Last year, Madden glitzed its way onto next-gen platforms with sparkling graphics - lifelike stadiums, impeccable players models, feckless animations and solid gameplay. But the extras that current-gen users took for granted were missing. This year, that's all changed - but not for the better. The gameplay is better than ever, but the Superstar mode isn't properly executed and the minigames don't have the same oomph.
In fact, one of the game's greatest improvements spans all generations of consoles: updated rosters. Usually this wouldn't get a mention since it's a given, but every true football fan wants to see what the once-in-a-generation halfback Reggie Bush is made of. Of course there's Titans QB Vince Young, Cards QB Matt Leinart, and Broncos' QB Jay Cutler. But Bush is absolutely electric. If you saw him run the ball for USC, you know what we're talking about. He's a complete freak of nature - one that's nearly impossible to tackle. Just the chance to juke defenders into next week with Bush is worth the $60 price tag.
One of the reasons Bush, and star players running backs like him, can excel is the newfangled highlight stick which lives on the right analog. If you time it right, your player will turn into a whirling dervish of indefensible, ripping off one of forty broken tackle animations. And the moves differ depending on the back. Smaller backs like Warrick Dunn will try to evade when a tackler gloms on, while big-timers like T.J. Duckett will bring the pain by trying to crash through the would-be tackler.
Of course, no running back is worth his salt without blockers, and now you're empowered to throw blocks yourself - which is a blast. It sounds like its more work than it is fun, but pancaking linemen, cut-blocking blitzers or nullifying defenders is a treat. Still, it takes practice to avoid appalling whiffs that leave your QB exposed, and potentially decapitated.
Last year, it was a total bummer to find out that the mini-camps were missing from next-gen Madden. Not only did the mini-camps create a great 15-minute diversion, they made users better at the game. With 07, there's a chance to dig into minigames, but it's much different. Now there are only six to choose from, and two are 40-yard dash (which, after about 40 tries, we still haven't figured out), and bench press, and you're forced to play them in order to improve your skills in career mode. No thanks.
The rest of the games make you play both sides of the ball: start as a QB, the play as a d-back against the oppositions DB, start as a running back, then defend as a linebacker. It's just not thrilling. The best is playing as a lead blocker, it's addictive. Too bad we have to tackle, too. The goal now is snaring points to up your Madden Gamer Level. But it doesn't let gamers focus on the part of my game that needs work, it splits it up. Again, no thanks.
Last year's 360 Madden was super-slim when it came to a feature set. This year improves with a few new play modes (though there's still no owner mode), but the big selling point, Superstar mode, is pretty much a super bust. It's cool in theory; your ultimate goal is to take your created player into the Hall of Fame. But no matter what position you play, the on-field camera makes everything so claustrophobic that your chance of success is way too low, except maybe if you play the running back position (smartly, the current-gen Superstar camera isn't in so tight). Madden 's already frantic and fast-paced enough for even hardcore users - now there's the disadvantage of a camera being glued to your player's helmet. It's disappointing, too, because all of the other factors of the mode - coach calls the plays, the influence meter, the chance to play roles like Franchise Quarterback or Captain Comeback - are great. It's a bummer that the camera sucks so much joy from the gameplay.
When it comes down to it, next-gen Madden doesn't quite live up to standard set by current-gen. The game looks the part, but pieces of it just aren't right. The presentation, for instance, is beautiful, but baffling (the play selection menus are downright terrible). It'll get the starting job eventually, but Madden next-gen, like Bills second-year QB J.P. Losman, still has to bow to the veterans.