I own the original John Madden for the Genesis as well as the '92 version. I am a reasonably big football fan, but I couldn't tell you the names of most of the players. I also live in Seattle, so I'm obligated to plug the Seahawks :-).
The John Madden series is well known for its finely tuned gameplay, and the 3DO version is certainly no exception. The control of the players is extremely fluid, and I really did feel that I was in control of my player. Several times I was able to take control of a particular player, break through the offensive line, dive at and sack the opposing quarterback, EXACTLY as I had intended to. Awesome!
I always seemed to have a problem completing running plays on the Genesis version. Maybe it was the small characters, maybe I just sucked. On the 3DO version, if I have selected an appropriate formation and play, I have a reasonable chance of performing a realistic running play.
Passing plays are also easier to execute, as the passing windows are much larger with respect to the players. This is largely due to the fact that the players can be scaled down in the pass windows (unlike the Sega versions, in which all of the player graphics were the same size) allowing for a greater field of view in each window. If a player looks open in his pass window, he probably actually IS open (what a concept :-)).
And of course if you like to play by the seat of your pants, there is a full assortment of audible plays. I don't remember there being as many choices in the Sega version, but in this version, you basically have three different audibles for each offensive and defensive formation. Pretty cool.
Most of the controls are identical to the Sega versions which allows people who have played those versions to catch on immediately. If this is your first experience with John Madden, then you will be pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the controls. The controls are complex enough to provide a reasonable degree of control over your player, but not so complex that casual players won't enjoy playing.
Football-wise, it seems to be most similar to the original John Madden for the Genesis. I don't see any way to "strip" the ball or down the ball for a touchback (although if you wait for the other player to get to you in the end-zone, you do get a touchback), and you do not remain in control of your player for any length of time after the ball is dead, so you can't execute the REALLY late hits that you could in Madden '92 :-).
There are more player stats than anyone could possibly want, and they can be called up at the start while choosing your teams, as well as during the game which helps in deciding when to substitute players. While viewing player statistics, you can also pull up several video clips for each team showing some cool plays by that team.
There are also the usual assortment of playfields (DOME, Open-Grass, Open- Turf) and playing conditions (Fair, Wind, Rain, Snow, and Variable). I have yet to try all of the combinations, but the rain and snow were quite impressive.
The game also automatically saves two types of playoffs. There are "New Playoffs" using the 1993 teams, and there are "All Time Playoffs" using the best teams of all time (chosen by Madden himself).
Two player mode only allows for competitive play, which I was slightly disappointed in as I enjoyed playing cooperatively in Madden '92 for the Genesis, but hey, they need SOMETHING they can improve in the next version.
Wow! This game really shows how cool scaling hardware can make an awesome game all that much better. Unlike previous versions, the 3DO allows the players to be smoothly scaled down the farther away they are. This creates an EXTREMELY realistic feel to the view of the field. Players nearest to you are a good 1/5 - 1/4 of the screen tall, and you can even see the outlines of the pads on their legs. Very nice.
Once the players start moving, things really get impressive. The players are digitized and have a high number of frames in their motion. While the animation is not video quality, it is several orders of magnitude beyond anything out there. Receivers actually look back over their shoulders when putting their hands up to receive a pass, and pressing the "umph" button actually makes the player lower his shoulder and thrust forward.
The video quality is quite good, and falls into four categories:
1. Opening video - Very nice. You can still see some artifacting of course (it is full screen using software compression after all), but it is perfectly smooth and very professional. Also, the Seahawks are the first logo and helmet to scroll up the screen :-).
2. John Madden mindless drivel - There are several bits where you see Madden sitting behind a desk like all sports guys do during commercials. John makes inane comments like "Here's the kick-off. Everybody should be ready." with appropriate enthusiasm. These clips are done in the same maner as the video on the new "teaser" disk from Panasonic. It appears to involve "cookie-cutting" the video of the person onto a stationary background (a bit like blue screen). The affect is extremely high quality video with no visible artifacting at a frame rate of 10-15 frames per second.
3. The Referee - There are several video clips a "referee" calling penalties declaring a first down, and measuring for a first down. Such clips are used sparsely (i.e. you don't see the ref saying "first down" every time you get a first down), but I thought they were cheesy. Don't get me wrong, they are nowhere near as lame as the opponent videos in Crash and Burn, but still, he seems a little stiff.
4. The Scouting Report - While looking at the scouting report screen and scrolling through the stats for each team, you can press the B button to see a random video clip of an interesting play involving the selected team. It appears that each team has at least three or four videos (maybe more). Each clip is 10-15 seconds long, 1/4 - 1/3 screen, and includes what sounds like the original commentary. The clips are essentially fluff, but they really do enhance the overall experience.
The clips are very well edited, and as they are all cool plays (touchdowns, interceptions, blocked kicks, etc.), they can really help raise the level of "excitement".
The weather effects are reasonably impressive. We played in snow and rain, of which the rain was the most interesting. When playing in the snow, the ground of course is whitish, but there are also snow flakes falling down the screen throughout the game. Rain is even more impressive in that each drop is a little shaded streak, and there appears to be more than one "level" of rain. My last game last night between Dallas and Buffalo was with very low visibility due to the quantity of rain falling past the screen. Extremely cool.
The digitized pictures of the field on which you are about to play seems fuzzy and a bit impressionistic, but it is possible that that is for effect, as they serve only as the background for the initial stat screens.
The playfield scrolling has to be seen to be believed. The fields scrolls perfectly smoothly as the players run towards or away from you, and the resolution of the field details (yardage marks, NFL logo, etc) is quite high.
The instant replay feature is also very impressive. I was a bit disappointed that I did not have COMPLETE control over the camera during the replay, but the control you have is well done, and technically impressive. You can change the height/tilt of the camera, the zoom factor, and the player upon which you want the camera to center. You are limited to having the camera behind the offensive team however, in that you cannot for example put the camera on the sidelines and watch from there. You can manipulate the camera while the play is being replayed though, which is a cool feature.
Transparency effects are used used throughout the interface and gameplay. For example, the stars on the ground that mark the currently selected player are transparent in that you can see the playfield markings through the stars, and when players are near each other, the stars overlap and you can see several different levels of transparency.
Most of the audio in Madden is perfect, but let me start with the nits. John Madden's voice in some of the introductory clips is a bit fuzzy and I can't imagine why. You don't see these clips very often and all of the other audio is crystal clear. I also noticed that the audio in the scouting report video clips is not in surround sound(I know, a real NIT :- -)), but since the game sounds ARE in surround sound, it was noticable.
The in-game sounds are extremely crisp and appropriate. When you hit another player, it really sounds like he's getting hit. They even randomize the "hut" calls that you can make before the snap and they sound quite realistic. There is a constant buzz of the crowd behind the entire game, but it is suitably toned down when more important sounds are played.
One of the most entertaining aspects of John Madden Football is the running commentary by Madden himself. My friend and I were consistently surprised by how appropriate his comments were during the game. We have heard over a dozen (perhaps two dozen) phrases, and I assume there are more, as we tended to use similar plays over and over again, thus resulting in simlar phrases. Comments are reasonably infrequent, but you can turn them off at any point during the game if they annoy you. The commentary sounds exactly like the inane babble that football announcers spew during an actual game. Take for example the following phrases we heard (loosely paraphrased):
"Now THIS is big time football!" "This is when good teams make big plays." "Wow! There must've been ten guys in on that tackle!" "The receiver just beat the defender and he was wide open."
(When a fake punt succeeded) "NO-body knew where the ball was!"
(When a fake punt resulted in short yardage) "That play didn't surprise anybody."
(When a fake punt failed miserably) "If you're gonna surprise the other team, you better surprise 'em all."
I want two player cooperative play. It really extends the playability of a game, and it makes it easier for two unevenly matched players to have fun. I also would have liked a little more variety in John Madden's in-game commentary. There are a lot of phrases, but I've already heard "This is big time football" too many times :-). I would also like to have the actual player names included in the stats. I understand the licensing problems, but it would help you to better "identify" with your players. Also, while CDROM access time could be a problem, I only noticed it in one place. Immediately before a game, the is a 2-3 second pause for loading, but there are no pauses of any consequence anywhere else.
Two non-gripes, but things you should be aware of if you buy the game. One of my controllers was not quite completely plugged into the 3DO console, and we experienced strange intermittent play selection. At one point this led to the game hanging and the system rebooting. After plugging the controller in properly, I experienced no problems whatsoever for the several hours of subsequent play.
The other thing we noticed was that the computer takes control much faster than in the Genesis version. If you do not press the joypad, the computer will take control and run the play for you. If you select a passing play and at least one of your receivers runs a very short pattern, it is possible for the computer to take control of your quarterback and pass nearly immediately. This is the way the game is supposed to work, and there is no problem if you start controlling your quarterback immediately, but the first time you're screwing around and this happens, you might think something's wrong (it is, you're too slow :-)).
Unless you hate football, BUY THIS GAME. I promise that you won't be disappointed. Everything about this game is top notch. The gameplay is nearly perfect, and the added extras possible due to the massive storage potential of CDROM really improve the atmosphere of the game. The computer apponent seems quite adequate, and the game is even fun to watch when you're not playing. This game will sell 3DO's like nothing else. It was worth the wait.This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Matt Brown for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.