this, you'll just either have to roll out of the pocket or pass the ball sooner. Second, the computer automatically picks the guy closest to the ball when you press the A button to control a different player. Unfortunately, if you like to rush the passer on defense and let the computer handle the coverage, then if you press A to select a different person and if the ball is in the air, you'll find that the computer has given you someone in the secondary. You might not realize this, the defender will stop in his tracks, and the receiver will be wide open. I've had a few plays blown because of this. It doesn't happen often after you learn the buttons, but you'll just have to keep that in the back of your mind if the quarterback is about to throw the ball. Putting those minor quirks aside (which can be avoided), Madden 64's gameplay and intelligence are unsurpassed in the football realm. Yes, Liquid AI actually does work as advertised. First, running in Madden 64 is much more realistic than before. This does mean that it's difficult at first, but that's because it's realistic. Just like in the NFL, successful running requires a good offensive line, putting men in motion, and hitting the holes. In fact, even after you understand the running game, you'll still find that you cannot rush for 100 yards every game. But that doesn't mean there aren't any big runs, either. Yes, you can still occasionally bust the big one. Second, passing in Madden 64 is more realistic than before. Gone are the days when anything you put up will be caught -- well, that is, except for maybe in QB Club. In order to complete passes, you often have to hit the receiver at the correct point on a receiving route with the correct style of pass (lob, bullet, touch, bomb, etc.). Like previous Maddens, you press the hike button once to snap the ball and another time to bring up the passing icons. Almost every button on the controller can be used as a receiver, and fortunately, you can generally see them all since the screen automatically zooms out. However, be careful where you throw it, because these guys won't be catching balls many balls in double coverage, let alone triple coverage. Interceptions are handled quite realistically in Madden 64. Third, the control you have over the defense is awesome. As with other games, you can press a button to take control of the player closest to the ball. That means you can have a linebacker blitz on the outside, and if the ball is dumped away quickly, you can take control of someone else and punish the receiver. Speaking of which, Madden 64 has a great new "power tackle" button. This is a more punishing tackle that can often lead to injury. But the best part of the defense is that you can actually defense a pass play. Once the ball is up in the air, switch to a guy in the secondary (don't forget to keep him moving if need be!) and jump up to swat it down. However, just like the NFL, if there's early contact, then the pass interference flag will be thrown. In addition to all of this control you have over your guys, the computer is finally intelligent enough to help you out. When rushing the ball, you'll be able to follow a lead blocker on specially designed plays. When throwing the ball, receivers can adjust accordingly if something didn't go as designed. And when you're defending the ball, receivers will be appropriately covered or safeties will come over to help on a play. In other words, because the computer acts intelligently and realistically, you don't have to worry about high scoring games like in the past. In fact, this realism is probably why some people don't like the game -- they're not used to being made to think strategically. Despite all of the goodness that is Madden 64, I do have to mention one annoying quirk in the game. For whatever reason, you are often required to wait for the referee to place the ball or blow the whistle before you can get off a play. I suppose that's pretty realistic, but this is a video game and I feel it's not necessary to have that delay at certain points in the game. When it comes to graphics, Madden 64 runs circles around its PSX counterpart. OK, so it doesn't look as nice as QB Club's high-resolution graphics, but at least there's a variety of realistic animation. In fact, there is a significant amount of additional animation and there are more animation touches. For instance, there are one-handed catches, feet that can be dragged on the sideline, flips, reaching out and grabbing the ball, and more. The best thing about the graphics is that all of the moves are well-animated. The only knock against the animation is the lack of a wrap tackle, which will undoubtedly be in the '99 version. However, because of the lack of an NFL license, the characters are kind of plain and are almost devoid of texture mapping, but they do look very realistic and do move very quickly. As a matter of fact, one of the main reasons why Madden 64 is so great is because the game moves quickly everywhere. Also, unlike QB Club and its disproportional characters, Madden 64's players actually look like real football players -- even up close. About the only problem with the players isn't that there really aren't multiple sizes. That means you'll notice that running backs and offensive linemen often look the same. Oh yeah, just as a sidebar, thanks to the polygon-based graphics of Madden 64, there are some really, really cool touchdown celebrations that aren't in the PlayStation version. After you score a touchdown, the camera will zoom in for a close-up of the player while he does one of many different end zone celebrations. Along with the animation, the player almost always has a comment to say (unless Madden is talking). For example, he might say, "Yeah, baby, yeah!" or "It ain't over yet!" or "It's all over now!" or "You can't mess with me, baby!" As far as the aural aspects go, Madden 64 is pretty impressive -- in fact, much more so than QB Club. Where the game really shines is through the use of voice. Madden 64 not only has two announcers but a guest referee. You have Pat Summerall's unobtrusive play-by-play and John Madden's color commentary, which I personally enjoy. But there's also Red Cashion as the referee, with many different calls (along with the signal animation to go with it). Comparing Madden 64 to the PlayStation version will show that the music is surprisingly accurate (though it is now in MIDI and is now in monaural) and a majority of the voice made it in. Although there is obviously not as much commentary (there are player names and more about field position in the PSX version), I found that the N64 version had clearer voice. I should also note that some of Madden's comments differ between the N64 and PSX versions. Finally, the crowd noise is slightly better in the PSX version, but I still think both versions are lacking in that department overall. There needs to be more realism, variety, and decibel levels when it comes to the crowd. It really helps to provide a sense of immersion. In comparison to Madden 98 on the PlayStation, which, by the way, I like more than GameDay, Madden 64 more than holds its own. The lack of a 30-second loading period really is a major plus of the N64 version. If you already own the PSX version, I really doubt you would want Madden 64 as well. And if you own both systems, then you have to decide if you don't mind the load time. Personally, I like Madden 64 better than Madden 98 because of the long end zone celebrations and the lack of load time. Being a die-hard pro football fan, I can also unequivocally state that Madden 64 is much, much better than NFL Quarterback Club '98. I'll take a tenth of a point off the overall score for the lack of an NFL license, but it still beats the crap out of QB Club. If you're a football fan, you just can't do any better than Madden 64 on the Nintendo 64. Just as a final note, if you're a casual football fan who finds Madden 64 too difficult, just turn down the difficulty to "Rookie" and you'll be able to make more big plays.

Graphics: 4.0 out of 5 Sound: 3.9 out of 5 Control: 4.3 out of 5 Gameplay: 4.7 out of 5 Lastability: 4.7 out of 5 Overall: 4.5 out of 5

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