Review: Madden NFL 09 (Sony PSP)

Madden NFL 09
Developer:EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA
Genre: Sports/Football
Release Date: 8/12/2008

Every year, something inside of me whispers, “Buy Madden. You know you want it.” In actuality, I don’t. Every year, I find myself playing the newest version less then the previous year’s. Back when I first got into the series, I played about a dozen seasons. I’d play game after game and win Super Bowl after Super Bowl. It didn’t matter what team I played. NEVER THE COLTS. I HATE THOSE GUYS. Ahem… err…where was I?

Anyway, I had some serious fun with Madden 08 for the PSP and was looking forward to yet another installment, especially after my Bucs went 9-7 and theoretically didn’t suck in the stats department this year. I had been hearing about all the awesome changes being made to the game all over the place. I was psyched for something new.

Instead I got the same damn game I bought last year with Brett Farve on the cover instead of Vince Young.

Modes

There isn’t anything new to talk about here. Just like last year’s PSP installment, you have quick play, franchise, and superstar challenge mode. Quick play just lets you pit any team you want against any other team, including historic teams, all conference teams, and All-Madden teams. Of course, these teams don’t have the names of the players on them, so you have to guess by looking at the number of the player. (Although how Derrick Brooks wasn’t on the all Buccaneers team I will never understand. We’re talking about a future hall of famer!) Franchise is the same as it’s always been. You pick one team and send them through training camp, preseason, regular season, playoffs, and even off season activities such as the draft, free agent signing, and coach hiring. It has a lot of depth and allows you to really play general manager. The only problem is that I could do all of this before and nothing new has been added.

Superstar mode is, as far as I know, the only exclusive mode to the PSP. Garnered to portable play, you’ll have 25 situations from last season that you’ll have to complete. Most of these are “score a touchdown in overtime with no timeouts left” These are fun in that you can really feel like you’re recreating some of last season’s magical moments. You can also reinvent them. The game says Adrian Peterson ran 78 yards for a touchdown? Well how about I make that Tavaris Jackson? Take that AP! Anyway, this is good for a diversion, but all 25 situations add up to little more than a couple of actual games in terms of how long it takes to complete them. Still, it’s nice to have something else to do for a change.

That’s all there really is. You’ve got the bare bones of the Madden franchise with one extra mode. None of the nifty sounding modes like the Madden IQ or online leagues made it over. You do have some online play, but its just one game at a time against an opponent who more than likely will just quit if you get to far ahead. You don’t even get the win counted towards your stats for that.

Graphics

I really can’t see a difference between this and last year’s title. The player models aren’t too detailed, with only minor details that I can notice to separate them. The various stadiums are remarkably faithful, although the fans are faceless masses who wear different colors depending on which team is the home team.

You still have the occasional visual glitches where players will form a solid wriggling mass in the middle of the field. More than one play will be disrupted by this. There really isn’t much to talk about here. All you ever really see is the football field and a bunch of menus.

Sound

How many years are we expected to deal with Madden and Michaels saying the same things over and over again? The other versions of the game finally got new audio, but here in PSP land, we’ve got the same track they’ve been using for over five years! This is just a blatant show by the dev team how little the PSP version means to them. They couldn’t give us this one victory. I don’t want to know the number of times I’ve heard Captain John Obvious Madden rant on about how a good mix of run and pass will keep the defense honest. I GET IT ALREADY!

Beyond that, the game features the typical fare of rock and rap licensed tracks with a few NFL films originals thrown in for good measure. This is something every sports game has been doing for years.

Gameplay

It is really sad that I have to keep saying this, but this is the same exact game as last year. The rosters may have changed, and the dev team might have mixed up the control scheme to try and fool us into believing there is a real difference, but there isn’t. There just isn’t.

I’m assuming most of us know how the game of football is played. Two teams take turns possessing the ball while trying to pass or run it into the end zone or kick it through the uprights to make a field goal. Very few Americans don’t have at least some basic understanding of this. (Although the rest of the world seems to think football is played with a soccer ball.)

The game controls pretty well, as it always has. You generally take control of the quarterback on passing plays and the running back when you feel like running the ball. It is always a quick button press to throw and/or stiff arm. I’ve always liked the controls for Madden. They’re easy to learn, yet offer depth to anyone who truly desires to master them. When you catch your first interception, or throw your first touchdown pass, there is a definite sense of reward.

I don’t know what else to say here. The gameplay is some solid fun that should be able to entertain you for hours upon hours. It’s about as faithful a representation of the NFL as you could want. Sometimes it seems like the AI is a little too lenient or a little too unforgiving, and playing against friends is always a blast.

Replayability

Madden’s franchise mode is one of the better things in gaming as far as I’m concerned. You can run through a full season with any of the 32 NFL teams, or have a fantasy draft to try and create an all star roster. After a bit of off season management, you get the chance to go through another season and so on and so forth. This offers near limitless replay value. The only way you’re going to run out of things to do is if you stop enjoying the game, which is pretty hard to do, even if you have played it all before.

The rewards of slowly building up your team through multiple seasons are definitely worth it. Let’s say you play as a team with a good defense, but a bad offense. You can work on signing, drafting, and trading players to beef up your offense until you’ve got a squad any defense would fear. It goes the same for the defense. I started off with a fantasy draft and went all out on offense. However, my defense was the worst stat wise in the league. I went right to work during the off season and grabbed a top of the line defensive lineman so I could generate a better pass rush. I was rewarded with a much better turnover ratio and was able to win more games.

If there were online leagues in the PSP version, I wouldn’t be able to imagine needing another game to play for months. Even without online, just the franchise mode alone will give you plenty of game time for your money.

Balance

There are four modes of difficulty in Madden; rookie, pro, all pro, and All-Madden. Pro is great for beginners, but rookie is so ridiculously easy that I can’t imagine anyone playing it. In fact, once you’ve played a season or two, I’d suggest going up to all pro. Pro ends up being too easy, with your opponent’s never running the ball and being amazingly susceptible to blitzes. You’ll also end up with an offense more prolific than last year’s Patriots team.

All-pro seems to be the best bit. You won’t win every game, and sometimes it will seem like the game is purposefully screwing you over, but victory is much sweeter in a close game than in a monster blowout. At this level, your skill is what will determine the outcome of a game, not dumb AI.

Just like in the real NFL, there isn’t much parity between teams. You do have some amazing ones, and a few duds, but any team can beat another on any given Sunday. You will notice a difference between a team whose offense is ranked a 95 compared to an 85, but it is never too overwhelming. You’ll find that most of the mistakes made are your own, and only through practice will you better and make less turnovers, just like the real sport.

Originality

I believe my previous comments in earlier sections should cover this. You’ve got roster updates and a few switches, but the classic Madden formula remains unchanged. The PSP version is devoid of all the shiny new modes and mechanics found in the next gen consoles. Hopefully, next season will see a few changes made for the portable crowd.

Addictiveness

Each game takes about half an hour to play on the standard settings. If you spend even half as much time as I do poring over stats to micromanage player improvements and balance the offense, you’ll get sucked right in. Sometimes I get so lost in the Madden world that I’ll judge a player in a real game based on his stats in the virtual one! (This has killed me in fantasy leagues before.)

Diehard football fans will have plenty of fun with this and probably blow through a whole season in little more than a week. Then you get to start it all over again and try for another Super Bowl ring. I love it.

Appeal Factor

Are you kidding me? This is MADDEN. Even the PSP version is all over the TV and internet, especially with the Madden special edition PSP bundle. The past few weeks, I haven’t been able to get away from the ads. On day one, the online mode was full of hundreds of people ready to play, and I can’t say that for any other game on the system except for maybe Battlefront: Renegade Squadron.

And it’s not all undeserved hype either. Madden is and always has been a solid football game that draws in millions of loyal fans to midnight launches every year. For a PSP game, this kind of attention is truly unparalleled.

Miscellaneous

I’m not sure if the developers ever intend to shorten the load times of these games. They always rank among the highest of any game on the system. It makes it nearly impossible to get a game started within five minutes of turning on the PSP.

Also, the power save feature has never liked Madden from what I can tell. At least thirty percent of the time that I try to power save, I end up losing the game I was on. A quick save feature is long overdue for the series.

This is especially compounded when taking the length of each game into account. If you use your PSP for short bus rides or the like, you’ll have to rely on the power save feature because you won’t be able to finish a whole game in such a short trip. Nothing is more annoying than finally getting the lead in the fourth quarter, only to have your game crashes when you try to power save. Then, when you try the game again, you lose!

I also can’t iterate enough how thoroughly frustrated I am that they didn’t do anything to this game to upgrade it from last year, and purposefully kept the old stuff in. This game would be getting a better score even if all they added was a new commentator’s track. I’m getting so sick of John Madden and his horribly obvious quotes.

None of this makes this a bad game, but for a franchise that boasts twenty years in length, you expect a little bit more.

The Scores

Modes: Below Average
Graphics: Decent
Audio: Below Average
Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Worthless
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Miscellaneous: Worthless

Final Score:Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

This year’s entry on the PSP doesn’t offer anything new. You’ll still get the classic Madden experience, but unless you really care about who the new starting running back is in Carolina, then you’re probably better off just sticking with last years iteration. Football on the go doesn’t get any better than this, so I reccomend to to anyone looking for thier first portable pigskin fix.

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