- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 5, 2009

Here’s an abbreviated look at some multimedia titles for the football fan in the family.

Madden NFL 10 (from Electronic Arts for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, $59.99) — Another professional football season means another version of what is arguably the slickest and most complex sports simulation on the market.

First, I report this every year, so let’s get it out of the way: This is the best-looking Madden game ever. No, really.

Players get refs moving chains, fans loitering outside the stadium, coaches shaking hands, painfully extended gang tackles Dick Butkus would appreciate, deeper player emotions and even animated towels tethered to the quarterback.

It’s a beauty to behold, but a challenging and frustrating chore for the average gamer.

It could be my age or just general ineptitude — I can program a VCR and know what DVR stands for, but trying to focus on 11 virtual individuals, call the right play, and get a running back to gain yards or my field general to duck a blitz still will take months of finger-cramping practice.

I can’t, however, completely dismiss the game as too difficult, even with my travails. In fact, it’s simple enough for a 10-year-old barely versed in the subtle nuances of football to consistently beat this veteran armchair quarterback.

Now, how about for the guys who live on the virtual gridiron. Well, they get a brutally deep, time-consuming lifestyle choice.

An online Franchise mode leads the charge with up to 32 players taking part in a decade’s worth of NFL seasons prefaced with live drafts. They have full micromanagement of depth charts, trades and league message boards, and can even handle them remotely through a computer’s browser or an iPhone application.

Additionally, a solo player can create a Superstar and work through his entire career, while an online cooperative mode really spreads out the NFL cheer for a pair of friends to appreciate the game around the globe.

Down on the field, the action never lets up, be it calling defensive line audibles every play, fighting for a fumble at the bottom of the pile, arguing a call or deciding whether to bring an injured player back into the huddle.

Clearly, the NFL fanatic has plenty of reasons to never leave his entertainment room.

• Luckily for mom, 7-year-olds and me, the Saturday-morning cartoon version of Madden NFL 10 ($49.99) is out for the Wii. Starring colorful, exaggerated versions of the league’s best, the action is completely accessible to even the youngest family member able to manipulate a Wiimote and Nunchuk.

That’s mainly because of a combination of wonderfully basic controls, down to a flick and button push; easy play selection; and a five-vs.-five team option. Yes, 11-player teams still can be used, but life is so much easier with just a quintet.

At its least stressful, move the Wiimote to swat at a ball, drum it to break a tackle or use the controller as a cursor to pass to a wide receiver or quickly target a quarterback to sack.

This Wii Madden works hard to excel at the social aspect of casual gaming. Huddle Up mode is perfect for dad and a child just learning about football. The lead player manages the action while the other can effectively act as a sniping deity as he targets and trips opposing team members, knocking them out of the action.

Furthermore, in Road to the Superbowl, up to four players can jump in at any time to work together in a full season while accumulating critical points. The points are important because if a comrade stinks, he gets benched and others must spend their points — or perform a big play — to get him back on the field.

At moments, the challenges are not really football but simply a party game demonstrated through minicamp competitions and more in Madden Showdown. In this mode, players bet on each other and take part in activities in which fumble-itis is rampant, players on the field become invisible and action can go at super speed.

Thankfully, the basic joy of the sport overtakes strategic depth in the latest Wii Madden, and it’s well worth the adventure.

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