Better Than Ever, But Still Disappointing.
Salivating football fans have been compulsively purchasing their yearly copy of Madden for over 20 years now. So, with the summer of 2012 winding to a close, it’s time for EA to slap John Madden’s name on to a few hundred thousand shrink-wrapped boxes and put them into the hands of football junkies around the country.
This season, however, fans of the series are getting something a little different. Sure, the PS3 edition contains all of the requisite newfangled bells and whistles, but with EA finally sinking its teeth into Sony’s latest portable, the Vita, Madden aficionados are anxious to get their hands on the pocket version of their favorite franchise. But even though this year’s incarnation seems like it contains all of the proper ingredients, Madden 13 for the Vita could have used a little more time in the oven.
Before I cracked the cellophane on my copy of Madden Vita, I already knew good deal about the game. I knew that EA had been playing around with the Vita’s rear touch panel as a controller for jukes and dodge motion. I knew that players would be able to use the touchscreen to call audibles and even draw in player routes with their fingers. I also knew that the game utilized the internal gyroscope to control direction when kicking. However, when I finally fired up the Vita, all of these vogue novelties quickly started to feel gimmicky.
Actually, Madden NFL 13 Vita makes a discouragingly accurate metaphor for the Vita itself; both have an incredible amount of potential that often plays second fiddle to the idiosyncratic controls. Now, I’m all for a clever control scheme—you’re talking to a person who got his Wii on release day—but there are times when developers should simply be relying on those time-tested control setups rather than forcing something unintuitive onto the masses.
Sony and EA don’t seem to realize this.
But even though the new input methods might be a fumble, the graphics are definitely a homerun (mixing sports metaphors is fun and easy). Madden 13 flaunts a particularly crisp set of player models on the Vita’s 5-inch OLED display, and Ray Lewis’ opening film shows off a bit of the console’s HD capabilities. My wife was even impressed, and she watches terrible shows like Vampire Diaries .
However, if you were hoping to experience PS3-level graphics on a portable system, you’re definitely going to be disappointed. In actuality, the Vita version of Madden 13 has far more in common with the console version of Madden 12 than it does with its own console contemporaries. Unfortunately, the Vita incarnation doesn’t run on the Infinity Engine, which means that we’re never going to be blown away by the graphics. In fact, if you ever accidentally look past the player models, you might mistakenly think that you’re playing Madden 2005.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Players who are upgrading from the PSP to the Vita are going to be instantly thankful for the changes. The dual analog sticks alone are enough to make the game worthwhile (did anyone ever really think that those idiotic nubs were acceptable?). But the Vita wasn’t really touted as just another portable console; it was supposed to close the gap between console gaming a pocket gaming.
And, the problem is, we know that this is possible. in March, Sony released MLB 12: The Show, and we got the first look at the Vita’s cross platform play. The Show allowed baseball fans to start a ballgame on their PS3, and finish it while fleeing the cops in a high-speed chase. And this is what genuine Madden fans were hoping for but won’t be getting. Unfortunately, there is no connection between the PS3 version and the Vita version, which means that players who own both systems are going to have to manage two separate franchises. I really wish that EA had spent more time on cross-platform integration and less on quirky controls. Though, according to EA, it was never a possibility for this generation.
However, aside from the gyroscope kicking element, the quirky controls are entirely optional. Players can use the right control stick to perform their dodging maneuvers, just like they could in the previous versions, and you obviously don’t have to call an audible if you don’t want to. But there are several little glitches that are completely unavoidable.
The between-play camera, for instance, has some major difficulties staying on task. It would cut between shots so quickly that I was unable to decipher exactly what was on my screen. And then there’s the audio commentary. My ears have met their lifetime quota for the phrase “Off to the races,” but I’m almost guaranteed to hear it again the next time I run the ball. I’ve also heard reports of collision glitches and bugs that’ll cause the game to crash entirely, but I didn’t experience any of this myself.
However, for all of its problems, I can’t seem to put Madden Vita down. I constantly find myself firing up the Vita to shuffle a few players around in franchise mode or check in on my superstar’s illustrious career. It has just as much replay value as any of the console editions, and it’s one of the deepest portable titles that I’ve ever gotten my hands on. In fact, once you take a vacation from the touch controls, the game begins to feel like the Madden that we’ve all grown to love. And after I had given up on the rear touch pad and the touchscreen, I was able to sprinkle them in from time to time without any distraction.
At the end of the day Madden NFL 13 Vita might just be one of the best games on the little console. It’s definitely not the game that players were hoping for, and very few of players will probably feel the need to purchase a copy for their PS3 and a separate one for the Vita, but if you’re looking for a way to kill a few hours at work, Madden NFL 13 is probably as good a choice as any.
Plus, maybe if we support this year’s edition, EA will try a little harder next year.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The graphics look wonderful at first, but try not to look closely. 3.0 Control
Practically perfect, but with several shoehorned Vita exclusives. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
If you enjoy endlessly repeated lines, you’ll love the voiceovers. 3.5 Play Value
Insane replay value, but corners have definitely been cut. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best