Madden NFL 2005 (PS2)- A Football Masterpiece that Gave Us Hit Sticks, A History Lesson, and the Last Great Franchise Mode

Madden NFL 2005 existed in a space where Madden Football was competing with 2K’s ESPN NFL 2K5 and the war was heated. Full disclosure, I am an NFL 2K die hard fan. I spent my entire Freshman year in college Playing NFL 2K5 with my floor in college and genuinely think it’s the best football simulation ever created from top to bottom. But that doesn’t mean Madden wasn’t a banger that year.

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Madden for Playstation 2 that year was a special release. It had a special edition that included extra video features, a Trivia game and some retro play modes. Madden ’05 also introduced the Hit Stick, which is as culturally ubiquitous in football as “He’s on Fire” is in basketball. The game also utilized a really cool radio show element (Tony Bruno) for the franchise mode as well. EA came out swinging in 2005. It’s fascinating to look at this game 15 years later as Madden players today are playing one of the worst rated Madden titles in ages.

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As somebody who loves the history of video games and especially sports games, it is really incredible that in 2005 EA was bold enough to have 3 versions of Madden throwback games included on the disc. You had what looks like Madden ’93 (Genesis), Madden ’98 (Saturn)and Madden 2001 (PS1) on the disc. All of them are the games rom hacked to have current teams and rosters. It’s so cool to see. Seeing the Rams new colors and Jaguars in the Madden 16-bit aesthetic is truly a sight to behold. It’s like a living museum seeing how the graphics and gameplay have evolved over the years. I stand by the fact that Madden ’93 and that early 16-bit era was fantastic and still holds up. You have really easy to digest graphics and passing felt smooth with the 3 windows to see if your receivers were open. Madden ’98 is an interesting point for them to revisit because that is the year that Gameday ’98 blew them out of the water graphically. Gameday ’98 showed up with fully polygonal players with big beefy models and some pretty smooth animations. ’98 would be one of the few years I feel like NFL Gameday stole a Win. Madden ’98 still relies on small sprite based players. It’s a good game that looks like a big leap from the 16-bit era but Gameday was the future. What’s interesting is playing Madden 2001 is that the game looks like Gameday ’98. Gigantic polygonal filly 3D monsters running into each other. It’s amazing. Being able to play that history and then turning on 2005 really makes you appreciate the improvements that the series made.

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The only downside to these modes is you can only play exhibition matches and versus play. They don’t have season modes or anything. This idea has been criminally ignored. Madden every year should have a 16 bit full game included with the rosters. I personally download Tecmo Super Bowl updated rosters every year to see Baker Mayfield tearing up the 8-bit field but Madden has such a long history of games that they could really turn some heads. NHL 21 included a pre-order bonus of NHL ’94 with current rosters. I genuinely almost bought the game this year just for the updated ’94 version of the game. The 16-era of hockey games is considered the peak of the genre from a fun and accessibility stand point much like Tecmo Super Bowl. I think PS2-era Madden with Michael Vick holds a similar type of mystique with gamers in their thirties. Instead of the Yard this year, I would have loved to see Madden 2004 with updated rosters included.

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One of the best aspects of Madden in this era is this time period is the perfect mix of complexity and accessibility for the genre. The game is still fun to pick up if you don’t know football, but also deep enough to satisfy future head coaches. Madden today is unplayable if you haven’t kept up with it over the years and don’t watch football. You have to make too many adjustments and shifts to be competitive. While it’s nice to have such nuanced control over every aspect of the game, with that controls comes a barrier of entry that is astronomical. NBA 2K suffers from the same issue. Complex and nuanced controls that make the experts look amazing but make the casual player frustrated. NHL ’94, NBA Jam, and certain sports titles seem to transcend time and it’s because they are fun and easy to pick up but represent the source material enough to be captivating. NBA Jam still feels enough like playing basketball that it’s fun for a fan but also easy enough that a non-sports fan can score and have fun.

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The franchise mode in Madden 2005 feels like a paradigm shift. It is in one sense because it was a shift and also the peak. Franchise modes have all but died in major sports games now because they can’t be monetized as much as Ultimate Team modes and I guess once you make a good franchise mode it’s harder to improve annually? I don’t know. But the template set in 2005 from a presentation standpoint and control standpoint have been replicated almost non-stop. The radio show has been replaced with text message and the bottom-line at the bottom of the screen but it’s all there. You have some conversational moments and drama about players angry about contracts and playing time. It’s captivating stuff. These games could have draft classes imported from the NCAA games and it made it all feel alive.

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All that said, for my money the gameplay is what makes Madden 2005 (all that entire era of 2001–2005) hold up so well. The blocking works as you expect. This is such a significant thing in a football game and something that Madden 21 just doesn’t have. When you run in Madden 2005, you can see the holes and feel the plays blocking develop in meaningful ways. Downfield blocking, while not perfect, is exponentially better than it’s predecessors. Blocking matters more now because the Hit Stick is on the other side of a missed block. The defense finally has a trump card. I have to state, few things in gaming feel better than knocking a punt returner into the sun with a hit stick.

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The hit stick is most visceral thing in gaming. It’s the shotgun blast in football form. It’s the reason Ray Lewis is on the cover. He controlled the league from the MLB position and is the perfect embodiment of the Hit Stick. Gameplay feels smooth because the animations feels good when player run into each other. Running the football feels great. For a 2005 sports game, it doesn’t feel like stepping into a time machine from a gameplay standpoint. I love old sports games but I fully acknowledge that playing Madden ’98 feels like taking a step back to a specific point in time. The game is playable but the game is also enjoyed more knowing the context that it exists in. Madden 2005 transcends it’s time in history from a gameplay standpoint. As a Browns fan it’s a step back into a nightmare where Jeff Garcia was our quarterback but that’s neither here nor there.

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If you’re bored and needing a football game that isn’t Madden 21 pull out the PS2 and check out Madden 2005 again. You probably already own it and if not it is not an expensive game to purchase. Let me get back to this game, Jeff Garcia is about to ascend to NFL MVP…

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My education is in Counseling (M. Ed). I love the Browns, Knicks, Retro Gaming, and Pro Wrestling. I've been a student affairs professional for a decade.

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