"The first title in the Madden series that is well-done. Only a few improvements needed to be made from here for the Madden series to become legendary."

Three games appeared in the Madden series prior to Madden 95, but all three were flawed to the point of almost being unplayable. Improvements were made along the progression, yes, but as one played through the titles they felt very incomplete as games. Multiple features that one would expect from a sports title weren't there, and multiple gameplay features were flawed to the level of being broken. One could easily play through one or two full games before mastering how to win any game against any opponent with any team, among other flaws that were finally fixed up in Madden 95.

Madden 95 is the first true positive paradigm shift in the series, and the first thing people will notice when they first turn on the game is that Madden has finally found his first sponsor in the form of Fox NFL Sunday, most notably its kickass theme song. Players will then go on to realize that all of the desired gameplay options from Madden 94 are still there save for All-Time Playoffs. That particular feature was removed, but for a good cause that will be explored in a moment.

The gameplay option that everyone will delve into when they aren't planning on beating down a friend or two is to simulate a season, and Madden 95 goes the extra mile to make the experience worthwhile. Players will be able to simulate a full 17 week season plus playoffs, and they can play as many or as few games as they desire through the year. And while most players will likely choose to play the games involving their favorite team, players can play out any of the games featured in the season from beginning to end.

The standard in-game formulae all still exist, and most have been given the necessary improvements that help to make Madden 95 the first good game of the series. The most notable change is that the graphics have been given a complete overhaul, though this is an improvement in only select areas. The overall graphical package is very well-done given the time of this game's release, though the player sprites are subpar at best throughout. The music has also been given a dramatic overhaul from top to bottom in that you no longer have to hear annoying themes at every turn while playing the game. Few themes actually exist in Madden 95, and the only one of any note is the Fox NFL Sunday theme that plays during startup and before games. In most cases this is a sour note, but anyone who plays any of the first three games of the series before this will agree that no music is better than bad music. Games still start with a standard coin toss in which the visiting team calls the flip, and each game is split up between four five-minute quarters unless you decide to lengthen or shorten the timeframe.

Furthermore, Madden 95 adds a few extra details that help make the gameplay a tad more realistic. Injuries are finally a part of the game, as are player substitutions and fatigue, though fatigue isn't actually a listed feature. You'll simply notice players moving slower and becoming more injury prone when overused, so take precaution before deciding to allow Emmitt Smith carry the ball 700 times in a season. You'll also notice the biggest addition of all, which is that the Madden series has finally decided to record player stats for your leisure. Most sports fans are complete stat nuts, and many a player will find themselves lost in a world of statistics between each game week. Everything is recorded through a season both on offense and defense, and it's beneficial to your favorite team's success to scour the stats of your opposing team before each game so that you know how to gameplan against them. If you're about to face the Buffalo Bills in Week 10 and Thurman Thomas already has 150 carries for over 1300 yards, odds are that you'll play to stop the run before the pass. The only flaw with the stats is that everything is recorded in an individual basis; team stats wouldn't be introduced to the series until later, but this doesn't take away from the fact that even having stat lists is a wonderful idea in and of itself.

However, like with the first three games of the series the main issues with the game come from the in-game gameplay. The extra features are all nice to have, but a game still needs to be fun to play for it to be a good game. And while Madden isn't necessarily a bad game, there are still a few things that will annoy most people.

When players first begin playing Madden 95, it won't take long to notice that many a feature has been implemented to cut down on the ease with which games were won in past titles. It's harder to run, harder to play defense, and much harder to pass. It should be noted however that the difficulty in running the ball comes not in lack of player ability or overly enhanced defensive AI, but in that it is nearly impossible to break tackles or even execute moves well in the game once you're running with the ball. All moves executed by the ball carrier are very unnatural to perform based upon past titles, though the silver lining of sorts is that trying to execute moves is fairly pointless given that you'll be tackled by the first defenseman to make contact in nearly every case. In a more ironic twist of fate, the most devastating move that defenses will ever see is when a ball carrier is inside the opposing 20 yard line and begins high-stepping towards the end zone; there is a massive speed burst in this case that makes a player almost impossible to catch should they make it that far, though said move being the best is a bit wrong in a gameplay sense.

Defensively it's much more difficult for straight players to stop the computer, which is a welcome addition to any sports title as it makes the games harder to win. Unfortunately, fans of cheesing (fancy synonym for "cheating" or "glitching" commonly used by Madden veterans) will still find the easy ways to stop opposing offenses before long.

The real gameplay issue however comes in the form of the passing game. It is damn near impossible to throw the ball over the line of scrimmage save for the quarterback throwing lobs, as it is now unbelievably easy to tip balls after they're thrown; the radius that defensive players have for batting balls away has grown to astronomical heights, to the level of being downright ridiculous. It's not even worth trying to throw bullet passes over the line of scrimmage, especially given that passing lanes will never be opened up by the offensive lineman and tipped passes are oft altered in such a trajectory that makes them easy to intercept. By the same token tipped passes can be easy for offensive players behind the line to catch, but it's not worth the risk.

This also extends well past the line of scrimmage. The defenders guarding receivers are as easily able to tip passes, and it all adds up to a very unpleasant passing experience. The only option players will be left with is to scramble outside the pocket before throwing bullet passes to open receivers or to lob the ball up and manually control their receivers. Both options are difficult due to it being harder than ever to actually catch passes once thrown. If this wasn't bad enough, expect multiple dropped passes from receivers. The odds of a receiver dropping a pass if they're hit directly after making a catch have been increased by quite a large amount. These factors have all clearly been added due to the ease of the passing game in previous titles, though there is a such thing as going overboard. This nerfing of the Madden passing game makes Ness and Kirby's SSBM issues pale in comparison.

The other issue that comes from the in-game are the features that were never upgraded, specifically that every team will still be using the same playbook on offense and defense when calling plays (though some plays were added in and new names were given to some of the old ones). However some features being unchanged is welcome, such as the view of the field staying true to form and Madden randomly going insane with his announcing. There are also a few small additions made here and there that make a good difference, such as players finally having names and the two point conversion finally being an option to take after scoring a touchdown.

It all adds up to a good, challenging gameplay experience that has few noticeable holes. And of the issues that do exist, Madden 95 laid down enough groundwork for future titles to improve upon this game's innovation. Madden 95 was the first game in the series to have a modern feel, and for this reason one can argue that Madden 95 is the most influential in what would eventually grow to be a long line of Madden games.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/19/05


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