When EA announced that Madden was coming to the Vita this year, I was pretty excited. Being able to take my franchise on the go with me was definitely something I was looking forward to. Cross save between PS3 and, of course, visuals powered by the incredible handheld were high on my list of things I was excited about. The end result though is a little more than disappointing. You can tell from the minute you power up the game that this was not given ample development time. This is basically last year’s game with new commentary and plenty technical issues. Much like my Raiders’ chances at the playoffs, Madden for the Vita comes up just a little short.
From the minute you boot up the game you notice that this is literally last year’s layout. Connected Careers are nowhere in sight, the Infinity Engine is absent and in fact the only new feature carried over from its console brethren is the new commentary by Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a serviceable game, though. Madden on Vita is still a solid offering of football. You have franchise mode, albeit offline, as well as superstar and online head-to-head. The game also plays just fine, just expect to run into the same issues you had last year such as DBs that can magically pick you off at will, and canned animations and tackles.
It might not be so bad if you haven’t played the latest version of the console offering. However, when you plaster Megatron on the cover and tack that ‘13’ on there, it becomes impossible not to compare the feature sets.
Touch screen functionality has also been implemented into the game. You can select different players by simply tapping them and draw hot routes using your finger. These additions are actually pretty cool. Juking is now done with the rear touch screen, and to be honest it remains a chore. Anything tied to the back screen seems to work only half of the time. I don’t mind the Vita-specific features for the most part, but there are some that simply aren’t user-friendly, and can’t be performed any other way. This leads to me not using them most of the time simply because of the trouble that comes with executing them.
What is really jarring about the experience for football fans, though, is this is last year’s game. For example, when I jumped into my game as the Raiders I was still using Hue Jackson’s playbooks. Plus, their record was from the 2010 season, not the 2011 season. This feels really lazy to me. I understand using the older engine as I am sure it was easier to port over, but not updating records and playbooks is a massive strike against the series. The rosters are up to date, but the plays never take advantage of them. For example running a trick play with the Jets likely won’t bring Tebow in to run the ball. While not game breaking, it is something fans of the NFL will find jarring.
All that said the game still plays fine. The on-field action is perfectly serviceable and playing a game can be great, especially on the go. This is probably the best portable version of the sport to date. If that is your goal and you don’t mind missing features and outdated playbooks then you will get it. Like I said, the game is fine if you just want to play a game of football.
Another point of contention for me are the visuals and presentation. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are excellent additions. Their banter really adds to the experience, but the rest suffers. The Vita version of the game has severe frame rate issues during replays, TV style segments and oddly enough during playbook selections. This is really jarring, to say the least. I found myself only being able to play one game, or even just a half at a time, because the frame drops caused headaches after a while. It is just so disorienting to not have a consistent frame rate all the time. When it does move steadily it looks good, almost competing with its console counterparts on some levels. Players are still blocky and stadiums feel empty, but the actual on-field action is pretty solid.
Madden NFL 13 for the Vita is more disappointing than anything else. It feels like the pieces were in place, just not ready for prime time. Sadly this makes me really excited for next year’s game. That doesn’t change the fact that this title just came out, and should have had more effort put into it. Vita owners deserve a better class of football game, and hopefully EA can deliver next year. If you just want a portable football experience you won’t find better, just be prepared to deal with the outdated issues and technical hiccups. This game could have been a showcase for the system, instead it simply falls short.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.