Review: Madden NFL 13 - Vita

Pregame 

Super Bowl XLVI – February 5, 2012 – Typical scene at my house that I’m sure was experienced almost nationwide that day: The Super Bowl was set to start in an hour or two, the Giants and the Patriots were warming up, and our Super Bowl party was underway. As you know, Super Bowl parties are for everyone – there are those who attend because of their spouse, some who are there to eat, drink, and watch the awesome commercials, and lastly there are those who truly want to watch the game, regardless of whether their team is in it or not.  Madden 13 for PlayStation Vita is a game that will find a happy home with the latter of that party breakdown; If you love football, you will most likely really enjoy the annual franchise in its latest (and in my opinion, greatest) handheld version. If you’re a fan of slick commercials and distractions with some football thrown in, my guess is that you’ll have mixed reactions to tiny Madden. And, if you’re not a fan of football at all, why are you even reading this, is your spouse making you do this too?

Let’s breakdown some film and look at why.

The Drive 

Flashing back to that time in February, as a fan of the series, I was really enjoying Madden 12 on my PS3. I was also playing Madden on my PSP, but not Madden 12, as I had long since given up on the PSP version after realizing how terrible Madden 10 was on Sony’s handheld. I was content, kinda, with replaying Madden 08 on the PSP.

PlayStation Vita was set to ship to my house in just over 2 weeks at the time and I couldn’t help but dream about how great it would be to have an actual console quality Madden in the palms of my hands.  If someone had told me at the time that I could play a version of Madden, that in terms of gameplay, would be almost identical to Madden 12 for PS3, I would have been ecstatic. And to be honest, that was my hope for the exciting new “PSP2” and Madden.

I have read a few other reviews for Madden 13 Vita and never before have I seen a game get so blasted, not for what it is, but rather for what it’s not.  If those other reviews have a recurring theme it most definitely is, “Madden 13 on Vita isn’t Madden 13 on PS3!?!” To which I find myself thinking, “Yeah, duh. It’s Madden on a handheld…” I’ve never blasted my bike for not being my car, or my phone for not being my tablet, so that kind of thinking confuses me.  The one thing that a lot of those reviews do get right though is that Madden 13 on Vita closely resembles Madden 12 on PS3. In my humble opinion, that is awesome, certainly not something about which I’d complain.  I loved Madden 12 on PS3, now I can carry it wherever I go.

Gameplay –Actual gameplay is Madden 13 Vita’s MVP Player of the Game as it plays as well and as responsively as its big brother console versions (both 12 and 13). Making pre-play adjustments and actual on field action feels perfect. Whatever you’re used to doing on the PS3 version, you’ll be to accomplish here as well. There is some noticeable lag when selecting plays, but after adjusting to it, I have never found it to be an issue, not even when playing a multiplayer game online.  Some obligatory Vita touch controls have been included in this version, but almost all of them have an analog counterpart allowing you to choose which you want to use.  Some of the touch controls can actually be turned off altogether in the options menu. Finally having a second stick for “trucking” or “impact hits” is an absolute god send for those of us who love Madden and want to play on the go (or in the bathroom).  One aspect to gameplay that took me some time to get used to was using the “Strategy Pad” style of making pre-play adjustments that was pushed out in Madden 11 (and then quickly patched with legacy/quick links) as I still use the “old” way of making those adjustments.  Unfortunately, Madden 13 on Vita only allows users to make those adjustments with the newer style linked to the D-pad. Luckily, and surprisingly, I actually kind of like the new way now, but still use the older style on PS3.  The menu offers up a whole host of sliders to tailor the game to your specific liking as well; you can tune it to match your style and preferences. For example, I turn auto-sprinting off, set the difficulty to All-Pro, and use Conventional play calling. Gameplay is without question, happily, the best element of Madden 13 for Vita. 

Visuals – The visuals of Madden 13 on Vita look great. Compared to the most recent handheld version, Madden 12 on PSP, they look downright amazing. It really does look like you’re playing a console version of Madden.  It’s exactly what I dreamed a handheld version Madden would look like. The menus and UI are clean and easy to navigate. The gameplay looks great and suffers no frame rate issues and the player models look sharp. Happily all the classic camera modes are available for the Vita retail version, which was a concern I had after playing the demo. Madden 13 doesn’t sport the new Infinity Engine that its big brother does, but it does have gang tackling (heralded in Madden 12) and quite a variety of hit (and other) animations to keep each game looking unique. As mentioned, the game is hampered by choppiness in replays and some stutters in play selection, but as someone who is here for the football, gameplay specifically, (and not the glitz) I didn’t find those to be game breaking issues, slightly annoying at worst. You can definitely see some areas where EA didn’t either have the time, ability, or will to fix issues with the "non-essential" graphics.  Close ups of the crowd look simply awful, and players on the sidelines have no numbers on their jerseys, but again those things aren’t why I play football video games. It would  They’ll be getting no yellow flags from my pocket.

Sound – As mentioned above, In terms of gameplay, Madden 13 for Vita is almost identical to Madden 12 for PS3. In terms of sound, it more closely mirrors Madden 13 for PS3. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms provide play-by-play and color commentary and for the most part do a great job.  There can be a good deal of repetition, but overall it isn’t too annoying.  Additionally, they sometimes will throw out non-sequiturs like calling pre-season games playoff matches and the like, but hey, if you’re a real football fan, you’ve probably screamed at more than one commentator for being an idiot during actual NFL games.  Stadium sounds are also included in the game; I always love hearing “Here We Go Steelers” chanted from the crowd when playing home games. Overall, the sounds are a strength, but not game winners. 

Special Teams

Madden 13 for Vita includes a number of gameplay modes, almost identical to the console versions of the game.

Practice – Practice mode (or as Madden ballers call it, The Lab) is included and is a great place to work out new plays and how they’ll look versus various counters on offense and defense.

Play Now – This mode is where you’ll want to go for fast action. You can select either an exhibition game or play Super Bowl XLVII before it actually happens. You can choose your teams and off you go. I’ve never understood the desire to, but you can also select this mode and simply watch the computer play versus itself in this mode. I mention that because there have been a number of complaints from Madden fans about the removal of that feature from the console versions.

Franchise – Historically, the two most popular modes in Madden are Franchise and Online. Players want to either test their skills against another (human) player online, or play offline as a particular team (Steelers for me, of course) for an entire season(s). One of the most vocal complaints against Madden 13 on consoles this year has been the removal, or at least obfuscating, of Franchise mode. Well, anyone who really is dying for true Franchise Mode would be well served to pick up Madden 13 for Vita. This mode is as deep as you would like, allowing you to scout, draft, re-sign, trade players, control the playbook, etc from year to year to year as you play multiple seasons. Sadly, there is no connectivity between Vita & PS3 versions of Madden 13 allowing you to transfer a franchise back and forth, but true fans of sim football will find their passion addressed here. Alternatively, if you’d rather just play your favorite team’s schedule and that’s all, you can allow the computer to take care of the day-to-day dealings of running a team. If you’re a Browns fan, this is most likely the only way you could see your team in the playoffs anytime soon.

Madden Moments Live – This is a fun mode that lends itself nicely to score chasing. This mode allows you to play in 5 seminal games (i.e. moments) from the 2010 season and 5 from the 2011 season, jumping into certain parts of each game to accomplish a certain task (e.g. Lead the Steelers to a 4th quarter win vs. the Ravens in the 2010 AFC Championship game). Points are awarded for how well/efficiently you accomplish these scenarios and then posted on a leaderboard of your friends to see who can out Madden each other. This mode is great for bite-sized play on the Vita. It’s a shame that there are only 10 scenarios through which to play.

Online – I’ve only played 3 games online, but each one was smooth in terms of finding an opponent and gameplay. The lobbies are far from full, but I’ve been able to find an opponent each time.  Just like in the console versions, you can choose from ranked and unranked matches, along with a host of other options to find the kind of online game you want.

Be an NFL Superstar – This is Madden 13’s “Road to the Show” mode where you can create your own player, be drafted by an NFL team, compete for playing time, and attempt to help your team win games, seasons, and Super Bowls. Play well enough over a course of seasons and your created player could reserve a spot in Canton HOF. In a neat touch, you can use the Vita’s front camera to snap a picture you’re your own ugly mug and the game will use it for the picture of your created All Star.  You can finally see yourself as the QB, get the girl, all that.  This mode is fantastic on Vita as you only play the downs in which your superstar is involved, while the rest of the game is simulated, allowing you to finish 4 quarters of football relatively quickly.

Monday Morning Quarterback

Madden 13 for Vita coming out the same year as the Giants Super Bowl XLVI victory couldn’t be any more apropos. The Giants weren’t flashy, didn’t have a pretty boy quarterback, and didn’t always play pretty football on their way to hoisting to the Lombardi Trophy. I think the same can be said for Madden 13 on Vita. It may be rough on some edges, have definite room for improvement, but if you’re like me, who watches and loves football for the game, it’s a definite winner. It might not cover the spread, but it wins, and in the long run that’s what counts.

Starters

  • Responsive and tight gameplay
  • Beautiful graphics
  • Varied Modes and Replay Value

Bench Players

  • Frame rate and choppiness of in game replays and play selection
  • No PS3/Vita connectivity
  • Occasional commentary mistakes/repetition

Note: All images taken directly from actual gameplay on my Vita. These images and more taken from the game can be seen HERE