I have tortured many girlfriends over the years, not in a CIA kind of way, but in a way that's almost as bad -- staying up until 7 a.m., night after night, playing as the New Orleans Saints until I win 15 Super Bowls in "Madden" football.
That was years ago, though, when "Madden" games were awesome. For the past few years, they haven't been as much fun. They've been riddled with too many turnovers, or a "lateral" button that makes you fumble accidentally, and other dumb, little mistakes.
But finally, "Madden NFL '09" brings back fantastic pro ball that is perfect and addictive.
It's so engrossing, the first day I got "Madden NFL '09," I thought I had been playing for only a few hours, but when I looked at the clock, eight hours had passed.
That's dangerous. That's a life-sucking gaming. It sucks the living right out of your fingertips until your brain is a mush of passing routes and linebacker patterns.
Everything is great in "Madden NFL '09." You begin by taking a brief test to see how good you are at running, passing and defending. The game thus judges whether you're a newbie, a casual gamer or a hard-core "Madden" head. Then it adjusts the difficulty level of the game for you.
That way, even if you're terribly new to playing "Madden," it cuts you some slack. If you're an expert, "Madden" steps up its game to challenge you more.
It's hard to believe it took "Madden," now celebrating its 20th year, so long to come up with this test. But it should influence other sports games, for starters, to offer similar introductions.
Next, you have a bundle of choices. You can play a one-off game immediately. You can start a whole season. You can draft college kids and, as usual, trade your players, or buy free agents. You can even scout college players while your season is in progress.
The game play itself is flawless and beautifully illustrated. "Madden NFL '09" fixes previous troubles. Now, it takes little time and brain power to sort through your giant playbook to choose running and passing routes.
It's a breeze to change a play at the line of scrimmage, whether you want to call an audible or merely to put a man in motion. And, of course, you can play against real gamers online.
The one weird addition is a "Rewind" button. If you mess up a play, or if your opponent scores, you press this "Rewind" button, and you get to replay the play. It's a do-over button. A mulligan.
I'm not sure I love the "Rewind" button, but if you stink at "Madden," it's a fine little sci-fi invention to keep you from foaming at the mouth at least once every half-hour.
This is what I call an all-year game. It is worth the price of admission, because you will play it all year long, even though the other people in your home might wish you wouldn't.
("Madden NFL '09" by EA retails for $60 for PS 3 and Xbox 360; $50 for Wii; $40 for PSP, PS 2 and Xbox; $30 for DS -- Plays as fun as games get. Looks great. Easy to challenging, depending on your skill level. Rated "E." Four stars out of four.)