Welcome to the NFL, John
By all accounts Madden 64 was a disappointment of epic proportions. True, Madden is the most cherished video football franchise there is, and yes, its debut on the N64 was not a terrible game — it was even polygonal (something PlayStation owners drooled over). If you’ll remember correctly, however, Madden 64 was missing the one thing that makes or breaks sports video games: an official license. After all, a football game without an NFL license is like non-alcoholic beer–it just doesn’t do the trick.
Not only that, Madden 64 was all but outshined graphically by Acclaim’s stunning NFL Quarterback Club. That said, it’s time to rejoice, boys and girls, because Madden 99 is here for the N64. And yes, it’s even got an NFL license.
With a few exceptions, Madden 99 is the same game as its PlayStation counterpart; EA used the same motion captures, the same modes and teams, and both share the same menu system (the PC version also utilizes all these same goodies). Because of the cartridge format, the N64 game has none of the FMV sequences that the PlayStation game has, and the commentary has been stripped down a bit (more on that in a second). As expected, however, the N64 version’s graphics are much more spectacular.
I mean, these graphics are pee-in-your-pants good (Uh…no comment?…uh…- Ed. ). Try using the replay mode and you’ll see just how detailed these guys are; you can even see their ugly-ass faces peering out from underneath their face masks. What about animations you say? How’s 250 new animations rendered using real NFL players? You’ll see tackles that actually reflect body position — if Jerry Rice gets hit while jumping to catch a high pass, the DB will take out his legs and flip him end over end (just watch that ACL damnit!). Easily the best tackling I’ve ever seen on a home system, period.
And oh baby are they smooth as silk — you’re not going to see any slowdown, and all the animations flow together seamlessly. Get this – Madden ’99 even works well with the N64 controller. Although the yellow arrow passing symbols get a bit confusing every once in a while, you’ll be juking (a new move this year), spinning, straight-arming, swimming, and (whew!) hurdling in no time. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to highstep into the end zone — it’ll drive your buddies nuts.
That is, if you can make it to the end zone. With all its bells and whistles, Madden ’99 also features a cutting edge Artificial Intelligence system. I recently played a game with San Francisco in Atlanta, and the bastards ran the clock down on me. They even ran the ‘QB kneel’ in the fourth quarter ’cause they knew I was out of timeouts. Of course, the computer still makes a few lame mistakes. Atlanta also tried to run up the middle on 3rd and 22. You won’t see this kind of stuff very often, though, especially when playing in the All-Pro or Madden modes.
One of the givens when you’re talking about the Madden series is complete and total overkill when it comes to options, and Madden ’99 is no exception. This game has modes up the yin-yang. In addition to old staples like exhibition, season, and tournament modes, you can also try your hand at the brand-spankin’ new practice, franchise, and fantasy draft modes, as well as the easy-to use play editor. My guess is that most of you out there aren’t really interested in running drills, so you might as well not even waste your time with the practice mode (although the practice field warrants a quick look-see). The fantasy draft and franchise modes, however, both allow you to build a powerhouse NFL squad from the ground up. They literally thought of everything here folks, from signing free-agents in the pre-season to recruiting blue chips from college. And if you’ve always dreamed of being the Bronco’s next offensive coordinator, the play editor will get you one step closer. I’m still trying to figure out how to get my team to do a triple reverse, though.
Now forgive me, dear reader, ’cause it’s time for me to moan. One place that EA has never failed is in the sound department, but Madden ’99 is proof that you can’t take anything for granted. The sound in Madden ’99 is inordinately bad. And to tell you the truth, I may not have this complaint had I not played the PlayStation version.
First and foremost, there’s practically no commentary. You’ll hear John Madden and Pat Summerall maybe once every three plays, and even then it’s Pat saying something cheesy like “That got him for a big loss.” Yes, EA added “Star Talk” commentary (a feature that has Madden giving player-specific information whenever a guy is having a good game) to the PlayStation game because it’s on a CD, but give me a break here guys. As far as the hits and crowd noise go, it’s all treble with no bass whatsoever–and bass is what football hits are made of. All the sound effects are the same as the PlayStation version, and while they’re inherently good, they’re just terribly reproduced. Imagine filtered-sound effects from Madden ’95 on the Genesis, and you get the idea. There just isn’t any excuse for crappy sound when you’re talking about a second generation 64-bit game.
So when you’re strutting your stuff down that Toys R’ Us aisle this weekend and Madden ’99 catches your eye, by all means, pick that puppy up and throw it in the cart next to Molly’s new Easy Bake Oven. This, folks, is a fantastic game, and the best pigskin available for the N64, bar none. Just keep that mute button handy.