The Madden Wii Games Are a Bizarre Part of Sports Game History
EA innovated the genre when nobody was paying attention
The Nintendo Wii was a strange console. Despite its massive financial success, third-party publishers never really knew what to do with the thing. There were a handful of titles built exclusively for the Wii that turned out great (No More Heroes and Madworld, to name a couple), but many third-party titles had to make serious compromises in order to fit on the relatively underpowered motion-control-based console. Games like Dead Rising had a port (titled Chop till You Drop) which saw serious feature removal and gameplay changes on top of a big graphical nerf from the Xbox 360 version. Some bigger-budget titles like the annual Call of Duty saw altered versions that, while staying mostly true to the original, were clearly compromised too. Then there’s this bizarre outlier category nobody ever seems to talk about. Starting in late 2008, EA Sports released Madden 09: All Play on the Wii, a completely ground-up version of the game that had little in common with Madden 09 on other consoles.
Madden had undergone a lot of changes in the years prior. 2005 saw 2k’s football title, ‘ESPN NFL 2k5’, reduce its price at launch to just $19.99, which left EA with no choice but to drop their price to $29.99. When the NFL caught wind of this, they thought the low price point could damage their license, so they offered up exclusive video game rights to the highest bidder, which happened to be Electronic Arts. In response, 2K focused its efforts on another sports and went and got exclusivity for the Major League Baseball license. Madden, now with zero competition in the space, could experiment with their titles in a way they could not when they had to worry about the competition. The result was this bizarre version of Madden that few people remember.
The whole game features this strange cartoony artstyle that was actually surprisingly ahead of its time. Games like Backyard Baseball had something similar, but did not attempt this hybrid between realistic 3D renders and bright colors seen in these Madden titles.
Mechanically, it offered the same exact features as its sister titles. Franchise Mode was still in the game, and you could still run a team the exact way you had in every prior title, but gameplay-wise they had made drastic changes. None of these games allowed you to play them the ‘classic’ way, with GameCube or Wii Classic controllers. The only way you could play was with the good old Wiimote and nunchuk.
Gameplay consisted of aiming the Wii remote to a receiver or holding the button associated with that player, and waggling the Wii remote in a certain way for a bullet or lob pass. Despite this substantial change to such a core mechanic, it felt surprisingly intuitive and hard to mess up – something even first party Wii games with waggle mechanics could not pull off. On top of this serious control change, it also allowed a second player to assist the first. With another Wiimote, another player could force defensive players to automatically hit the ground, allowing Player 1 to throw an uncontested pass or run untouched into the endzone. In any traditional sports game this would be unthinkable as a mechanic, but something about it just works here.
The Wii versions also offered modes that the 360 and PS3 versions did not. These included a 5-v-5 mode, something more recent Maddens would reintroduce around 10 years later as an online-only mode. It also allowed you to draw up plays on the fly. By using the Wiimote to draw up routes for your wide receiver, you could quickly make changes based on the opponent’s defensive setup. The 5 on 5 setting allowed for more creativity with the draw a play system than traditional 11 on 11, and served as a decent mode to introduce those not overly familiar with the rules of the game. The mode itself wasn’t particularly deep, but the ability to play through an entire season 5 on 5 showed a commitment to the mode that likely would not happen now.
Starting with Madden 10 on the Wii, a new ‘Madden Showdown’ option appeared on the main menu. This mode let you customize rules for a match, tweaking it with all kinds of modifiers like making it so that every player who is tackled now fumbled, or a game where every player on the field was running at maximum speed at all times.
This was a strange time for for EA Sports, when a sudden lack of competition meant that the mainline Madden series stopped pushing the envelope quite like it did before. But the strange technicalities of the Wii also presented an opportunity for the team working on that version to do some things differently. The Wii version would always pale in comparison if they tried making a direct port of the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, and here was a console that attracted a huge casual audience with its motion-control gimmick. So EA Sports adapted, and made a quirky Madden offshoot that not only made the most of the Wii, but also innovated aspects of the Madden series in ways that the main games didn’t.