Happy 20th Birthday, Madden NFL!

The 2009 edition features Brett Favre on the cover, and Electronic Arts has added Virtual Trainer, which is designed to measure your Madden IQ

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Electronic Arts' celebrated Madden NFL series, and the publisher has something special planned for the 2009 edition. Not only did it sign former Green Bay Packer and NFL icon Brett Favre to grace the cover, it's packing the game with a stack of feature that should make it one of the best in the franchise.

As per the usual, Madden NFL 09 features "improved" visuals, but we're not just talking about revamped players. In addition to better looking athletes, the game also packs realistic looking field goal nets, flash bulbs from the crowd, camera shots outside the stadiums and beefed up weather effects. Snow actually accumulates on the ground and the players leave footprints, which eventually disappear beneath fresh powder.

Just as it does every year, EA plans to mess around with the analog sticks and honor its "innovation" with some fancy buzzwords. Welcome to Total Control Animation, a feature that lets you pull off moves with the left analog stick, instead of relying on the right stick. Case in point, you'll be able to juke by performing a series of directions using the stick. How this works alongside running remains to be seen.

Then there's Virtual Trainer, a feature designed to determine your Madden IQ. When you first boot the game, Madden NFL 09 throws you into this mode, the goal to see how well you know the game. In addition to seeing things from a holographic, virtual reality perspective, you'll complete a series of tasks (passing, rushing) and the game will attempt to throw you into a difficulty setting best suited to your skills; it appears, however, that you can reject this advice and choose whatever difficulty you want.

In game, there's BackTrack, where Cris Collinsworth (from NFL Network) uses his telestrator to inform you about the paths you should have taken. Rewind lets you redo the play. That seems cheap, considering most players will probably cheat in order to win games during their seasons, but at the very least, you can turn it off if you get the urge.

Speaking of Collinsworth, EA also went out and hired Tom Hammond to do the commentary. That's excellent, since we despise the radio style presentation in the last few Madden Games.

Furthermore, you'll be able to enjoy Madden Moments, where you'll be able to go through the 2007 season and alter history by changing the outcomes of games. Are you a jaded New England Patriots fan that wishes your team beat the New York Giants? This mode should let you change the outcome.

When you're done taking a team to the Super Bowl and altering the outcomes of old games, you can enjoy 32 person online leagues, complete with trades, drafts, playoffs and the Super Bowl. That alone will bump up the game's replay value considerably.

Finally, Madden NFL 09 supposedly works in conjunction with both the upcoming NFL Head Coach 2009 and EA's fantasy football game that'll release on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. The former lets you make use of a play creator in NFL Head Coach and upload said plays to Madden. The latter gives you the opportunity to upload your fantasy teams to the game.

For all we know, these features could scratch the surface to what Madden has to offer. We're not sure we like the Rewind and Virtual Trainer stuff; we prefer to let plays happen once and select our own difficulty. But thus far, Madden NFL 09 looks pretty damn sweet, and we can't wait to score on the virtual gridiron August 12.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.