Friday, November 17, 2017
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'Madden NFL 25' celebrates a quarter century, but not the series' history

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Temperatures are going from unbearable to just stifling, the kids are back in school and hurricane season is peaking, so that can mean only one thing: It's football season again.

And that means something else: The next incremental update in Electronic Arts' Madden series has hit the shelves. This time it's the silver anniversary edition — not that you'd know from playing it.

First things first: It's a good game, full of all the incremental refinements the Madden name now requires. But EA Tiburon seems to have missed a golden opportunity with this edition, for which it proudly eschewed using the year in the title and opted for Madden NFL 25. While touting what they claim are sweeping changes in the running game and presentation, you'd hardly know this is a franchise that's been around since the age of the dinosaurs (that would be my childhood).

There are no classic game options, no throwback modes emulating the great installments, like the original Commodore 64 and Apple IIe release (then called simply John Madden Football). From playing No. 25, you would barely have any idea just how much of an evolution the series has undergone in the past quarter-century, before the title had rights to player likenesses, team names or stadia, when an overweight coach-turned-broadcaster contributed rough commentary to fictional teams in single-game increments.

In fact, there is hardly any reference to John Madden at all. He appears as the coach for the All-Madden squad, natch, and you can select him in the Connected Franchise mode, which is cool, but beyond the use of a few logos and loading screens, there are hardly any nods to the past at all. What a fumble on EA's part.

Football is about nothing if not nostalgia, remembering a shared history of a colorful, exciting and admittedly violent pastime. The success of NFL Films and throwback jerseys is proof of that. Too bad there was no effort in this release to remind me of the Sega Genesis version I rented at Captain Video in Omaha, Neb., in 1990. That game made me forget all about Tecmo Bowl, until then the reigning king of video game football.

Allowing gamers to relive the treasured memories of when they fell in love with a video game version of football is just as important as those self-important montages the networks play every Sunday and Monday. And Thursday. And sometimes Saturday.

In a way, it's understandable why Madden himself is de-emphasized. The man is retired from both coaching and broadcasting, and at 77, he probably has little interest in lending his expertise and voice to a franchise that, like the real game, has moved on without him. As proof that no one really cares whether he's in it or not, the game was Amazon's highest-selling pre-order ever, many of which were no doubt to snap up the 100,000 bundles featuring a discounted year of NFL Sunday Ticket. That was a slick bit of pack-in marketing that has probably inflated numbers nicely.

But to not pay tribute to Madden and his video game past in a so-called silver anniversary release is unfortunate, especially considering the 2002 release featured a 16-bit throwback mode so prominently. Of course, the game's Metacritic score since its release on Tuesday is a mere 74, down nine points from the previous year; User scores are a pitiful 4.6 out of 10.

Perhaps that's a sign that next year's version for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 had better deliver more features than just better hitting mechanics. And let John shout "BOOM!" again. For old time's sake.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com.

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