The real NFL season is about to kick off, and EA has seized the opportunity to finally slide in the release of its much-anticipated port of Madden to the iPhone/iPod Touch format. It represents the meeting of the mobile entertainment industry's unstoppable force, Apple's black slab of wonder, with the gaming industry's immovable object. Available at $7.99 through the kickoff of the Steelers-Titans game tonight and $9.99 afterward, is it worth your hard-earned tailgate dollars? We played it last week here at the CNET offices and played it a lot more on our own iPhone last night, and here's our verdict.
It took EA a few weeks longer to get its iPhone act together than Gameloft did with NFL 2010. Did it pay off? Well, in some ways, yes. The player models and 3D stadiums seem better rendered than Madden's NFL-licensed and similarly-named App Store rival, NFL 2010 by Gameloft, but with a significant drawback: the framerate on our 3GS playthrough was significantly choppier than NFL 2010. A future update will hopefully fix this, but in the meantime it doesn't affect gameplay enough to be a game-killer. The presentation and commentary are impressive, nearing console level but hovering nearer to PSP and DS versions of Madden.
The biggest fear among those who play any type of hardcore game is whether losing a physical control pad affects gameplay in any significant way. The answer is simple: yes, it does. I've played games on my iPhone for more than a year, and it rarely avoids feeling like a compromise: lose a control pad, but gain a simplified interface and an extremely compact form in a smartphone. As to whether it's worth it, ask yourself if you'd rather tote around a PSP or a Nintendo DS in your pocket in addition to your phone, or just carry an iPhone and lose a few controls, and you'll have your answer.
The solution EA has given is the same many developers have, including Gameloft: add a virtual stick in the lower left corner, and a series of context-sensitive buttons in the lower right. The problem with the virtual stick is that, like other titles, it can be lost in the shuffle on heavy-focus moments of game play. There's no tactile feedback, so it must be looked after, unlike a real analog pad. When playing Madden, that means a lot of the accuracy is lost. But the good news is that this game wasn't really designed for finesse play. We'll explain.… Read more