The Nintendo DS had a paltry launch when the system hit the scene back in November 2004, but Electronic Arts felt strong enough about the platform to quickly rush a Madden game for the new platform. Madden NFL 2005 for the Nintendo DS was a good start but it suffered from the "launch title blues." Last year's version, while retaining much of the Madden charm even in its first DS iteration, definitely needed some polish in its design to match the evolution of the series on the console. "Wait until next year's version," we said in our review.
Well, next year's version is here. Unfortunately, the extra few months in development clearly weren't enough for the developers to work a more full-featured console-style Madden game on the Nintendo DS. Improvements have been made to the presentation, including an updated graphics engine and additional gameplay features, but other elements, like touch screen control that fails to respond to fingertaps and a really bad set of camera angles, actually bring down the experience from last year. It's not a terrible football experience, just disappointing that the series has taken a step back in an attempt to move it forward on the DS.
At its core, the game is very similar to the game that was created for Madden's DS premiere back in November. Because of the lack of processing power the Nintendo DS version won't be anywhere near the full-featured set that the console games enjoy, it's at least the Madden design in its core, at least as much as the series has on the Nintendo DS and original PlayStation editions. But keep that in mind when you're ready for some portable pigskin, you're not going to get the same experience on the go.
What you are going to get is a version of Madden that's tailored for the dual screen and touch screen set-up. Madden NFL 06 uses last year's game as the foundation, but the developers tweaked the technology to add a bit more polish to the graphics. Players look a bit more detailed with a sheen of lighting. Character models, while still lower polygon compared to the console games, are a bit more fluid in motion. But the lack of filtering is clearly evident both when the camera is up close and far away.
The game plays very similar to last year's game, which was already a satisfying handheld football experience. Unfortunately, the development team decided to tweak the camera system, and in many places the game's broken due to a camera that gets too far low and too far away from the action. On the console system this would be fine due to the higher resolution graphics and player models. On the lower resolution Nintendo DS, however, everything becomes a mess -- at this standard perspective, the players become a blob of pixels that blend in with the field, and this makes it difficult for players on the defense to see where they're going. Even though players can choose to change the camera to other positions, there's no mode that works perfectly. On top of the poor game camera is a glitchy instant replay interface; as long as you want to view the previous play realtime it works, but trying to frame-by-frame that play brings up horrible jumps in the edit that are impossible to avoid.
Another problem comes from the developer's insistence of incorporating touchscreen everywhere conceivable. Play selection makes perfect sense, making it a simple task of tapping the specific motion you want between plays. Or is it? For some reason, the touch screen interface isn't tuned for finger tapping; many times tapping on a play with the fingertip won't yield any results. The game is clearly calibrated for the pinpoint sensitivity of a stylus, but it's a pain to constantly swap between D-pad/button control and stylus control. Luckily if you've got enough fingernail it'll do the job almost as well, but if you want to call a time-out, audible, or select a hotroute, you better have a stylus in-hand because those on-screen buttons are absolutely and almost unnecessarily tiny. And kicking a punt or field goal also requires the stylus because the interface is made for a flicking motion that requires accuracy and speed. Swapping between control mechanisms on the DS isn't fun, guys -- it's great that you're trying new ways of presenting football using the DS functions, but stick with either D-Pad or stylus
don't constantly swap between the two. It's just sloppy and inconvenient.
The developers did add a bunch of cool features to the game design. Just like the GBA version, the DS edition now has a Mini Camp where players can put their Madden skills to use in a series of mini-challenges. These challenges are based on the standard moves within the standard Madden gameplay, and because of this it's much like a training mode to learn the nuances of the Madden control. That is, except for the passing challenge, which, like kicking, is stylus controlled. Fun as this challenge is, the technique that you develop here can't be translated into the standard game like the Passing challenge could in the console and GBA versions.
Added to the fray are a team creation and franchise mode, as well as a play creation tool that'll certainly suck up a lot of time as you learn how to tell your players what to do. Franchise mode is extraordinarily deep and extensive, but ultimately it's just a boring set of menus to wade through. It'll certainly appeal to the absolutely die hard football fan, but casual gamers like myself will find it dreadfully dull to experience.
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