Potentially the best… if it hadn’t blown out its knee.
Handheld Madden is a funny thing. Theoretically, it should be absolutely massive—but it never is. In fact, EA hasn’t released a DS version of the hit franchise in nearly three years, and it’s infrequent to hear the developer laud the features of the yearly PSP releases. That’s what made Madden’s 3DS launch title so unique. It was never a real pull, so it felt as though EA must have had something special planned for the system’s launch. Or they wanted to take advantage of the decidedly barren launch library and make a quick buck before Madden 12 in August. Turns out it’s somewhere in-between.
[image1]Even when compared to other launch titles, Madden NFL Football’s 3DS iteration is bare-bones. Heck, there are barely any bones to even talk about. There’s no multiplayer whatsoever—an exclusion that’s sure to shut some fans down immediately—and the included modes are sparse. There’s an Exhibition mode and a Season mode, and that’s about it. There’s not even a Franchise to speak of, so besides playing regular matches, the only other thing to do is to compete in what amounts to a tournament.
The only thing adding any variety is the option to play either of the game’s modes in traditional 11-on-11 or an arcade-inspired 5-on-5. Even this is a missed opportunity; while it retains the streamlined play-calling of 2010’s downloadable NFL Arcade, it lacks the Game Changers (power-ups) that made it work so well.
That said, there’s a silver (or rather, copper) lining: the gameplay is actually fun. It’s the best handheld football game in years when it actually comes to playing football. Most of the features from recent console releases, such as Gameflow and Pro-Tak, are included, and it's an absolute blast playing game after game. The only hiccups come from strange physics from time to time and occasions when player-controlled athletes ignore the ball-carrier and focus on the quarterback even after he’s given the football up.
[image2]It’s also a visual treat, with strong graphics and a steady framerate. The characters are stylized a bit, looking like caricatures of themselves more than the actual athletes, but it’s well-optimized for the system. Sound is strong as well, and the inclusion of full commentary for the 11-on-11 games definitely makes the presentation feel more in line with the console releases than past iterations for the DS.
The only real issue with the presentation is the 3D itself, which fails to enhance the game in any way. In fact, it detracts. Even when with the 3D lined up perfectly, which seemed to be a much more difficult task than it was in other 3DS titles, the effect was minor; instead of popping things out and giving a sense of the foreground and background, it looks like you’re watching a football game through a window. That’s it. If the 3D can put different elements on different planes, everything is on the plane farthest away, and any—and I mean any—minor hand movement completely ruins the illusion.
[image3]So don't be surprised to find yourself switching 3D off after a minute, nursing a minor headache, and wondering why EA even bothered with it at all. Clever camera maneuvers in replay mode can provide an occasionally interesting effect, proving that the game technically has the capability to present appealing 3D, but it just doesn’t, likely due to the rushed release. In fact, that’s the best way to describe the entire game: It has the ability to impress; it just doesn’t.
Madden’s first outing on the 3DS is disappointing, not for its gameplay but for its lack of multiplayer and rushed 3D graphics. Sadly, it feels incomplete and there's little reason for a purchase, especially with Madden 12 just a few short months away. Hopefully, with that release, they’re able to expand on the stellar groundwork they’ve laid here and create the first handheld Madden worth spiking a ball over.