Review: Who let the bugs out?
This isn't the first time Madden has made an appearance on a portable system ? versions of the game have appeared on numerous handhelds, from the Game Boy to the DS, but this initial PSP installment of EA's flagship is definitely the most talked about version. For good reason too ? while the other portable versions have been watered down and a generation behind, Madden NFL 06 on the PlayStation Portable is the closest thing we've had to a console perfect version of Madden on the go. It doesn't hurt that Madden has only really become the phenomenon it is during the current hardware generation. Though it lacks some of the features of the most recent console versions, Madden on PSP is the most feature-packed portable sports game to date, and thanks to a link-up with the PS2 version, it lets you play your franchise on the go as well as at home. Unfortunately Madden comes with a 'feature' nobody wants ? bugs. Why EA would need to rush a game with no competition is quite a puzzler, but obviously this was the case, thanks to a horrid rash of bugs that range from minor to unacceptable. EA gets some props for bringing Madden to PSP and make it play well (despite the AI gaffes) and look pretty good, but the complete lack of QA drags it way
Like its console brethren, Madden 06 comes loaded with features to keep a portable gamer going. You can play a Franchise, spend hours getting golds in the addictive Mini-Camp mode ? complete with 10 games designed for the PSP version, even play online via a wireless LAN; this is EA's first online PSP game, and you know, they made it almost exactly like the PS2 version. Which is impressive ? thought it might have been more impressive if you could play against PS2 owners. There are some things missing ? the QB Vision is not here (though I'm sure few will complain), and the Franchise mode lacks the Owner expansion, so it functions basically like the Franchise from Madden 2001 to 2003. For some this will be a sigh of relief. The Madden Challenge is also gone, as are the Madden Cards, which is a surprise considering it's been in Madden games since the PS1 days. Those who also own the PS2 version can, via USB, link the PSP and PS2 versions to transfer your Franchise to and from the systems, letting you play your PS2 Franchise on the go, or vice versa, playing your PSP Franchise at home. It's a little tricky, and naturally EA doesn't really do a good job of explaining how it works, but it's a nice idea that hopefully crosses over to their other sports franchises on PS2 and eventually PS3 (on that note it's disappointing that the two Burnout games didn't connect in some fashion). If you're gonna buy two versions of the same game they might as well connect.
If you've played any of the Maddens in the last few years, you should have little trouble adjusting to this PSP version. Naturally due to the lack of 3 buttons compared to the PS2 (or Xbox) pad, a few things are gone ? most notably the Hit and Truck Stick, but otherwise everything functions the same. The game does feel a bit looser than the console versions, but after a few minutes it becomes natural. It doesn't quite have that solid polish that its big brother has, but this is the first time the game has appeared on PSP; future versions will most certainly get it right. Madden does suffer from one annoyance ? slow play. Though it technically plays a bit faster than the console game, the pace is extremely methodical, for lack of a better term. While it might take 30-40 minutes to play a game using 5 minute quarters on PS2, it takes roughly an hour to do the same thing on PSP. It's probably just another bug but unlike real football, Madden's clock stops after every play, even if its a run up the gut, which is the likely culprit for the pace issues. It does start again after you return to the playcall screen, but you have a dead clock for about 5 seconds before that. This isn't the NCAA where the clock stops until the ball is set, guys.
Aside from this issue, Madden plays well, even with some quirks. The running game is all or nothing ? you either get 7-8 yards every run (if not more) or you get stuffed before you barely get the ball in your tailback's hands. Likely because the defensive AI is so erratic; the same thing tends to happen when you're on defense as well. Without the Truck Stick, you can't just barrel over the defense, though you can still hurdle, stiff arm, etc. Either way the running is a bit simple on the default setup, but of course you can adjust sliders to make things more reasonable. In short, running is a lot easier than it was in the console version, where getting 4-5 yards was a challenge quite frequently. On the other hand, the passing game is phenomenal, and the most enjoyable in a Madden that I can recall. The QB Vision was fine but this PSP version actually makes passing, you know, fun. There's far too many dropped/bobbled/mishandled passes for my tastes, and it's way too easy to chuck a hail mary and end up with a long reception or touchdown, but when your QB is clicking and the receivers are competent, the passing game is downright fun.
There are some baffling issues with AI though, that hurt a little. First off, the computer has an uncanny knack for getting touchdowns on longballs ? even more than a human player could. I have seen one of my DB's actually stop and turn around, moving away
from the receiver, letting him catch the ball and coast 80 yards for a TD. By the time I could take control and make a play, it was too late. Granted I got revenge by taking Eli 'Opie' Manning out of the game and injuring him for 7 weeks, but yeah. It happens far too often ? almost every score given up is a long bomb TD, otherwise my defense is strong enough to stop most runs and short passes. There's no Hit Stick but you can still brutalize the offense from time to time. The kicking game is good but one small thing stands out ? the kicking meter is too small and too fast for a portable system. It whizzes by so fast that getting a handle on it takes a long time, resulting in many missed extra points, kickoffs flying out of bounds, shanked punts...etc. It's like watching XFL kickers. EA definitely needs to approach this with a smaller-screen friendly version next year, because no way should something this simple be this frustrating.
But regardless of how the game plays, how feature-packed it is, and how good the wireless LAN online is structured...it's practically all wasted away by a complete lack of quality control. Madden gets called a lot of things by critics, but unpolished and buggy is rarely one of them. Well, Madden NFL 06 on PSP is the very definition of unpolished and buggy. Some things are basic, such as the retard AI running away from the play, the stopped-clock issue, and the absence of any sort of instant replay (which would be very handy considering how erratic the officials are judging sideline passes), things like that. It just gets worse as you move along. Sometimes, when you go for a kick, the kick meter won't even show up, forcing you to pause the game and then restart to get it to appear. But the worst offender is the freezes. Now games have had freezes over the years, but nothing like this.
Far too frequently, Madden will lock up when trying to load, and if you let it sit, the game will completely shut the PSP down. Entirely. So everything you've done up to that point is gone, unless you used the in-game save feature frequently, as a cover for this debacle. Sometimes it happens during the game, but I've found it happens most after you finish it off and are loading back to the main menu screen. It was such a good time to finish a game, only for the game to freeze and turn off my PSP. Now, I've been forced to save between quarters and right at the 2 minute warning in the 4th quarter, just to protect the game I'm playing. EA made a note to start a game in the team schedule rather than the weekly schedule, but this 'fix' has been debunked already ? the same problems occur. Instead of tackling the problem to cover their image, EA is flat out ignoring the problem rather than offering a true fix, claiming the problem is not widespread (which it obviously is considering the complaining). It's puzzling as to why ? back with Madden 2004 on Xbox, it had errors importing a draft class from the NCAA of that year, and EA went out and let you send in your Madden disc for a fixed version. Why not the same treatment for something even more damaging? Because I'm by nature a patient person, I've managed to deal with these issues and play an entire season, but I'm sure there are others who cannot handle this ? and they shouldn't have to. I'm sure EA will patch it up for future pressings, but the guinea pig early adopters likely will be left holding a bag of poop. It seems to be an issue related to Franchise mode only, as online contests have had no such trouble. But since Franchise is the mode of play the majority of gamers will use, it's not going to go ignored.
Ahem. Aside from some slowdown here and there when you break the huddle and move to the line of scrimmage, Madden's graphics are pretty good, and a competent port from the PS2 game. The players are a bit jaggy & you can't read their names on the back of jerseys, and the logos on the field are usually pretty blurry and screwy looking, but otherwise the game looks good and smooth. It definitely looks a lot better than the atrocious initial screen shots when the game first started being shown, at least it has that going for them. It doesn't quite reach the heights of the console versions, but there's plenty of time for that. It simply looks good, but not great. Considering how rushed the game is, I'd bet the 2007 version will be much better looking. One thing I'm disappointed with is how little difference the PSPs wide screen makes, as the added width does little compared to playing on a 4:3 TV.
The audio is mostly a rehash from the home version ? the same EA Trax soundtrack, so you get those great Sam Spence NFL Flims remixes and the atrocious emo-punk-pop crap you're used to from EA. The sound effects are the same as it's been in every Madden for years, and of course, John Madden and Al Michaels handle announcing. Which leads to the next complaint ? as long as you keep commentary on, you'll run across annoying stuttering and more potential for the infamous freezes, since the game loads up the commentary as needed, rather than the more natural streaming process from the console versions. Between plays, there's a slight stagger as it prepares the voices, and whenever something important happens or a bit of info flashes on the screen (such as when you catch a ball out of bounds or if you fail to get a 1st on 3rd down), it gets worse. For instance, if you're returning a punt and the game stops for a second to load, you've just been hit and the ball has been fumbled. Same goes for an INT ? there's a freeze while the game loads up the interception commentary and change of posession. It's a way of tipping off what's going on, but the delay is aggravating, which is why I turned it off and now play Madden like I was in the stadium rather than on TV.