Editor’s note: John Gaudiosi covers the video game industry for Local Tech Wire and writes the Gaming Guru blog for WRAL.com.

CARY – The most popular sports game in North America is celebrating its 20th anniversary today.

EA Sports offered Pasadena, Calif. gamers (about 10,000 of them) the chance to play the game first on Monday on the field of the Rose Bowl as part of Maddenpalooza– an all-day music and gaming festival. SpikeTV even broadcast a live Madden 09 launch show from the stadium.

Now that the former Green Bay Packer legend – and new unretired quarterback of the New York Jets – Brett Favre is finished with his soap opera, the cover athlete of Madden NFL 09 can focus on football. For gamers, when you pick up your copy of the new Madden, Favre will be sporting his original green and gold.
Check out websites like EBGames.com and EASports.com and Favre is donning the Jets green, but because the game was finished about a month ago and the print run of game cover art completed before last week’s bolt to the Jets, your game will become a collector’s item, of sorts. Those die hard Jets fans will be able to download Favre in his new colors on Madden09.com and print out the box art. Over 50 million Favre Jets jerseys sold on the first day of his trade, so there are plenty of fans out there who will want to do this.

Although many questioned the decision by EA Sports to choose a "retired" player and an athlete who admitted he never played videogames, the daily national drama — which ESPN.com appropriated tagged "Bay Watching" — certainly won’t damage sales of the 70 million unit-selling sports juggernaut. EA had already put into place the ability for players to add Favre to any team in the league, so Favre actually can remain a Packer, virtually, for those fans who don’t agree with Green Bay management and their decision to sever ties with the recently reinstated quarterback. EA Sports is also offering a roster patch download for fans on August 12 that will feature Favre as the starting quarterback of the Jets.

Jets fans wondering how Favre will do will be happy to know EA Sports simulated the Jets season and with Favre the Jets were 11-4-1 with an AFC Playoff berth. Without the future Hall of Famer, the Jets were 9-7 and out of playoff contention.

But the real questions gamers want to know is: How’s Madden 09? I’ve had the chance to play the game several times over the past few months, and have had an early code and final copy for some time now. I can tell you the game’s the best football videogame ever made. Those 2K Sports fans who are still upset about EA’s NFL exclusive game license finally have a suitable successor to the NFL 2K franchise. And Madden 09 is the first game in the series — at least since those old Genesis days — that will welcome back legions of old fans.

Much like Nintendo’s Wii and its innovative Remote controllers, the new Madden automatically adjusts to the player’s skill level through a series of on-field tests in a cool virtual environment. For anyone who’s been locked out of the virtual sport since the next gen consoles, this is great news. The game will teach you how to play and offer great on-screen tips to improve your game. Best of all, two players can compete on the same field with different skill levels. This means newbies and veterans can have an equal chance of winning when playing together — perfect for father and son match-ups.

From the moment you turn on the new Madden, the graphics are unbelievable. I don’t remember this type of graphical jump in a one-year time frame on any other game. Put Madden 09 on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 next to Madden 08 and it’s night and day. The details of the field, the authentic stadiums, the reflection of the crowds in the helmets of the players — it’s as close as you can get to watching a real game. In fact, it’s better, from a visual perspective. EA Sports has finally broken out of the TV mold and offers unique camera angles and perspectives (Dynamic ActionCam) that take advantage of the interactive medium. There’s even picture-in-picture presentation. There are no more load screens, as replays show up in boxes while you choose the next player — action is always going on.

As for depth, this game has 85 new features packed into it. There’s literally something for everyone. There’s a Rewind mode built in for newbies who can instantly retry a play and try to keep the ball in the receiver’s hands on the second go. There’s Total Control Animation, which allows players on both sides of the ball to attempt to bust through tackles or strip the ball at the end of plays. And veterans will be able to take their online teams to the Super Bowl in the enhanced Online Leagues 2.0 feature (no replays allowed online, by the way).

So take a Maddenoliday and play. It beats pre-season games any day.