Madden NFL 13‘s Vita iteration is the best portable football game ever made. Those familiar with previous releases know how low that bar has been; while other sports have had interesting twists to make up for the low power of a handheld, football has always been a painfully-shoehorned downgrade of the console formula. With the Vita, that approach finally works, as the system can handle it. Mostly.
The game’s based on last year’s console versions, not attempting the new “Infinity Engine” tackling system or the much-vaunted Connected Careers. It’s probably for the best. After all, you aren’t necessarily always connected to the Internet on a handheld (even with 3G), and the previous Madden engine does have some stuttering issues as it is. (It seems the team focused limited resources on making the gameplay itself smooth, as any between-play sequences, crowd animations and such are particularly rough and the game itself is just fine.)
The Vita-specific features are a mixed bag. Any rear-touch functions are dumb, because any rear-touch functions are dumb ever. (Basically.) They don’t work well or reliably. Luckily, you can turn them off, so just don’t use them. The front touch is actually quite useful in this game, as you can redraw passing routes before any play, and the system’s smart enough to make the receiver run something that has hard cuts and not swaying back and forth like a wavering thumb path.
The one new feature from console Madden 13 added to the Vita version is the new commentary from Jim Nantz and Phil Simms. They’re generally very calm, as they tend to be in live CBS broadcasts, and what they say is insightful (if a bit repetitive, if you stick to a consistent gameplan.) The implementation of it seems a bit off, though. On a two-yard punt return, they started talking about how the offense made a big gain. My franchise started on the first week of the preseason, with Nantz and Simms talking about how high-pressure this playoff game was going to be. (Hopefully this can be patched.)
Even still, there’s some optimization that really could have been done for the Vita. The load times are longer than on console, and they really should be much faster on a system you’re playing in short bursts. The franchise mode is tough to play through as a result, though some interfaces were made to better fit a plan to let the CPU handle everything but playing the games themselves.
What was included, though, was nice. There’s full online play, as well as Franchise and Superstar modes that aren’t compromised in some way. It’s not a full replacement for console Madden, but you just have to look at the most recent 3DS and PSP releases to know that this has come a long way from that.
Pros: Solid implementation of football on a handheld, great route-drawing
Cons: Rough animations, long load times, off commentary