Another interesting mode in Madden NFL 2003 is football 101. In this mode, you can pick just about any play and have John Madden explain the formation and what coaches typically use it for. In addition, he'll break down the play and show how the defense is supposed to be pulled apart in order to make the play successful, whether it's a pass or a run. Madden shares quite a bit of insight into the sport (so much that it makes his game commentary seem weak by comparison), and casual fans may actually find it interesting to see firsthand what makes football such a strategic sport.
The changes to the gameplay are insignificant when compared with the sheer number and depth of the modes that Madden 2003 offers.
While the running game is pretty solid overall, it does have a few lingering problems, the most apparent of which is line blocking, or the lack thereof. Even with a high-powered offense, it seems like your offensive line is rarely capable of clearing a large enough hole in the defensive line that you can run through and not collide with any of your teammates. It's incredibly frustrating that your running back will get caught behind a lineman or just make enough contact so it slows your momentum to the point where a linebacker can come up and hit you out of your shoes. Speaking of linebackers, on any sort of toss running play, the linebackers seemingly get a ridiculous boost in speed as they charge down the line and tackle you at the line of scrimmage, even though it looked like you could get a 3- or 5-yard run just a few moments before. These sorts of situations don't happen so much that it makes the game significantly less enjoyable, but these areas could have used a little more refinement.
For the most part, the passing game is really good. You can throw a lob or a bullet pass to a player depending on whether you press or hold down the passing button, which is actually crucial in timing your passes properly. One of things you'll learn in the football 101 mode is that you need to hit your receivers at a specific point and not just wait around and hope they get open before the defensive line comes crashing down on you. For example, if your receiver is running a post play, you'll learn that you need to throw the ball precisely at the point that he makes his cut toward the sidelines. Likewise, you'll have to learn how zone defenses work and how receivers can be used to pull the defense out so that it's just man-on-man coverage, which significantly increases your chances of getting a complete pass. The only noticeable problem with the passing game is that the out passing route (where a receiver makes a sudden cut to the sideline) is still a little too reliable for getting those 6 or 7 yards in a pinch.
There's a lot to like about Madden 2003.
But the defensive AI has been improved, so it's not quite as bad as in previous Madden games. Cornerbacks are now much more adept at stepping into passing lanes and knocking down passes (particularly on shorter routes), and the zone coverage operates much as it does in real life, with the safety coming over to help if any of the other defensive backs get beat down the field. Blitzes are handled quite well--you won't necessarily get burned by running one, but the offense will gain a significant number of yards if they execute the play in time. Still, it's incredibly satisfying to have a blitz work on a running play, as the linebacker shoots down the line of scrimmage and takes the running back down. Tackling can be a tricky proposition at times since your tackle is dependent on speed and where you make contact with the opposing player, so you can expect to see the computer shake off one or two before you get comfortable with the system. There are also some moments, such as during kickoffs or punt returns, when an AI-controlled opponent will be within a foot of your player and not tackle him, which is somewhat surprising given how good the AI is in other areas of the game.
As far as graphics are concerned, Madden 2003 looks great, but the generic player faces that have been in previous Madden games are still a problem with 2003. It's obvious that the development team tried to make a few faces a little more recognizable than others, but most still have that bland, mannequin look. Otherwise, the player models are properly sized--kickers look like kickers, and quarterbacks look like quarterbacks. The stadiums all look excellent, with plenty of sideline detail and lively crowds.
Enough adjustments and changes have been made to the commentary and the gameplay to warrant a purchase even if you have last year's game.
There's quite a variety of sound in the game. The has been commentary improved, thanks to the introduction of Monday Night Football commentator Al Michaels, who seems much more lively than his predecessor, Pat Summerall. Madden's commentary has also seemingly expanded, and he tends to speak a little more about certain types of plays, but he sometimes goes a few plays without saying anything, and the interaction between the two commentators just isn't there. The soundtrack for the game is very good. It includes music from artists like Andrew WK and even a new track from Bon Jovi--all of which fits pretty well with the theme of the game.
There's a lot to like about Madden 2003. You'll undoubtedly enjoy the numerous modes it has to offer, and enough adjustments and changes have been made to the commentary and the gameplay to warrant a purchase even if you have last year's game. Unfortunately, the few small problems its gameplay does have really prevent from it being the top football game on the GameCube.