‘Madden’-ing Fumbles

I don’t know why, but every other year, the newest “Madden NFL” game introduces a new dumb feature that makes it super frustrating to play.

Two years ago, I tried for weeks to start a full season of football, but “Madden NFL ’06” wanted me to play nothing but exhibition games. Booo.

Last year, “Madden NFL ’07” fixed that, and was a great big, rousing beauty.

But here’s the new “Madden NFL ’08,” behaving like a running back with bad hands. Let’s just count the problems in order of asinine terribleness.

1) Everyone is constantly turning the ball over. I played against my friend David four times — as the New Orleans Saints vs. the Chicago Bears — and we each fumbled and threw interceptions as if we were newbies. We’re not.

Then I played a solo match against the computer. Both my team and the other team — the Tennessee Titans vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers — fumbled and threw four pick-offs.

That’s eight interceptions in a 20-minute game of five-minute quarters. This is wildly unacceptable.

One time, I dove to the ground without any defensive guy hitting me, and I fumbled while falling peacefully to the ground.

2) If you are running with the ball, you can press a button to toss the ball to a teammate: a lateral. But if you accidentally press this button when there’s no teammate around you (fairly easy to do), you merely fumble the ball to the ground. How stupid.

3) There is a great “protect” button you can press. It makes you wrap both hands around the football while you’re running. This should keep you from fumbling. Yet, I was jogging as a big fullback in the open field toward a touchdown, with the “protect” button on, and a tiny little safety pushed me once, and I fumbled.

4) When a new series of downs begins for my offense, I’m given just more than 20 seconds to scan through my plays, pick one, rush to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball. This is absurd.

I am so angry.

To be clear, I’m giving “Madden NFL ’08” a good three stars, because it’s a great-looking football game with amazing plays and realistic action.

In other words, these flaws aren’t fatal to the whole experience. But they’re ridiculously unnecessary stains on what could have been a classic title. It’s akin to looking at a Rembrandt splattered by red paint. You can see the beauty there, but you have to ignore big blemishes.

I hope Electronic Arts works out these quirks in a download through Xbox Live and PS 3. If EA does that, I might merrily call this game a masterpiece.

By the way, I’m not angry because I lost. In fact, I won against David and the computer. During my last game against David, he said, “You’re gonna kick a field goal and beat me!”

“Dude, we’re both losers,” I said. “This game makes us both losers.”

(“Madden NFL ’08” release retails for $60 for Xbox 360 and PS 3; $50 for Wii and PS 2; $40 for GCube, Xbox and PSP; and $30 for DS — Plays both fun and frustrating. Look great. Rated “E.” Three stars out of four.)

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