Review: Madden NFL 10 (Sony PSP)

madden10coverMadden NFL 10
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Genre: Sports/Football
Release Date: 08/14/2009

Another year, another Madden. That was all I thought before booting up this year’s installment on my PSP. Then I was greeted by the voice of Tom Hammond telling me of all of the changes to be found in the PSP version this year. I nearly cheered out loud. John Madden is no longer doing the commentary! There were some other things mentioned as well, but I was so blissfully happy about this that I wasn’t really paying attention.

Once the game loaded the main menu, I was greeted by “Painkiller” by Judas Priest and I knew, once and for all, that I was going to walk away from this game with a better experience than last year.

The only question was, how much?

Modes

Once again Madden on the PSP just doesn’t quite offer the same number of options that its console brethren enjoy. Still, there’s enough on the UMD, and enough of it is actually exclusive, that I can forgive the non inclusion of things like Madden IQ or Superstar Mode.

Actually, there is still Superstar Challenge. Once again, this mode is exclusive to the PSP and tasks you with recreating 25 spectacular moments from the previous season. You’ll take control of the Dolphins and finish off their upset victory over the Patriots with the Wildcat formation. You can play as the Panthers and feel the exhilaration of one of their last minute heroic wins from the beginning of the season. These offer a decent amount of time killing and challenging fun on their own, but EA went the extra mile and decided to allow you to play the other team in what they call Spoiler Mode. This essentially doubles the length of Superstar Challenge and gives you even more content designed for portable play. It kind of makes you wonder why they haven’t offered this the whole time.

Franchise Mode is still where most of your game time is going to come from. You can chose any of the 32 NFL teams and play through season after season with them, all while competing for free agents, drafting the next big thing, trying to figure out how to keep your team together under the salary cap, and boosting your player’s stats to get the most out of them. This is still one of the better things in all of sports games as far as I’m concerned. You can’t do quite as much as you can in the console versions, and there haven’t been any changes, but with new rosters and multiple difficulties, as well as the ability to have a fantasy draft, this is still the kind of mode that could suck countless hours from your life.

madden10One new, and surprisingly exclusive mode, is Play Designer. Here you’ll be able to finally put together the plays you’ve been wanting to see for years. You can create a full playbook of plays for both offense and defense. The game includes a tutorial for this mode, and once you’ve got the hang of it you’ll be customizing routes, selecting packages, and moving players around to your heart’s content. If you’ve got the PS3 version of Madden, or have a friend who does, you’ll be able to export these plays to the console! Again, this is a completely exclusive mode to the PSP and something you’ll want to consider as it can add a lot to how you play the game.

Beyond that, you’ve still got the ability to jump into an exhibition match at will and play around with some minicamp minigames. There aren’t quite as many modes as in the console release and you won’t get all of the flash and pizazz that has been added, but this is the most content I’ve ever seen on a portable Football sim.

Graphics

It can be really hard to see much of a difference between this year’s offering as opposed to last year’s. You still have decent, if not good, character models, well detailed stadiums, and faceless masses for a crowd. When you’re not on the field, you’re pretty much running through a gauntlet of similar looking menus. The design has changed, if that helps.

One thing I noticed is the game is much more comfortable with close ups. The models hold up much better up close than they used to. Still, the amount of detail in the game isn’t too high and there haven’t been many changes. The sidelines are still barren wastelands and there appear to only be a few body types. Madden on the PSP has never set the bar high for itself in terms of presentation, however.

What’s here is serviceable, but not nearly what the PSP is capable of.

Audio

You know, I pretty much covered the audio in my introduction. Oh well.

Like has been publicized, EA has finally done away with the years-old commentary from Al Michaels and John Madden. This year, we get Todd Hammond and Chris Collinsworth. This ends up being better simply because its a change. Sure, I noticed a lot of the annoying things John would say have merely been tweaked and redone for Todd, but it doesn’t matter! John is gone!

Actually, the commentary is still just as suspect as ever. It will often repeat itself multiple times per game, if not per possession. Wrong calls are made all the time as well. I have a tendency to call a punt fake and run the ball in short yardage situations when I’m at third and less than a yard or two. Every time I did this, Todd would comment that a coach is always nervous when a punter would throw the ball. I still haven’t had a punter throw a ball yet. Still, kudos for the new stuff EA. Took you long enough.

The yearly EA Trax have been nothing but a mix and match of recent or upcoming rock/rap tracks in the past. Here, they decided to pull out a great collection of the best artists in the biz. A few examples included were Slipknot, Kid Rock, Tupac, Killswitch Engage, Rage Against the Machine, Alice in Chains, Nas, and even Black Sabbath. We’re talking the good stuff too. Kid Rock isn’t butchering the crap out of rock classics here. I couldn’t help but love every track the game presented. For those not quite into this brand of music, all of the classic NFL themes and remixes are still on the disc.

The contrast in the changes made to the game are interesting, between the new commentary and the old rock. Let me just say that it really works for the game. This is the first time in a long time that I’ve really enjoyed the aural aspect of a Madden game.

Gameplay

There have been a few new additions to the Madden formula here.

For one, fumbles are treated completely different. If there is no opposing team member in sight, a player can still scoop up the ball and go. However, if the ball is dropped in a crowd, there will now be a mad dash for the ball. This takes place using a quick time event where you need to either mash a button repeatedly or tap it once in the order given. Screw up, or go too slow, and your opponent will be happy to grab the ball instead. This also works for onside kicks. It might sound silly, but it actually makes the player more involved. Before, you had practically no control in what went on in the scramble, but now you need quick reflexes. Sometimes it feels like the computer picks the winner beforehand, but it still works well. The game does a fantastic job of knowing when the mini game is called for.

madden102Another addition is the ability to ice the kicker when they’re trying for that last minute field goal. This amounts to nothing more than hiding the power and accuracy meter. Veteran players who have the timing of kicks down won’t even need to look here, but if you’re trying for a long goal to win the game, this can definitely make it more difficult.

The biggest change in fundamental gameplay is individual player momentum. Based on performance, players can receive either stat bonuses or penalties. For instance, if you throw an eighty yard touchdown, your QB is going to get a bonus. If you throw back to back interceptions, your QB is going to start on a cold streak and not do as well on a throw per throw basis. This system isn’t perfect, as you can imagine. Running backs in particular aren’t handled very well. I was using a RB and managed over a hundred yards in one half. I had an average of over seven yards per carry. In real football, that is something incredible. It means the back is shredding through the opponent’s defense. However, the game didn’t give him any sort of stat boost. He was still stuck in neutral. Instead, it seems that performing jukes, spins, and scoring TDs are the only things that matter. On the other side, a wideout need only catch a couple of balls to start a hot streak. Still, these stat bonuses do change how you play a game. You’re more likely to throw to a hot receiver than a cold one, and more likely to run the ball if your QB is throwing picks left and right. These stat bonuses don’t carry on between games, so you start off fresh each game. It isn’t impossible to come back from a cold streak, and it’s very easy to switch from hot to cold. Also, just because you’ve got the stat bonus doesn’t mean you’re going to score. It just doesn’t hurt.

Beyond that, there really hasn’t been much change to the Madden formula here. I’ve noticed what appears to be some tweaks on the defensive control scheme. Players can reach out and try to grab the ball carrier in order to initiate a tackle. It feels like they’ve pulled this off a bit better this year, and it was much easier playing as a defensive back.

One big problem I had with the game was the camera. For the most part, it sits high enough to give you a good view of the field, but when a big hit starts, the camera will zoom in to get a close up of the action. The problem here is sometimes the big hit misses or doesn’t get the job done. In these cases, the camera doesn’t shift back and instead stays in close. This is especially a problem when you’re dealing with the passing game. At one point, I was trying to sack the QB. The camera zoomed in, thinking I was going to do it, but he got the ball off. The camera followed the ball, but it was zoomed in too close, so I wasn’t able to try and knock the ball out of the air as well as I could if I had a full view of the field. Also, after big hits, the camera will shake. While clearly this is an effort to make hits have more impact, this does nothing but distract and annoy, particularity if you’re still fighting for yardage or if the ball pops lose.

Like every year, there are some changes to the game, some good, others not so much, but regardless, there is a solid, deep game of football to be played here. All told, it is a definite step up from last year, even if it is still far and below the higher end versions.

Replayability

The additions of the Spoiler role in Superstar Challenge and the play designer should add a few hours of extra gameplay to your experience as compared to last year. Superstar Challenge is literally twice as long, and creation aficionados could no doubt spend hours upon hours designing what is, in their mind, the perfect playbook for their team.

madden103Franchise Mode is still pretty sweet. There haven’t been any changes, but for those willing to dig into it, you can spend dozens of hours playing nothing but this mode with one team. If you get into the off season stuff like the draft and training camps, that only further adds to how much you can spend. Even if you don’t want to do that, you can always run through it with another team.

The online mode returns, and while online leagues and franchises haven’t made the jump the PSP, you’ll still be able to compete in ranked matches. It won’t mean much to those used to more robust online offerings but if you find yourself at a wireless hotspot with a copy of Madden, you still have the option of playing online.

Basically, unless you get tired of playing the game itself, there is always something to do.

Balance

All four difficulty settings are still here. Rookie is a complete joke that even the most uneducated player should be able to dominate. Pro is a great way for a beginner to learn the tricks of the game, but becomes too easy rather quickly. All Pro will offer a decent challenge as the AI can and will beat you if you don’t play up to snuff. Madden is hardest of the bunch. Good luck completing passes.

One thing you really don’t want to do is play against the Patriots’ offense. I literally had to try and not score touchdowns on every offensive play when I tried them out! Then again, I was playing the Dolphins defense, so that is to be expected, but Brady to Moss is still the most overpowered connection in perhaps all of NFL history.

With the ability to change settings via a slider system in the menu, you can pretty much tailor this game to play at whatever level you want. There will be times when it feels like the AI is cheating when you’ve gotten too far ahead, and other times where you’ll feel like you can’t come back no matter what, but skill is what will win you games and ultimately, it makes for a pretty balanced game.

Originality

In most cases, Madden always gets a pretty low score here because it rarely makes any significant changes to the overall system.

However, the ability to make your plays and then upload them to the PS3 version of Madden deserves some praise. It definitely sets this game apart from others in the genre and even the series. If a little more had been added to the creation aspect of Madden on the PSP, such as the ability to create your own team found on console versions, it would have been spectacular. Imagine creating your own teams that used only plays of your creation. It would have been sweet. Even still, it is really neat that they added this.

The momentum system is something that needs to be fiddled around with before it really becomes as good as it can be, but it is something that definitely fits with the game. We’ve all seen players go on hot or cold streaks, and the gaming world should be no different. It just gives you one more thing to pay attention to as you play.

For a Madden game, this offers a greater deal of new content than were used to.

Addictiveness

There’s one major problem that I haven’t mentioned yet that is seriously going to affect the scores of the rest of this review. That problem is a frequent tendency the game has of freezing up and forcing you to restart the game. I’ll go more into that in the Miscellaneous section of the review.

How that problem affects this section is simple. Because the game has problems loading, you never know when the game might freeze. Every game I play, there are several moments where I wonder if the game is about seize up on me. It means I made saving a top priority between every game, whereas before, I never really had to worry about that unless I was using the power save feature.

When the game does freeze, there’s a definite draining feeling. All of the work you’ve put into a game is simply swept away. In one game, I’d finally gotten my RB into the end zone only to have the game freeze on me. This was extremely deflating, and as a result, I put down the game for the rest of the day.

Were this not an inherit problem of the game, I could easily see myself playing two or three games at a time like I’ve done with every other Madden game I’ve ever owned. Instead, the constant worry of losing my game made it hard to justify continuing.

Appeal Factor

There’s no doubt that the Madden franchise boasts a large audience that spans across the majority of gamer types. The PSP version of Madden still manages to do quite well for itself despite the fact that most games on the system don’t sell.

There will be some hardcore gamers who are going to pick up this game simply for the play designer. There will be few thrills like creating your own play and decimating another player with it. Being able to transfer the plays to your PS3 copy is just icing on the cake, as you’ll be able to use that game’s advanced physics engine.

With the addition of the Pro Tak system on the higher end consoles, most people are going to want to play those rather than the PSP. As such, the appeal this year isn’t as high as it could be for the PSP version.

Also, once people hear about the freezing issue, its no doubt going to be hard for them to part with the forty dollars in their wallet that it takes to buy this game. So while it still has more appeal than your average PSP title, this year’s Madden is a step down in this department.

Miscellaneous

madden104All right. Time to explain the freezing problem. It appears that the game has issues with loading the play selection screen after plays. At the end of almost every play, there’s a little pause as the game loads. Every once in a while, the game won’t load and will freeze as a result. I’ve left the game running for several minutes, and even tried taking out and putting back in the UMD, but I couldn’t ever get the game to start going again. On average, the game did this every three or so games during the regular season, give or take. What this means is that you’ll lose hours of gameplay during the course of a single run through in a franchise. This kind of bug in a game is inexcusable.

Loading times are still a pain as well. Unlike other franchises on the PSP notorious for loading times, Madden is still has some of the worst loading times in gaming, period. It tries to alleviate this with trivia questions, but you’ll know them all soon enough and spend far too much time staring at a loading screen.

What it boils down to is that the technical issues of the game make all of the good things about the gameplay, replayability, and presentation mean less. Its hard to recommend this game because of these problems.

The Scores

Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Mediocre
Audio: Above Average
Gameplay: Very Good
Replayability: Great
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Very Bad
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Worthless
Final Score: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjackIf it wasn’t for the game breaking freezing issues and barbaric loading times, this would have been a huge step up for Madden games on the PSP. The gameplay is better, the audio has finally seen some changes, there’s more content than ever, and the ability to create your own plays is something that should become a staple in the series. However, the freezing problem is something I’ve haven’t seen in other PSP Madden games ,and is something than can not be forgiven. If you really need a portable football game, you might want to give this a look, but just remember, I warned you. You can safely avoid Madden NFL 10 on the PSP. Maybe next year they’ll finally get it right.

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