Madden NFL 08
While the Madden series is well-known amongst sports gamers as being a serious NFL simulation on both consoles and PCs, the series has a weak reputation as far as handheld releases are concerned. Though I am relatively new to the series, a glance at GameRankings quickly shows that, year after year, handheld editions of this award-winning franchise are frequently the most poorly received of the bunch. Of course, most of the handheld versions are more than playable, but they just canít deliver an experience on-par with their bigger brothers. Madden NFL 08 on the DS is no exception to this unwritten rule Ė try as it might, the game just doesnít play as well as Madden NFL 08 on the 360 and suffers accordingly.
We all know the drill with Madden and every other sports game that EA produces a game for: pick your team and lead them to the championship. In my case, I chose to lead my New York Giants to greatness. Iíve never really spent a lot of time with Madden in the past, but I felt comfortable enough to launch myself into the franchise mode from the start in an attempt to lead the Giants to the Superbowl.
At first, it was a challenge for me to get my bearings straight with the game. Offensively, my passing game was a joke and running through defenders wasnít happening as I was tackled over and over again. Defensively, I couldnít stop any drives or passes and frequently gave up stupid touchdowns. In short, I started the game just like everyone else Ė I sucked.
After a while, I eventually got a hang of the nuances of passing. One of the best features in the game is a color-coded indicator over the head of your receivers. Each receiver has a color-coded letter over his head indicating which button to press to pass it to him. A green icon indicates a catch can be made, but yellow and red icons mean potential trouble. This is especially helpful because the screen on the DS is small and when receivers are 30 yards away from your quarterback, itís difficult to see how many defenders theyíre surrounded by.
However, despite the relative simplicity of the passing game, running the ball can be a total nightmare. The running game needs a make-over before next yearís edition is released. Running the ball through the offensive line is next to impossible, no matter how hard you spin or how liberally use abuse the ďturboĒ button. While running through the middle rarely gains yards, running the ball to the side often nets massive (unlikely) gains of sometimes upwards of 40 yards at a time Ė and with a great deal of frequency. Add in an AI that fails to recognize that youíre using the same play over and over again and you can quite easily score on nearly every drive without fail.
Defensively, the game is also mixed too. You can rely on your own AI controlled teammates to do a reasonable job at stopping most plays, especially running plays. But for some reason, even on the higher difficulty settings, itís incredibly easy to not be tackled by your AI opponents. Iíll often be running with whole groups of my rivals chasing me without a single one of them diving to tackle me. Let me reiterate here because this is an embarrassing flaw: Iíll run towards the end-zone, often with nearly an entire team chasing me, many within diving distance, but Iíll still score before one takes the chance to dive and tackle me. Itís silliness like this that really pulls you from the experience.
Features-wise, I think the DS version actually probably has more features than the next-generation versions do (fans of the series frequently complain about the feature-starved next-generation editions). You can run your own franchise, play for a season, or just load up quick games. The rosters are reasonably up-to-date, though fans will notice some trades and suspensions that arenít reflected in the game (most notably, Michael Vick, the legally-troubled quarterback, is still starting games for his Atlanta Falcons). Excellent wireless play and a few inconsequential mini-games round out the list of features.
You canít really expect the same graphical touches of the major console versions on the DS, but Madden NFL 08 still manages to look good, all things considered. The graphics are crisp enough to read the jersey numbers of your players and weather effects are well demonstrated. Thereís also no graphical slowdown to note. All in all, you just get a simple, effective graphics engine that never really impresses but never disappoints.
The only real problem the game suffers from graphically is a problem with the system: football is designed for widescreen. Without the illusion of peripheral vision that a widescreen presentation creates, running through crowds of defenders is made all the more difficult since you canít see opponents to your left and right. Youíll frequently be blindsided by opponents when you thought you had a clear path to the end-zone. The top screen is essentially a radar screen showing you where everyone is on the field, but it is incredibly impractical to use during an actual game, especially when youíre trying to run the ball at the same time.
And, in all of my years of reviewing Iíve never really been stumped as to where to put a complaint about a game, but Iíve actually found a first with Madden NFL 08. Whenever you or your opponent is lining up to kick off the ball, the game shows the referees running down the field from one end to another in preparation. It wouldnít be a big deal, but you sometimes see the scene ten (or more) times in a single game Ė and it always takes 30 seconds or so to complete. Itís incredibly annoying. Football can be a slow enough game as it is. It doesnít need this delay added to it. Of course, you canít disable the referee run either. Youíre also shown the referee moving the ball back to the line of scrimmage after some plays Ė another unnecessary slowdown. Iím going to assume the referees scurrying is to disguise loading, but I wish they had found a more interesting means.
Add in some cumbersome menu navigation and youíre left with a thoroughly average game. If this is the only version of Madden NFL 08 that you have access to, then you should still play it, but youíre not going to get the same enjoyment out of it as someone who has the 360 version is going to. But, despite the flaws, it is clear to see that thereís potential here. If EA keeps the formula that theyíve developed with this game and uses it as the backbone of Madden NFL 09, I think that the quality gap between console and handheld versions is no longer going to be an issues. With running game improvements and some stronger AI, this game would have a better chance, but as it is now, this game is only worth your money if you canít get one of the better versions of the game.
Five out of ten
- Decent passing mechanics
- Graphics are serviceable
- Lots of features
- Running game is broken
- Defense won't dive
- Loading takes forever