Creating "Madden NFL 09" is a balancing act.
On one hand, Electronic Arts Tiburon has an army of rabid Madden-ites frothing at the mouth for the latest edition. These are hard-core fans who have stuck with the series since they were children.
They know the moves like the back of their hand. They spend more time with "Madden" than with their girlfriends.
On the other side, the develper needs to attract casual fans. This is the broad audience that occasionally games or stops playing for one reason or another. They face is an intimidating set of controls that are 20 years in the making.
With "Madden NFL 09," EA Tiburon tries to bridge the gap and please both sets of fans with its Virtual Training Center and tailored difficulty level. In this edition, the game assesses a player's ability, giving them a Madden IQ, and tries to create a suitable experience.
It's a nice touch, but the game can get still get hard as fans adjust to the new system. That's why the team also added in a Rewind function that acts as a mulligan if players make poor decisions.
These two features along with the graphics will satisfy the casual player. But hard-core "Madden" fans may find few new features. EA Tiburon brings back last year's Read and React system, which lets fans identify playmakers and change their calls based on formation.
The developer also created Franchise Rivalries, in which familiar divisional opponents are much harder to beat. There's more depth to some of the modes such as Superstar, where you create your own player, and some new ones altogether such as a Front Office mode, where you manage a stadium, staff and scouting. EA even included the option to save highlights and upload them to the Internet.
These small improvements come with an overhaul to the presentation. Helmed by Cris Collinsworth and Tom Hammond, the two call the action. Once again, "Madden NFL 09" has that broadcast feel, though the commentary can get repetitive. On the field, the addition touchdown celebration also gives the title some personality.
EA Tiburon may have finally reached its limit in introducing new gameplay features. The controls, I suspect, are complicated enough. Having satisfied the hardcore fans the past couple of years, it's great to see the developer turn their focus to the rest of us who may not live and breathe "Madden," but love it all the same.