In 2004 I whim-purchased NFL 2K5, Sega’s last iteration of tremendous football gaming before EA acquired the sole rights for NFL players and franchises. The game was about $20 or something ridiculous. I’d never really been into football before but it didn’t take long for me to get hooked. I played a few full seasons and really enjoyed that the game did things like take you to Chris Berman’s (who is insane, I think) half-time show with updates and highlights from around the league during halftime. It was immersive and well done. The graphics were incredible.
A year later, since I couldn’t get my 2K fix (thanks EA, monopolies sure are great aren’t they?), I picked up my very first Madden game. It didn’t take long before I understood why the dime defensive formation was superior for stopping passing plays or that quarterbacks threw the ball out of bounds intentionally sometimes to stop the clock. I actually started watching football. Sunday became “game day.” I realized how deep the game is and how much strategy is involved. I realized that nerds should love football. What’s not to like? Collisions, deep defensive and offensive strategies, pages upon pages of statistics and number crunching, and feature-packed simulation options that allow for the sorts of micromanagement you can embrace or completely ignore and still have fun.
I mention all of this because I think there’s definitely a segment of our gaming population who are essentially heterophobic. Madden is for the popped-collar-ed-hardy-date-raping-jackass. Football is for jocks and dudes who want nothing to look forward to in life besides washing their trans am on a long weekend… and football games are just digitized testosterone. Except then we turn around and play Halo or Call of Duty or, oh, I don’t know, Left 4 Dead which are all as dependant on manly baysplosions as a game of football is. I mean, I know we’ve all got hair where there wasn’t hair before, but it’s ok to have testicles and it’s ok to like football.
Anyway, what’s amazing about playing Madden ’98 is that it was, to me anyway, sort of an inverse experience to EA’s NHL franchise. Everyone who’s a fan of the NHL franchise of games thinks (rightly) that those ’94-’96 iterations of the game were basically flawless (well, I mean, sure the wrap-around made you a goal-scoring machine, but who cares?). In the most current NHL you can actually switch your controls to ’94-era versions. Certainly NHL ’10 is superior in almost every way to NHL ’94, but we’re still looking back with fond memories.
When I popped in Madden ’98 the gameplay immediately made me think of NHL ’94. I could imagine that if I’d been a football fan when I was younger that I’d feel the same way about Madden that I feel about NHL. There’s a definite reason these games have been around this long. They’re tremendous. Breaking through for a solid 20 yard run in Madden ’98 is certainly as satisfying as a well executed one-timer and sacking the quarterback is certainly as satisfying as hip-checking a guy in the high slot to break up a play. Oh wait… here… breaking through for a solid 20 yard run in Madden is as satisfying as focus-attack-dash-canceling your SRK into an ultra in Street Fighter IV and sacking the quarterback is as satisfying as landing a long-distance stick in Halo 3 or dropping all of Joker’s thugs in Batman: Arkham Asylum without being spotted or surviving the finale of Blood Harvest in Left 4 Dead.
Sure, John Madden himself may be antiquated, expository, and partially retarded, but good games is good games and Madden ’98 was one of the best on a system we all covet nostalgically almost as much as we did as kids.