Review: Madden NFL 13 (PSV)

Title: Madden NFL 13
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.47 GB) / Game Card
Release Date: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Original MSRP: $39.99 (PSN) / $39.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: E
Madden NFL 13 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Wii.
The PlayStation Vita version was used for this review.

Besides Call of Duty, the Madden NFL series from EA Sports may be the most prolific gaming franchise in the United States. Year after year, stalwarts and diehards rush to local retailers in droves seen more commonly for superhero movie midnight releases and rock concert ticket sales. Many a gamer and game journalist have complained that the Madden formula has remained the same for too long, and perhaps they’re right: I haven’t touched the series since Madden 10, and it was largely what I remembered from Madden 2004 on the GameCube. So why pick up Madden 13? Because it’s the first time the series has come to PlayStation Vita. Oh, and it’s also a pretty good game, too.

Football is a complicated game, and the team at EA Sports has boiled-down all the rules, procedures, play-calling, strategy and chaos of the NFL into a game that’s accessible yet incredibly deep. Madden NFL 13 on the Vita is no watered-down, half-assed version of the game you love. While not the same experience you’ll find on the PS3, there’s plenty to shine on Vita’s OLED screen.

The first thing you notice when you dive into a game is that this feels like the Madden you’ve known and loved, with a few little tweaks to try out some of the Vita’s unique features. The team at Tiburon took the touch and motion features unique to the system and actually made them feel useful and not gimmicky, something even Sony’s first party titles have been unable to accomplish at times. All your basic and familiar Madden controls are back; move your player with left stick, right stick used for special moves, and so on. But it’s the seamless addition of touch controls that make Madden stand out on Vita. Want to pull a spin move on your opponent? Drag your finger along the back touch panel in the direction you want to pivot. Need to make a change at the line? Tap the player on the front and slide your finger along to where you want them to go. See a formation that just won’t work? Press up, left or right on the D-pad, then touch the back panel and shift your line where you want them to move, or put your corners in a more advantageous position for attack.

Every use of the touch controls feels justified, and never forced on the user. I never felt like I had to use these controls, and when I did they never hampered my play. Plus, you can still call audibles and change plays using traditional buttons, once again giving player choice rather than forcing use of input methods that aren’t wanted. The exception to the rule, however, is kicking. Using the Vita’s motion controls, you guide the directional arrow to where you want, whether it’s kickoffs, field goals, or punting. Once you’ve set the arrow to where you want, you use the right stick to control the power and accuracy of the kick. I found the motion kicking to be fine, though the addition of a way to use the left stick for direction and aim would have pleased all crowds.

Madden 13 has three primary offline modes: the traditional Franchise option, Be A Superstar, and Madden Moments Live. Whereas this year’s Madden on PS3 integrates some of these modes through Connected Career, their separation here is no detriment and each mode is immersive and different enough to keep players occupied. If you’ve played any sports title in the last ten years you’re probably familiar with the first two options, but Madden Moments is a neat feature for those who want something a little different. Five games, featuring five different highlights from the season before, with goals to be met and varying degrees of difficulty to be tackled, Madden Moments Live seemed reminiscent of the NBA 2K series’ Jordan Challenges but still unique and fun to try. But the bulk of my time was spent creating my own Superstar, and bringing him into the harsh but rewarding world of professional football. One of my favorite features of the Vita version, even if it was pretty minor, was using the front-facing camera to create your Player Profile picture for your Superstar. Every time my created character took the field, it was my face next to Andrew Luck and the rest of the Indianapolis Colts. It takes a little practice to make your picture work, but it’s a fun addition.

Madden has never been the best looking sports game on the market, but Vita’s first edition of the game is no slouch in this department. While not as pretty as the new Infinity Engine-powered PS3 version of the game, Madden 13 looks great and runs as well as almost any game I’ve played on the system. The general look and feel of the game is better than the most recent version I played, certainly, but it goes beyond the noticeable visuals. Little things like detailed overhead views of each stadium and confetti streaming down over a dejected Patriots team after they lose in a simulation of last year’s Super Bowl help realize that fantasy we all have of stepping into the big game. The action on the field looks stellar, with hits actually looking more fully realized than before, and player animations less stiff and stilted. You may find that your favorite player doesn’t look that perfect in close-ups, and some player models were paid more attention than others, but beyond that there are few visual issues when it comes to gameplay. Step into the crowds, however, and you have a different story; thank goodness this isn’t a game about the spectators. Visually, Madden Vita is a very pretty game, with just a few minor hitches that don’t mar an otherwise excellent package.

The presentation of the game, from the menu select to the in-game interfaces, all speak to the years of polish that the team at EA Sports have given to their signature franchise. I appreciated that the menus were not touch activated; with the size of the text EA typically uses for their sports titles, this would have been unmanageable. Instead, the Vita’s D-pad makes navigation quick and painless, which made me one very happy gamer.

The crunch of the helmets; the calls on the line; the grunts and shouts of the payers colliding–we all expect these in our simulations. Madden 13 does it all right where it counts, and that counts for a lot to some of the passionate Madden fans I know. Hearing Peyton Manning call out new plays that actually sounds like what Peyton would be saying sold me on the accuracy of the audio cues created this year. A special assist goes to the addition of Jim Nantz and Phil Simms as the broadcasting duo ‘in the booth’ for this year’s play by play. The broadcasters’ professionalism and knowledge shines through even in a scripted moment; we hear these men on television every week, and their nuance and inflection in each moment put them on par with the likes of Marv Albert in the NBA 2K series. However, all the poise and professionalism in the world can’t save a commentary track that doesn’t distinguish between preseason games and heading into the playoffs. In both my Franchise and Superstar playthroughs, Nantz and Simms would remark about how important each game was in the run to the postseason—and we hadn’t even finished training camp yet! EA’s algorithms for when and where a witty piece of banter go probably should have been reworked to make sure that a meaningless game in August doesn’t ratchet the same intensity of a stretch run game in December.

Many have waited for a true NFL experience in the palm of their hands, wherever and whenever they want. And even more, they’ve wanted a seamless multiplayer experience without having to worry about 3G signals cutting out or plays being missed because you’re not standing in just the right place. Fear not, Madden enthusiasts—Madden 13 multiplayer for Vita has no 3G option. While that might be upsetting for those who want a truly on-the-go football experience, the online experience of Madden on Vita is actually quite good if you have a decent Wi-Fi signal. Once you’re logged into your EA Origin account, finding a match is simple. You can setup a Head-to-Head match by inviting friends, heading into the Lobbies, or letting the servers set you up with a randomly selected Vita player. The Lobbies cater to casual and hardcore Madden players alike, with Unranked and Ranked matches, the ability to create your own Lobby, and level-based rooms for only the most skilled competitors. Leaderboards allow you to browse your friends’ rankings, stat leaders, and the Top 100 players in the world of Madden Vita.

Once you’re connected, the gameplay is about as smooth as the single player, with a few hiccups. For this review I played in two Ranked matches, on All-Pro with 4 minute quarters, and Standard play calling against a reviewer much more familiar with this and previous iterations of Madden than I. Our first game had us playing in Chicago with his Bears against my pick of the Atlanta Falcons. With a solid Wi-Fi signal, we had little problem calling our plays, taking our shots, and pounding the ball up and down the field for three and a half quarters. Until our connection dropped. An error message informed me that my opponent had been disconnected, and I was dumped back into the Lobby. We had no trouble reconnecting, and proceeded to try a little West Coast flavor as I selected the San Diego Chargers while he picked my San Francisco 49ers.

No matter how good EA Tiburon’s programmers are, the skill of a man who’s played and reviewed Madden games for years will always trump plays selected by Madden tips. After an early field goal put me ahead, my opponent’s familiarly with the series caught up with me in the second half. A kick return touchdown, a fumbled punt return for another, and a couple wide open receivers made me wish that NBA 2K13 were coming to Vita sometime soon. I have to hand it to him, my partner knew his football, and helped me see that EA didn’t cut any corners on their online component.

While the occasional slowdown during play selection was a little unnerving as the play clock ticked down, I didn’t notice any frame rate dips or jarring lag that would have cost me yards. However, the biggest knock against the online component of Madden 13 is its lack of functionality and compatibility with its console counterpart. One of the best features of the Vita is Cross-Play, the ability to take your saved game from your PS3 and upload it to the cloud where you can then pick up your Vita and keep playing. Games like Metal Gear Solid HD, Sound Shapes, and MLB 12 The Show all have some form of Cross-Play (or transfarring, in MGS HD’s case) that allows those invested in Sony’s integrated infrastructure to play their games wherever they want. With Madden 13 for Vita essentially a port of last year’s console experience, cross-compatibility between the Vita and PS3 versions of the game is not possible. Which is a shame, because being able to take your multiplayer stats, or even just import your Superstar or Franchise progress, would have been a killer feature.

Despite this, Madden 13’s multiplayer is still good, and those who have wanted a serious football game to pick up and play wherever you are, this one’s for you.

I was eager to see how EA tackled their first crack at Madden on the Vita. With the potential to be either a massive success or a total bust, early signs seemed to point to the latter. While the lack of Cross-Play and Connected Career don’t speak well to their overall confidence in the system, Madden NFL 13 is still a very, very good game on any device. If you were worried that Vita owners would be disappointed, don’t fret—Madden 13 on Vita is a great first step, and absolutely worth picking up for anyone looking for the definitive football experience on the go.


* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

Written by Brien Bell

Brien’s love of PlayStation knows few bounds. He even worked for them (indirectly!) for a few months! Follow his ramblings on PlayStation, Star Wars, and all things sunny California here, on Twitter, and on PSN.

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