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This matchup is a real blowout

Comparing Madden NFL 08 with All-Pro Football 2K8 is like pitting men against boys. Talk about crunch time.

August 23, 2007|Pete Metzger | Special to The Times

THIS is competition?

Head to head, the two "pro" football games out this season -- Madden NFL 08 and All-Pro Football 2K8 -- are so mismatched, bookmakers in Vegas wouldn't even take any action. It's like the world-champion Indianapolis Colts playing a Pop Warner team of malnourished 8-year-olds. "Slaughter" is putting it lightly.

Named for the Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster John Madden, the Madden series of NFL games has been around since 1989, each year fine-tuning itself, creating a juggernaut football title that is so widely anticipated each year, its release date is an unofficial holiday (Happy belated Maddenoliday! It happened Aug. 14.).

All-Pro Football, on the other hand, is the resurrection of a franchise that was called ESPN Football in years past. Before its demise after the 2005 version, the ESPN series was showing a ton of promise with its original features and gameplay. But alas, when the exclusive rights to make NFL-licensed games were snapped up by Electronic Arts (the makers of Madden), Visual Concepts and 2K Games were left with a pro football game with no teams.

So was born the idea for All-Pro Football. Using retired NFL players, familiar players could be used to populate what was an already promising game. But along the way, either the developers forgot what worked in the past or tried too hard to reinvent the wheel, and what's left is this marginally exciting title whose flaws are far more glaring next to the golden god that is the Madden series. In All-Pro, players' limbs travel through their opponents, ruining any kind of realism. And the player renderings make most of the NFL greats look more like caveman lawyers than hall of famers.

The gameplay feels extremely retro, and not just because it features retired players. The action is choppy, and there is little else to do other than play regular football, with the exception of a standard "create a player" mode.

Eliminate the decent next-gen graphics, and a more fitting title might be All-Pro 1998.

The Madden disc, meanwhile, not only offers perfect football gameplay, it also gives numerous ways to get a complete NFL experience. Want to create a rookie who plays his way into superstardom? Want to manage a current franchise and lead it to the promised land with shrewd drafting and player signings? How about taking the reins of every aspect of an NFL franchise, building a team, designing the stadium, even setting the concession stand prices? All this for the same price as APF2K8.

The graphics and play of Madden are so polished and realistic, players' bodies contort and move just like they do in real games. Watching a replay of a tackle, you can actually view how the defender used his hands to drive the running back into the turf, further proof that this title was created by guys who brought their A game.

The voices are even authentic ESPN announcers and talking heads. The only thing lacking is a smoother way to navigate the menus before playing a football game, a minor flaw.

Oh, and the big draw of APF2K8, the Hall of Fame players? Many of them can be integrated into current NFL teams on Madden.

So much for the competition.

Details: Madden NFL 08: All platforms; $59.99 to $29.99; rated Everyone. All-Pro Football 2K8: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms; $59.99; rated Everyone 10+ (mild language).

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Mario gets muddled

Adapted perfectly to the Nintendo Wii, Mario Strikers Charged enhances the great soccer action of the original title (2005's Mario Strikers for the GameCube). The good: The online play is easy to jump into (although it can be difficult to find an opponent with a similar skill level), and the in-game flourishes really shine (point the Wiimote at the screen to block "Mega" shots). The bad: The game's menus are small and hard to read, even on an extra-large TV. And the ugly: Some of the messy-looking playing fields have so much going on, it's nearly impossible to follow the action.

Details: Nintendo Wii platform; $49.99; rated Everyone 10+ (mild cartoon violence, crude humor).

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Picross is addictive

When they wrote "a picture puzzle you can't put down" on the back of the Picross DS box, they weren't kidding. Mix Sudoku, the current heavyweight champ of all puzzle games, with Minesweeper, the ultimate time-waster on most PC computers, and you've got Picross, one of the most engrossing titles around.

Using logic and deduction (and the number clues on the sides of the grid), gamers choose which of the squares need to be colored to successfully create the target picture.

This is affordable fun that's super easy to pick up and nearly impossible to put down.

Details: Nintendo DS platform; $19.99; rated Everyone.

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