Madden NFL 2001 is a better football game than NFL GameDay 2001, but only marginally so. It has a better visual polish (especially in the Nintendo 64 version), loads of options and gameplay that's easier to live with, but I still found it every bit as frustrating to play as every 32-bit and 64-bit football game before it. What's the point of all the extra features that 989 Sports and EA Sports have been cramming into their football games if every contest feels like a chore?
At first, Madden 2001 does seem to have a better grasp on how to do football right. Original rap music (about football) plays behind the many menus. All throughout the game, there's a flavor and mood that not only shows a deep appreciation for the sport, but also makes the experience more attractive and fun. The amount of available options and features is very impressive. A new addition is the Madden Challenge mode, which allows you to complete various tasks during games which in turn earns you "Madden Cards" that unlock even more features and options. For instance, a task is completed if one of your players gets six or more tackles, and another if you complete a pass of 30 yards or more. There are over 250 cards, and you can trade them with friends. I thought this mode was an interesting and fun little distraction from your everyday NFL simulation stuff.
Another thing I liked about Madden 2001 (something that has become a trademark of the series) is the number of selectable teams. Aside from the many all-star and all-time teams, you can also play as memorable teams from particular seasons—like the '72 Miami Dolphins, the '85 Chicago Bears, or (of course I have to mention them) the Buffalo Bills of the early '90s. Many of the actual players from these teams are absent—represented only by their numbers—but it's still nice to see the great teams from days past recognized.
As with any game though, you have to keep coming back to the gameplay, and sadly, Madden 2001 comes up way short in that department. The Nintendo 64 version is actually the worst offender. For all its nice graphics, the game becomes an exercise in pure aggravation from the very first kickoff. Poor frame rates and confusing action make successful execution of plays a mere luck-of-the-draw. In fact, I never felt like I could truly affect the outcome of a game. It's impossible to tell where the ball is going once a quarterback lets it fly, it's too difficult to tell whether a receiver is open or not, and it's even harder to find holes for your running back to run through.
The PlayStation version has smoother gameplay, though its visuals are grainy and flat. The action moves at a slightly slower speed, so it's easier to make decisions as a play is unfolding. However, opposing defenders swarm to ball carriers so ridiculously fast that I damn near hurled my controller through my TV screen (and I'm very careful about how I treat my controllers). So you can forget about long kick returns or many yards after a catch, despite the ready availability of jukes, jumps, spin moves and stiff arms. I couldn't keep track of the number of times my punt returner was creamed immediately after the ball dropped into his arms. Basically, I didn't much appreciate being at the constant mercy of the cheating computer AI, and I hated the lousy kicking interface even more. With a spiraling power meter that stutters and moves too quickly and a direction bar that can't be moved until the kicker is in the act of kicking the ball, achieving any kind of accuracy in the kicking game is impossible. Madden 2001 actually succeeds in making punts, kickoffs and field goals the most difficult plays to execute consistently when they should be the easiest.
Madden 2001 never captures the excitement of NFL football during a game, either. The crowds seem lifeless, the sidelines are sparse—it's like the atmosphere was sucked out of every NFL stadium. Of course, Pat Summerall's nauseating play-by-play coupled with John Madden's typically idiotic commentary do nothing to remedy the game's lack of energy. The two aging football staples banter like the simple-minded boneheads they are, repeating the same asinine phrases over and over again. It will either put you to sleep or make you want to gouge your own eyes out. Thankfully, the commentary is kept to a minimum in the Nintendo 64 version, though it's so muddled that it sounds like Pat and John are talking with plastic bags over their heads.
Madden 2001 only made me appreciate NFL 2K1 for Dreamcast all the more. Though I'm happy to have found a great NFL game in Sega Sports' masterpiece, it saddens me that I can't recommend either of the big football sims for PlayStation and Nintendo 64. EA Sports missed an opportunity to dominate the market this year considering the woefully weak offering from 989 Sports. Instead, they served up another Madden game that overflows with options and game modes, but is ultimately doomed by a severe deficiency of fun gameplay.