Madden NFL 99 | Retro Sports Review | Nintendo 64 - Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Friday, June 25, 2021

Madden NFL 99 | Retro Sports Review | Nintendo 64

The Madden series is almost eternal at this point with EA delivering a new title every single year for better or worse. Coming off of the NFL license-less Madden 64 in 1997 on the Nintendo 64, EA was back with their next iteration in 1998 for the PlayStation, PC and, for the topic of discussion today, the Nintendo 64 with Madden NFL 99. How does this game stack up and is it still worth playing today? That’s what we’re here to talk about. 

Intro & Modes
Madden 99 released in September 1998 on the Nintendo 64 and is the follow up to 1997’s Madden 64. This was the first NFL licensed game from EA on the platform. There are several modes on offer in Madden 99. Of course, you have the basics like Exhibition, Season, Custom Season, Tournament, Fantasy Draft, Practice and Franchise. 
The biggest addition to the game was the inclusion of Franchise Mode. A first for the Madden series, this gave players the ability to control all aspects of the game, both on and off the field. Sign players, decide contracts, try to hit an amazing prospect in the draft - there are tons of things to do here. At the time, I was completely blown away. My older brother and I played the hell out of this mode and had a ton of fun with it and I honestly think that there still is some fun to be had there these days, too. Of course, things are dated by today’s standards, but I think it’s interesting to see the humble beginnings of this mode and how it evolved over time. 

For the purposes of this review, I went ahead and started a franchise with the Minnesota Vikings. Despite having a decent defense, Cris Carter, and Randy Moss, the team sucked and that might have had to do with the new General Manager/Coach (aka me). After a pretty pathetic season with playoff berth, the Dannybiv led Vikings limped into the off-season. 
There are actually quite a few things to do in the offseason. Things kick off with dealing with retiring players, and then you move into free agency. There is a live counter here that counts down the number of “days” remaining. Other teams are openly bidding on available players at the same time that you are. it can be a bit cumbersome to check your current roster to match up your needs, which requires you to visit another menu option. Even with that said, it’s still a very impressive system for a game from that time period. The draft is also pretty robust, allowing you to choose who you like, while at the same time, making sure you have enough capital to entice the rookies to sign with you.

Controller Pak Requirements
Being a sports game, Madden 99 will eat up a lot of space on your Controller Pak. If you’re playing on original hardware and are looking to save your progress, you will need one of these. Just in case you forgot, the standard N64 Controller Pak can hold up to 123 pages (32 kilobytes) of data. Here are the data requirements for Madden 99:

Gameplay remains largely unchanged from Madden 64. However the biggest difference here has to do with the running game. EA introduced a juke function that can be performed with a press of the Z button. It completely changed the running game for the better. At the same time, the passing game seems to have take a bit of a step back in this year’s version. The default zoomed in camera definitely makes the game a bit harder to play. It’s more difficult to locate receivers or to see defenders coming off of the edge. This can be changed, but passing still seems to be more difficult to perform this time around. Honestly, though, I found that it was just more fun to run the ball here. Defensively, there really isn’t much different - at least nothing major. The AI seems to be a bit better than Madden 64, but don’t expect to get your socks knocked off here. 
Feeling the pressure from the competition, namely NFL Blitz, EA opted to include an “arcade” and  a “one button” mode for controls in an attempt to appeal to a more casual crowd of pigskin fans. This wasn’t a main focus here, though. Even before the game released, in an IGN interview with EA producer Steve Sims back in 1998, EA clearly had some pretty interesting things to say regarding competition. “We see all newcomers the same, with a bit of paranoia. It keeps us hungry.” Specially regarding Blitz and other arcade sports titles, Sims went on to say, 

“We think people who want a real football game, that’s real football, you know, 11 on 11, are going to buy Madden. But if you look at NBA Jam, it was a two year phenomenon. It was new, it was novel, it really took on the champion [EA’s offerings]…NBA Jam took a piece [of the marketshare] but then it disappeared, so I’m not sure what the long term viability of that market is.”
Even though EA did add these kind of modes into the game, they left me unimpressed. The gameplay doesn’t really change all that much in my opinion, and the one button mode, that only requires you to just press the A Button (there’s no pressing buttons for different receivers on passing, etc), was kind of uninspired.

Visually, Madden 99 made quite a jump from Madden 64. Of course, the addition of the NFL license makes for a more authentic experience here. Not only that, but the “high res” graphics made the game look sharper overall. There are also some really nice touches that might go unnoticed by most. Uniforms become dirtier throughout the course of rainy or snowy games. In cold weather games, you can see the breath of players. Players even track the ball as it’s up in the air or while they are waiting for the QB to snap the ball. These are the kind of things that we take for granted these days, however for a game from 1998, this was pretty much unheard of. 
Other improvements have been made in the realm of animations. Sure, things in Madden 64 were fine, but things are a bit more realistic in 99. On field players will occasionally perform wrap-up tackles on different parts of their opponents bodies. Defenders will point around to players on the offense. Players will even struggle to get up from a tackle from time to time. The game also runs pretty smoothly throughout the experience, too.  

Just as a bit of an aside, although we are taking a look at the N64 version of Madden 99, I always find it interesting to see how the game looked and performed on rival platforms, in this case, the PlayStation. For Madden fans on PlayStation, this marked the first time that a fully 3D Madden was available on the platform. As you can see from the screenshot [footage], while it doesn’t look bad, the PlayStation version definitely looks a bit inferior to the Nintendo 64 version in terms of graphics. [check this out]
The default camera of the game gets players close up to the action. A little bit too close in my opinion. With the camera being so zoomed in, it can be difficult to quickly check the field for defenders while on offense. This always made the passing game a bit more difficult for me. I’ve found that recently, switching the camera to the “Classic Madden” camera made things a lot easier to see. 

Sound in Madden 99 on the N64 may be one of the games biggest weak points. It   does feature commentary from Pat Sumeral and John Madden, but it seems like there are even LESS lines being delivered from the two when compared to Madden 64. It seems like most of the focus for the N64 version went into the visuals, which left the audio in the gutter. When compared to the PlayStation version of the game, though, things do look vastly superior. Character models aren’t as jagged, and the game seems to run smoother on Nintendo’s system. On the contrary, the commentary, sound effects and intro (there isn’t one AT ALL in the N64 version of the game) are leagues better on Sony’s platform.
Classic Camera
Madden 99 on the Nintendo 64 is technologically a better game than its predecessor. The overall game is deeper (thanks to the inclusion of Franchise) and the enhanced visuals really made the game stand out. Gameplay additions, like the juke, were amazing, however I felt on a whole that the game felt a little bit unbalanced offensively. The sparse commentary, lack (or at least decrease) of end zone celebrations and an opening cinematic were a bit disappointing. Even with these gripes, Madden NFL 99 is still a solid enough game that can be had for pocket change.

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