The fattest yard.
Madden NFL 06 for the PSP is, to a degree, a faithful port of the console version, plus one of the deepest sports games available for Sonyí¢â‚¬â„¢s sexy black gadget. It almost perfectly replicates the gameplay, is chock full of gridiron action, offers Ad-Hoc and Infrastructure support, and delivers a complete Franchise mode.
Why, then, must it hate me so?
Alas, for all its good, Madden 06's main game mode is plagued by irritating technical problems, from crashes and A.I. bugs to rampant loading. It makes us really, really miss having a Virtual Concepts football game to consider, because Madden 06 for the PSP easily could have been outclassed by a smoother, more streamlined entry.
Still, Madden 06í¢â‚¬â„¢s ton of modes makes it a pretty attractive choice, even if it is the only one. You can play Exhibition games, run Practice sessions, jump into a Franchise, or screw around with 18 mini-games aimed at different elements of football, as well as play wirelessly against local friends or cross-country opponents in a functional Infrastructure mode. With so many ways to play and so much content, Madden 06 is one of the deepest title available for the PSP, although that isní¢â‚¬â„¢t really saying much.
Most of this comes from Franchise mode, which allows you to trade players, sign contracts, nitpick over player bonus options, simulate games and enhance player attributes with mini-games in the offseason, all while tracking an obscene number of statistics. On top of that, players can import their Madden 2006 PS2 franchise onto the PSP, develop it on-the-go, and then export it back to their PS2. Thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s a play weí¢â‚¬â„¢ve never seen before, and ití¢â‚¬â„¢s good for a score.
At least, it is if your on-the-go Franchise doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t go on-the-fritz. Indeed, this mode is so heavy it tends to stumble and collapse under its own weight. Any time a trade period passes or a set of games is simulated, youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll be in for long loads, and sometimes your PSP will just plain choke to death trying to digest all the information, resulting in a total crash, turning off your system and losing all data that changed after your last save. Spending a fifteen-minute train ride to work adjusting and tweaking your PS2 franchise via PSP sounds great on paper, but not when it breaks.
Instead of fiddling with the finicky Franchise, you can always jump into the sea of mini-games. Doní¢â‚¬â„¢t be fooled by the huge number, though, as all of the good mini-games were present in past Madden titles, and some of the new ones, like í¢â‚¬Å“Kick Return,í¢â‚¬? suck. The worst mini-games have to do with catching the ball, as these put the seriesí¢â‚¬â„¢ horrible catching system in the spotlight for a less than savory close-up. While they certainly add some playability - every mini-game can be played with multiple players online - they're not particularly thrilling.
The online content is indispensable and something of a pain, as setting up your account involves frequent, lengthy loading screens and an unwieldy keypad. Once you break through, though, you can quickly challenge other players to games that run pretty smoothly for a handheld.
It helps that EA got the gameplay right. While the controls had to be slightly consolidated due to the PSPí¢â‚¬â„¢s lack of an R-nub, players can still call audibles and hot-routes, make line-shifts, adjust the secondary, sprint, juke, stiff-arm and throw just like they could in the console versions. The analog nub isní¢â‚¬â„¢t nearly as pleasant to deal with as a real analog stick, but it works. Running with the football, for instance, feels great. EA jacked up the nubí¢â‚¬â„¢s sensitivity to compensate for its relative lack of precision, and as a result running feels almost as good as it does in the console versions. You can cut much more sharply, leading to some truly awesome plays, although ití¢â‚¬â„¢s also easy to cut too much and run yourself into a tackle.
The nub doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t work quite as brilliantly in the passing game, where you can use it to lead your receivers. The nubí¢â‚¬â„¢s sensitivity is just as jacked up for passing as it is for the run game, usually causing your quarterback to throw the ball out of bounds any time you attempt to lead a receiver headed toward the sidelines or end-zone. If the ball doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t wind up going out of bounds, ití¢â‚¬â„¢ll probably be thrown so far ahead of your receiver he woní¢â‚¬â„¢t be able to catch up to it, anyway. Fortunately, passing the old-fashioned way works perfectly. The pressure sensitivity is finely tuned, so throwing bullets, floaters, and everything in between feels just like it does in the console version.
Special Teams, on the other hand is, well, special. Occasionally when you go to kick, neither the aiming cursor nor the power meter will load, yet the play clock will run. You have to pause and then un-pause the game to bring them back. Another shank sometimes occurs when your opponent goes for three. I played a game against the Jaguars where their kicker missed three thirty-yard field goals and two extra points wide left to the exact same spot. It wasní¢â‚¬â„¢t pretty.
The game is, though. The animations look superb and the framerate stays solid, a smooth graphical port that actually manages to look a lot like its more powerful console counterparts. Unless, again, you're playing in Franchise mode. Here, the game will stall for about 2 seconds any time you throw an incompletion, a completion, an interception, or cross the goal line for a score. While this doesn't actually detract from the play experience, it doesn't help.
The audio includes annoying pop in the menus as well as commentary and ambient sound effects in the games. While the tackle sounds are fine, the weak voiceovers and lame menu music should have been cut if it would have made the Franchise mode run more fluidly.
Madden NFL 06 is a hulking, beastly football game that's a bit too big for its new handheld britches. It nails most of the important things, like the gameplay and the online content, but the gameí¢â‚¬â„¢s beefy, versatile Franchise mode is a technical wreck. Still, its sheer depth makes it a relatively safe choice for patient fans of video gridiron. Just be prepared for a few too many time-outs.