SLIDESHOW

20 Years of Madden

When John Madden Football debuted in 1988, the Soviet Union hadn't collapsed, the NFL hadn't launched its European league, and some current devotees of Fall Madden-ness were still in diapers. The series has since developed into the biggest franchise in digital gaming, hosting some of the most critically acclaimed but also controversial incremental installments in simulated NFL history. And we have all 20 covers.

Madden 1990

Where it all began: John Madden at his feather-blonde fashion-plate peak, buoyantly crashing through a chalkboard. Reverse the shot and you'd see just six X's and six O's on that board, reflecting the graphical limitations of late 1980s Apple II and Commodore 64 computers.

(For more coverage and information, see "Madden NFL 09: The Best Madden Yet," "Madden: The Man, The Game, The Curse," PCW's review of the Nintendo Wii, and PCW's review of the Sony PlayStation 3.)

Madden 1991

Madden makes the jump to consoles, including the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, and suddenly it matters whether conditions on game day are good or inclement (wet, muddy, or snowing).

Madden 1992

Electronic Arts confirms that Madden Football has become as annual as the Camaro by tacking '92 onto the title. The company adds the inevitable (instant replays), the grimly realistic (player injuries), and the in-your-dreams fanciful (the option to overturn pass interference calls).

Madden 1993

His smile says "Who loves ya, baby," but his arms are saying "How the heck did I get here?" (And he hasn't changed his tie since last year.) In comes the "no-huddle offense," stop-clock plays, "split-play calls," battery backup, and--with the Genesis version--John Madden's digitally voiced commentary.

Madden 1994

"Madden" takes his place alongside such legendary single-name athletes as Pele, Ichiro, and Casanova, as "John" drops out of the game title. This version was also the first in the series to spring for an official NFL team license, the first to crow "EA Sports, it's in the game," and the first to show John without a 10-inch smile on his face.

Madden 1995

The apostrophe drops from the year, and copy editors everywhere sigh a familiar, resigned sigh. The game acquires actual NFL player names, optional weather conditions, quarterback slides, bigger fields, and over 100 player injuries ("turf toe," anyone?).

Madden 1996

John Madden sports his famous "maybe he will, maybe he won't" pose, anticipating Derek Zoolander's "Magnum" by at least half a decade. This version introduced voice-overs, drafting, and the option to create (and "creatively" name) your own players.

Madden 1997

"I want you," says John Madden, "to play head-to-head using a dial-up modem" in the PC version. Talk about your slow-developing plays--and don't even think about audibling at the line of scrimmage!

Madden 1998

"What? I'm still here?" says John, shrugging like a pro. Quarterbacks get the option to lob passes and to adjust timing patterns, and the presentation begins to feel more TV-like, with play-by-play analysis in a can (a technology rumored to have been pioneered by Al DeRogatis on NBC's old AFL broadcasts during the 1960s).

Madden 1999

John drops his trademark headset, duds up, and sports a smile that says "Hey fellas, I can't feel my face. Fellas?" Franchise mode makes its debut, letting gamers guide teams for up to 30 seasons, as well as trade, sign, release, and draft future players.

Madden 2000

"Some day, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me," declaims John "Corleone" Madden. "But in the meantime, accept this gift of all 31 NFL teams, all-star and classic teams, and player-specific animations." Wait--this version was supposed to be free?!?

Madden 2001

It happened to Peter Norton, and now it happens to John Madden, too: This edition is the first in the series to pull John's mug off the cover in favor of a glamorous product shot--in this case, a picture of Tennessee Titans running back Eddie George.

Madden 2002

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper mans the cover this time around, and the game incorporates a slew of minor updates to existing features, including player face and body realism, improved tackles and drag-downs, better lighting, and a "game within the game" Two-Minute Drill mode.

Madden 2003

St. Louis Rams running back Marshall Faulk looks mighty surly here, but who could scowl about the addition of EA Trax--EA's rockin', hip-hoppin' user-customizable soundtracks featuring music ranging from Andrew W.K.'s "Party Hard" to Bon Jovi's "Everyday." Andrew W.K. even appears as a playable (but not partiable) character.

Madden 2004

Hey, it's Michael Vick! (You know, back when he was the good Vick brother--before his conviction in federal court for operating and financing an illegal dogfighting ring on his property in Virginia.) New and significant: Owner Mode, which let players hire staff, set ticket and food prices, build stadiums, organize preseason camps, and switch cities on the slightest pretext.

Madden 2005

Another year, another roster update, this time with controversial Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (who had the good sense not to run a dogfighting ring) on the cover. Madden 2005's biggest add-in? The hit-stick, which allows players to smack other players around and potentially dislodge the ball.

Madden 2006

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb on the cover helps launch the Xbox 360 in August 2005; and EA adds a rookie-to-retirement "Superstar" mode to Madden's list of role-playing features. Another innovation: "QB Vision Control," which requires that intended receivers occupy spotlight "cones" emanating from the quarterback.

Madden 2007

Madden finally reaches the PlayStation 3 and Wii, and Seattle Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander graces the cover. EA launched this edition in Madden, Mississippi, where NFL stars Jerry Rice, Warren Moon, and Marshall Faulk led ceremonies that included handing out free Xbox 360s and copies of the game to every resident of the town (total population: 74). It's a good bet the game maker won't try the same stunt in Maddenson, Wisconsin.

Madden 2008

Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young runs at 60 frames per second on the Xbox 360; Hit Stick 2.0 lets you smack high or low with a flick of the analog stick; and some players get billed as "weapons" with special abilities like "cannon arm" and "big foot kicker" (valuable if you need to take down Sasquatch without using your hands).

Madden 2009

Madden NFL, meet Brett Favre (whose last name rhymes with "carve," not "slobber" or "larvae"). Too bad about the uniform glitch. But you know what they say: Yesterday's dark green and gold is today's hunter green and white.