Search For Posters!
  Join the SGN staff!
Help Wanted
Release Dates


About Us

The Sports

Partner Links
Auto Insurance Quote
Irvine Moving Companies
LA Moving Companies
Brand Name Shoes

Madden 99 (N64) Review

Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: Summer 1998

Background Info

Last year Acclaim beat Electronics Arts to the punch for the first football game for the Nintendo 64 when it released Quarterback Club 98. With its exclusive NFL license and its stunning graphics, it looked to be a sure winner . . . but problematic gameplay quirks quickly dampened players' enthusiasm. In contrast, while EA's initial foray into Nintendo 64 football--Madden 64--lacked the visual appeal of its rival, it offered a solid if not spectacular game of football. This year Madden 99 beat QBC 99 into the store. Equipped with an NFL license, it has real teams as well as real players. But is it the real deal?

Presentation/Graphics : 90
As attractive as the Madden 64 graphics were in comparison to the "v-poly" graphics of its Playstation counterpart, they simply did not come up to the standard set by QBC 98. Never underestimate the power of a pretty face. EA has learned its lesson. Madden 99 stands out for its crisp, clear renderings of players and stadia.

High resolution graphics rule the day for players. Uniforms are sharp and usually accurate (although the 49ers still have their white pants, and all players use identical face masks); thigh and shoulder pads and even cleats are easily visible, as are the players' muscled arms (even for kickers!). One can easily make out uniform numbers from most camera angles. Historical teams wear the correct uniforms, for those who want to return to the days of the Broncos' orange jerseys or the white horns on the helmets of the 1966 Rams (all the players on historical teams are dark-skinned, which apparently has disturbed some players). However bad the weather, the players remain spotless, eager to show off those arms in their short-sleeved jerseys--even when playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Oh, well, you can't have everything. At least rain splashes on the ground, in comparison to the gentle falling snow that looks as if it was stripped from a Christmas movie.

Player animations are detailed and varied, adding to the game's visual presence. Receivers look over their shoulders to catch passes, tackers wrap their arms around ballcarriers, defensive backs backpedal as they read and react, and quarterbacks fade back realistically, set up to pass, and writhe as they are sacked. Even the little things are worth a second look. Players intercepting balls in the end zone drop to one knee, defensive linemen turn their heads as they await the snap, and downed ballcarriers and their tacklers struggle to get to their feet. All of this is achieved within the confines of an adequate (if sometimes slow) frame rate, and the action looks realistic enough.

Each stadium is in the game, although careful observers may notice some flawed details. The fields of play reflect variations between turf and grass, with the latter undergoing wear and tear during the course of a game (sorry, no baseball infields). Each field is bordered by banners appropriate to the home team. Sideline crews mark the progress of drives and occasionally carry the chains across the field to measure for first downs. I was disappointed to learn that I cannot open or close the doors at Giants Stadium to alter wind patterns or use a snowplow to clear off the surface for my kicker; those players who like watching cheerleaders had better stick to Gameday.

Not everything is a visual treat. Players (and officials) walk through each other at the conclusion of plays. Some individual stadia are also off: for example, the sun and shadow effect created by the open roof at Texas Stadium is not represented in the game (indeed, it's hard to distinguish day from night there), and apparently the earth does not rotate during games, for there is no sign of the ever-lengthening shadows of a fall afternoon. There is no representation of sideline activity aside from the sideline crew, which detracts from the impact of representing each stadium. Although many of these touches are to be found in the PC version of Madden 99, it is probably asking too much to see them in the N64 version. What is there is impressive enough.

Presentation/Audio : 70
There's good news, and then there's bad news. Let's look first at the area where EA's N64 games fall far behind their PSX counterparts: play-by-play announcing and color commentary. Pat Summerall and John Madden make their expected appearances, although their contributions are sporadic, generic, and add little to the enjoyment of the game. You can go for as long as a dozen plays without hearing anything at all from the booth. Even remarks like "Caught!", "Fumble!", and "Picked off!", all of real value in playing a good game, are absent. Better to have saved the space on the cart for something else. Nor is the roar of the crowd exactly inspiring, although here and there one can make out distinctive noises that add some richness and depth, and the volume rises and falls depending on the situation on the field. Sad to say, perhaps only those players who are into the nostalgia of retro-gaming will like what they hear from the announcing booth, for if you closed your eyes you might think that you had returned to the days of Madden 93 for the Sega Genesis. Pow, boom, indeed.

Not all is lost, however. The game does a good job of recreating the sounds of play on the field, from breaking the huddle and quarterbacks at the line of scrimmage to the grunts and popping pads that come with blocking and tackling. You can even hear the ball as it is being snapped, kicked, or bounces off the turf, and the referee's PA announcements about penalties (complete with hand signals) and first downs do the job.

Interface : 75
Madden 99's interface looks bland and is not always easy to follow. The pregame setup screens, with their manifold options, require some patience to work correctly; so do the memory card options; the front office screens--so critical to several game options--are nothing special. In a game where one has to load user records and playbooks as well as season or franchise games, the process can take time to learn. The playcalling screens are not much better, and you have to remember that on offense you have to choose both formation and set, something more readily apparent in earlier Maddens. Gameday 98 for the PSX had a far better playcalling system, with all options easily available, although the boys at 989 Sports managed to mess that up in this year's incarnation. The in-game pause screen is somewhat better. In season play, the game keeps track of various statistical categories and presents weekly reports on opposing teams; however, the scouting report in the pregame screen is woefully inadequate, consisting only of a comparison of player ratings at various positions. A survey of playcalling preferences or key opponent stats would have offered much more information.

Normally one might let these matters pass without comment, for once one spends some time with the game it becomes easier (if never exactly pleasant) to navigate the menus. However, other EA games have far superior interfaces that make the time-consuming and sometimes tedious selection of options, player creation and transactions, and so on, easier to perform, which in turn enhances the actual playing experience.

Far more debatable is the demand this game places on memory card budgets. Be prepared to spring for more than one card. It might be helpful in the future to allow players to save rosters separately, as in NHL 99. And, finally, as with some other EA games, the instruction booklet is as interesting for what it leaves out as for what it includes. No wonder there is a support e-mail address. Players may search the net for various passwords to add new teams and stadia; it may be time to consider whether it would be better to simply include these alternatives without having to go through the charade of "discovering" codes.

Madden 99 is overflowing with options, both in terms of team management and gameplay, that deserve attention and applause. Not all players will use all the options, but EA wanted to craft a game that had something for everybody, and to a great extent it has succeeded.

Player may choose to play an exhibition game (using current or historical teams, as well as several other lineups available through passwords), hold practices (better than learning on the job), or participate in a tournament, a season, or in the much-ballyhooed franchise option, in which the player becomes a coach/general manager who drafts players, signs free agents and oversees other personnel matters while taking a franchise through multiple seasons. The latter feature threatens to turn the actual playing of games on the field into a sideshow or even a distraction should a team experience a lean year. Watch as your favorite players retire; no word yet about the possibility of player strikes, suspensions for off-the-field activities, or the chance to improve one's financial position by moving a franchise or demanding a new stadium. After all, if it's in the game, it should be in the game, right?

If some players can't wait to build their own dynasties in franchise mode--or find themselves sharing the fate of the playoff-challenged Arizona Cardinals--a group of friends may prefer to play a tournament with teams selected through a fantasy draft. One may also want to play commissioner and construct a custom season, with realigned conferences, divisions, and even the return of classic teams of the past--although Joe Namath's Jets will have to settle for the Meadowlands instead of the swirling winds at Shea. Finally, of course, there are the familiar opportunities to trade players and create new ones (for single season play), with the choice of subjecting yourself to the limitations imposed by a salary cap.

Equally compelling are the new options for play on the field. You can use the practice mode to hone your skills or to implement new plays--for Madden 99 includes a play editor that allows you to draw up six offensive and six defensive plays. The editor itself is easy to use, with a selection of pass routes, blocking options, and so on for each position. You may save these plays to your custom playbook--each team has its own--and you may change playbooks so that you can see if the Giants can run the West Coast offense (creating new players is strongly advised). Players may also use user profiles to save career records, audibles, and depth charts.

Once your team takes the field, you will have to choose whether to stay with traditional control of your offense (A to snap, A to bring up passing screen, then hit the button corresponding to the receiver) or to experiment with two new options: directional passing (tilt the control stick in the direction of the intended receiver, then press A) and one-button passing (want to do something? Press A--and leave the rest to the computer). Although EA claims that the one-button option allows new players to pick up and play the game, ultimately it is not satisfying, for the cpu selects the receiver; I used it to play a quarter using the helmet cam with mixed results. Players interested in using directional passing should take to the practice field, for they will surrender the ability to pick a receiver at a moment's notice, regardless of what their quarterback may be doing; indeed, by limiting the quarterback's ability to throw back across his body as he rolls out or scrambles, directional passing may offer a better idea of what a quarterback can and cannot do in such situations.

Finally, the game offers several other options, including weather, time of day, stadium site, frequency of calls for different penalties, toggles for injuries, commentary, and fatigue; it also allows players to set length of quarters (in minute increments).

The richness of these options increases Madden 99's appeal. Now fathers can drag their children over to the TV for a game with the promise that they need press only one button. That the result makes NFL Blitz look complex should give more experienced players pause. However, they should rest content with the various management, playbook, and season options, to say nothing of the demands of franchise mode.

Gameplay : 93
Unlike several other EA releases for the N64, Madden 99 is not a warmed-over tweaking of an existing Playstation game; it builds upon the experience of Madden 64 and has much in common with this year's PSX cousin. While it lagged behind QBC98 in terms of graphics, it more than held its own in terms of gameplay. Does Madden 99 build on that advantage?

Gameplay is the product of several distinct components, some of which are mechanical, while others involve a sense of illusion. First, does it feel like I'm playing a football game? Does the game reward good playcalling, the proper framing and implementation of a game plan, and allow me to exploit opportunities while making sure that I cannot return to the same play or pattern of plays again and again for guaranteed gains? Do I have to earn my victories? On the whole, the answer is yes. The combination of CPU AI, audibles, and created plays (see options) forces players to read defenses, develop a good mix of running and passing plays, move the ball around, and eschew reliance on a few select plays--at least when playing in traditional style (also see options). True running plays remain a challenge, and players are advised to hit the practice field in order to perfect the skills necessary to mount a successful ground attack. Secure a lead, and the cpu will soon take to the air to get back in the contest--only to be thwarted (sometimes too easily) with dime and nickel formations. The player in the role of quarterback/offensive coordinator has a good choice of formations and sets, although one sometimes longs for the apparently greater diversity evident in the Gameday 99 offensive playbook.

Second, am I able to use the game controller to implement my choices successfully? Are the controls straightforward or are they confusing? Will my players respond to my use of the d-pad, control stick, or buttons and triggers? Here one must note that while the game itself is responsible to player input--especially when it comes to special moves, such as jukes, stiff-arms, and speed bursts--few N64 controllers are ideal for sports gameplay. It is disappointing to discover that EA's own entry into the gamepad market is nothing more than a blue version of a controller already on the market. Sometimes the alignment of buttons leads to frustration, especially in the passing game, although what EA now calls "Touch Passing" (tap A to loft the ball, press down to fire a bullet) is successfully implemented.

Nearly as important to player success is the choice of camera. As tempting as it might be to zoom in on the gameplay in order to appreciate the detailed graphics, those players who like to pass will find the classic camera (no zoom) or even the blimp view much more helpful, as much to read defenses as to spot receivers. Game speed, on the other hand, allows players a reasonable opportunity to spot holes or open receivers; quarterbacks who plant themselves, even for a moment, appear to enjoy more success, but don't wait too long. Practice, practice, practice is the order of the day.

Finally, does the computer-controlled team put up a fair fight while remaining a challenging opponent? Or are there one too many miracle comebacks and a defense composed of rampaging linemen, roving linebackers, and a secondary with access to radar in order to converge around intended receivers and jet rockets to cut down anyone who might otherwise score? If Madden 99 uses dirty programming tricks to compensate for poor AI, it does not show. Running is easier, passing is harder, but the cpu will still bite if you pump fake (although pulling off a pump fake can take so much time that the quarterback tastes turf before he can spot and hit a receiver). Some may find too many sticky fingers in the secondary, able to snare errant passes when normal human beings would have to settle for deflecting them away or knocking them down. Moreover, if you hold the ball too long in the pocket or scramble before letting loose, don't be surprised if one of your linemen is flagged for holding. On offense the computer does not waste time calling plays, displays adequate (but sometimes erratic) clock management skills, and relies somewhat too much on the pass when behind, regardless of the game situation.

Finally, it is important to determine if the game as a whole plays in such a way as to convince the player that the game is a realistic representation of the sport in question. This is where illusion is most important. All too often it does not matter whether in fact a particular game accurately portrays the patterns of play in a sport, but whether the player believes that it does. For example, NHL 98's superior environment and devastating combination of speed bursts and shattering bodychecks convinced many players that it was a wonderful hockey game, although more discerning players (including those who had actually played the sport) treated such claims with skepticism. Madden 99 succeeds in creating the impression that it is a fairly realistic representation of football, and that in order to be successful, the player must employ basic football playcalling principles and possess the timing of a capable quarterback, ballcarrier, or defender.

Difficulty : 94
As before, there are three levels of difficulty: Pro, All-Pro, and Madden. Pro offers a good game for beginners, while most experienced players find that All-Pro presents a realistic but not unreasonable challenge. Those players who have the time and energy may tackle the Madden level, although for the rest of us the prospect of going 4-12 is discouraging enough to leave the ultimate test to others. However, this year these levels of play are not the only considerations in determining difficulty. For those players willing to give up some playbook options and who might enjoy a looser game, there is arcade as well as traditional (simulation) style (as well as the one-button option). Look for fewer penalties, more big plays and smashing hits as well as a more relaxed approach to playcalling in arcade style.

Overall : 85
Madden 99 is a solid football game/simulation hybrid with so many options that players can tailor it to their own preferences and still enjoy a good contest. It is not perfect, and persistent tinkering may discover the usual assortment of money plays and the like that can detract from the game. The poor excuse for play-by-play and color commentary will turn off some people, but the combination of good graphics, a challenging AI, and usually straightforward gameplay more than compensates for that shortcoming. Moreover, more than any other EA sports game, Madden 99 marks Electronic Arts's coming of age as a serious producer of N64 games. Sports gamers, especially football aficionados, may brace themselves for the coming comparison wars with QBC99, but Acclaim has its work cut out for it, and in any case most buyers of Madden 99 will be satisfied with their purchase.

By: Brooks Simpson 11/11/98

© 1998-2006 Sports Gaming Network. Entire legal statement. Feedback

Other Links:
[Free Credit Report  |   Car Insurance Quotes  |   Designer Shoes  |   Outdoor Equipment

MVP Baseball 2003
Street Hoops
Mad Catz Xbox Hardware

Inside Pitch 2003
MLB Slugfest 20-04
Tennis Masters Series