A few years back, I received an urgent call from my wife. She had been in the midst of a feverish shopping excursion when she rounded a corner of the local mall and walked smack into a mammoth line, easily 100 people deep, winding its way from the entrance of the GameStop halfway towards the food court. She wanted to know what new console had been released that day and (bless her heart) should she get in line as my proxy. My brain went into overdrive. The 360 had already been released and we were still a few months shy of the Wii and PS3 debuts. What game could kick-start such a frenzy? Then it hit me. Exhibition football was back on the tube and the retail stores were stocked with back-to-school items. There’s only one game that manages to stir the masses year-after-year with each subsequent installment.
“It’s Madden, baby!!!”
It’s no secret that the Madden NFL series of videogames is almost an industry in itself. In fact, I give the original Madden console games that debuted on the Sega Genesis (almost 20 years ago) credit for bringing back lapsed players who had mothballed their NES systems at a time when the industry was just finding its legs again. Games were still looked upon as kids’ playthings, and while there are a number of us who grew up in the shadow of Mario and Metroid and felt that this pastime was worth our loyalty, hardcore gamers were not yet a vital breed. But Sega launched its Genesis with a mission to appeal to an edgier, more mature market. Through its courtship of EA, which provided some stellar sports games (including the Madden and NHL series), a new generation of console gamers was minted and games moved out of the playroom and into the household entertainment centers, where they remain today.
There’s just something about the annual Madden release that feels like a holiday of sorts. A new Madden game is treated with the excitement of a new console by many enthusiasts. The excitement builds all the way to street date. Madden stands symbolically as the gatekeeper, ushering players out of the summer doldrums and into the excitement of fall, when the games industry throws open the shutters and displays all its new and amazing wares we’ll be playing through Christmas and beyond.
While we’ll have a review of Madden NFL 10 soon, I recently had the chance to play a preview build, and my first reaction is that this feels the closest to a broadcast display of professional football that we’ve seen to date. While the Madden series has been edging towards network-caliber programming for the last several years, it appears that all of the little details have been included to really sell the illusion. There’s a constant flow of visual information, with screen crawls providing players with continuous updates of scores, signings, injuries and trades.
To commemorate the launch of Madden NFL 10, EA has partnered with GameStop to launch the “Battle of the Gridiron” Tournament. Beginning Saturday, Aug. 22, GameStop will host a three-round competition in each of their approximately 2,900 U.S. retail locations. The first round kicks off at 2 pm local time. The top four players from each location move on to the second round one week later. The top two players from that round advance to the regional finals on Sept. 12. From there, the top 16 regional finalists move to the championship event, held on Nov. 1 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Phoenix, Ariz. Finalists receive roundtrip airfare to Phoenix, hotel accommodations, $200 in spending money and tickets to the Arizona Cardinals/Carolina Panthers game that day. The finalists then compete in four, three-minute quarters until one winner remains. The grand prize is $5,000. Interested gamers should know that they must check in 30 minutes prior to the start of play, and that they must be 13 years old to participate. Also, players under 18 must have a parent or guardian available to sign their registration forms.
In addition to the upcoming review, we’ll be covering the local tournament from a Sturbridge, Mass., location. Stay tuned!