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Monday, June 2, 2008
Updated: June 27, 1:57 PM ET
Nine things that'll make 09 the ultimate Madden

By Todd Zuniga

While NFL-crazed message boarders bash Madden for every meager misstep -- and, agreed, the game's not perfect -- we're here to dole out some constructive criticism. The storied franchise took huge strides from "Madden 07" to "Madden 08," but for 09 to be a classic (or even just sports game of the year), it needs a heaping handful of not-so-obvious fixes before it hits shelves in August. We give you our top nine:


Recently, no-shock news broke that, finally, Madden would feature online leagues. But the fine print isn't so promising: There'll be no divisions. That means teams will be ranked 1 to 32, and the top tier will make the playoffs. Developer EA Tiburon has designed it this way to up league-completion rates, but divisions are a must. And the clock's ticking.


Howling wind can serve as a deathblow to a passing game in real life, even if a laser-armed QB is dropping back -- but not in Madden. Sure, a big breeze might curl a kick off-course, but it won't stop you from throwing for 300 yards. 09's amped up the weather visuals (so far, we've seen enough snowy screenshots to make us chilly), but we want cause and effect. More breeze-bothered lame-duck passes, please.


"Whenever we see fit" is a terrible model for roster updates. Access to accurate rosters is what separates Madden from the non-NFL licensed also-rans like 2K's "All-Pro Football." We'll even work out the update calendar: the Tuesday afternoon after weeks 1, 5, 9, 13, and 17. Easy. Now make it something we can set our iPhones by.


All Madden rookie players do it, and they drive us nuts: They run back 15 yards with their QB before tossing a perfect strike to their wideout. While the backward scramble can't be stopped, there's a way to make it hurt. Either gray out the passing icons when the QB's back is turned or have the icons go away altogether.


As "MLB 08: The Show" proved, in-game saves are a necessity. In the past, minigames were lauded as the perfect 15-minute experience, but that's so limiting. In a modern world filled with an endless list of nagging to-dos (illegally download music, shop online for underwear, go to work), we want to progress our franchise mode with our mini-handfuls of time without having to leave our system on overnight.


To kill off the annual 2,000-yard rushers and every QB finishing with 35-plus TDs and six picks, "Madden 09's" entire franchise-mode statistics system has been rewritten. It's a good start, but this mode desperately needs personality. Tiburon best rip a page from "NBA 2K8's" franchise and "FIFA 08's" manager modes. Bring on media interviews, spoiled-brat players, and having to keep morale high when losses stack up and keeping egos in check when the wins do.


For years, Madden's kicking game has been perfect … to a fault. Banging a ball between the uprights is downright easy -- and often sucks away any late-game drama. It's an imperfect world, so let's see a holder bobble a ball like Tony Romo, or a long snapper fire off an imperfect snap or maybe even lace out like in the original "Ace Ventura" -- something!


It's time to kill the speed burst. Naysayers may groan, but it revolutionized last year's hard-core sports game of the year, "NHL 08." Everyone we know keeps the speed burst trigger pulled on every play anyway, so what's the difference? It's time for Madden's makers to take the button out of the equation and make the speed burst contextual, so we can keep our focus on dodging tacklers.


NFL games are filled with nicks, twists and lesions, so why is it that when players are hurt in Madden, they're out for a specific amount of time? Instead, the system needs to be tweaked to make players out indefinitely (the drama of not knowing!), for a series (happens all the time), or even for just one play. "NCAA Football 09" has dinged players getting the wind knocked out of them, which can last just a few plays. That's perfect.