The back of the latest Madden box boasts significant upgrades, but the true joy of the game can be summed up in three words: Reggie! Reggie! Reggie! Never before in Madden's 17 years (17!) of production has a roster update made such a significant impact, but playing with the biggest star of this year's draft class is an absolute thrill. The main reason the New Orleans Saints' new running back, Reggie Bush—described by ESPN as a "once-in-a-generation player"—is so dominant is the new highlight stick. Using its powers, he can spin, duck, juke, slide, and all but disappear from a defender's grasp with a flick of the right analog stick. It makes for imaginative highlight-reel runs that'll have players watching replays with their jaws in their laps.
Of course, even the best backs would be average without lead blockers. Now, instead of blaming your 2.2-yards-per-rush average on shoddy AI blocking, the game lets you dig into the trenches. Before the snap, you can switch to a fullback, a tight end, or even a lineman, and open up running lanes. It sounds like work, but putting blitzing linebackers on their rumps as your halfback flashes by is beyond satisfying.
The rushing aspect can be as potent as the Denver Broncos ground attack, but the Xbox 360 Madden veers out of bounds with its new Superstar mode. First, you pick a set of parents (creepy!), who have birthed an NFL-ready. The ultimate goal is to play him into the Hall Of Fame.
Beyond the game: This season, John Madden's commentary isn't part of the experience. Rumors swirl that his name might soon be lifted from the game's title, as well. The over/under: three years.
Worth playing for: Turning defenders inside out with Reggie Bush is one of sports gaming's great pleasures. While he can't hurdle anyone, he still makes the D look helpless with the highlight stick at his command.
Frustration sets in when: The mini-games in past Maddens are a great way to practice. But on the 360, they've been revamped so you have to play both sides of the ball. Which means you'll do double-time just to work on your stiff arm.
Final judgment: The 360 version is the latest, but not the greatest—especially for $10 extra. It's Matt Leinart pretty, but lacks the gameplay polish found on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.