There's one constant I've noticed in my professional half-decade tenure exclusively covering the handheld market: sports games do not sell on portable systems. Every year a publisher comes out with a great sports game, only to have it sit on shelves to be passed up by gamers in favor of the umpteen Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon titles that thrive on the platform. Hockey, baseball, tennis...these are all one-shot deals on the portable system, rarely followed up with a next year's version to capitalize on the success the title may have had in retail. That is, except football. Good ol' American football has sustained a healthy life on the portables in the form of EA Sports' Madden NFL
series, and it's a rare sight indeed to experience a sports game as a launch title for a handheld platform. The Nintendo DS rendition of Madden NFL 2005
offers up some nifty ideas for the unique system capabilities, but in the end the game is a lacking rendition of the series that's not much more than "good enough." It was obviously made in the familiar quick development cycle, but at least it's hopefully a tease for a true version coming to the system in time for the 2006 season.
- All NFL teams and Players
- Wireless Connectivity (two players, multiple cartridge)
- Cartridge save
- Touch screen play calling in single player mode
As powerful as the Nintendo DS hardware is, it's not quite current generation console technology. The graphic engine created for the Nintendo DS version of Madden
places it somewhere between the PlayStation One and the Nintendo 64 versions. It offers a 3D environment with fully polygonal players, but the athletes are extremely basic geometry and move with a robotic stiffness when compared to the fluid motion of the console's motion capturing. The overall presentation lacks the standard glitz and glamour of the console version. Menu screens are blandly designed and laid out, and player photo portraits are horribly aliased with white pixels, looking like they're transparent GIFs ripped off some fan's website. And, like the Game Boy Advance versions of the past, the sound is extremely minor on the Nintendo DS, only offering Al Michaels basic play-by-play and only about one or two different Madden-isms from the big guy himself.
But what this game brings to the table is a few neat dual-screen elements that open up the gameplay, and is a great start for when EA and The secondary screen is used for quick play calling thanks to the touch-sensitive panel. So, instead of navigating using the D-pad, players simply tap the play with their finger. Of course, the option to use the D-pad is there, and for some confusing reason this is the only way to select plays in the game's Wireless multiplayer. The secondary screen is also used as a handy overview of the action via old-school X and Os sliding over a top-down field, giving a feeling of the old trackball Atari Football arcade game. Players, if they want, can even use this screen to tap to the appropriate receiver, though this is more gimmicky than it is helpful. The touchscreen also helps to call time-outs without hopping to a menu, or pull up audibles without the need to memorize them. It also comes in useful when manipulating the camera during instant replays, giving players a neat TV editor control during the footage.
And even with the "rushed" look and feel, it plays pretty mean football. It's not going to set the world alight with a flashy football presentation, but at least gamers can depend on a good, solid game on the gridiron. Occasional glitches and money plays still occasionally stick out, but name a Madden game, console or handheld, past or present, that hasn't had a few of these left over in development. They're more noticeable on the DS since the entire package feels "rushed," but on the whole this version is probably the best playing portable pigskin yet created. It also offers individual player stat tracking, which indicates that EA finally sprung for a larger amount of SRAM for first round of DS software. The Madden Cards are here for Nintendo DS gamers to collect, but it's more of a checklist to complete than it is a gallery to unlock.
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