The Madden NFL series has certainly made the rounds when it comes to gaming platforms. Appearing on everything from the Xbox and the PS2 to the Sega Saturn and even the Mac, Madden has popped up on nearly every platform to come down the line. Handheld gaming systems are no stranger to the Madden phenomenon either, as versions of the game have appeared on the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and the Game Boy Advance. So it should come as no surprise to sports gamers that Madden has shown up on Nintendo's newest handheld gaming device, the Nintendo DS. What may be a surprise, however, is how poorly Madden NFL 2005 for the DS compares with some of its contemporaries on other platforms. It still plays a solid game of football, but otherwise isn't as good as you'd probably hope.
Madden 2005 for the Nintendo DS: two screens, one stylus, lots of touchdowns.
Those used to seeing a huge variety of player models and animations in their football games will likely be disappointed with the graphics in Madden NFL 2005 for the DS. In fact, there's very little difference in appearance between a hulking brute on the offensive line and a speedy wide receiver. Players have a uniformly blocky, pixelated appearance. The further away from the camera a player is, the less detail you'll see in the model. You won't see any jersey numbers for your linebackers and defensive backs--in fact, other than some vaguely human-shaped blobs, you won't see much at all of your secondary. There's a good deal of animation flickering, and clipping problems abound, especially after a play has ended and several player models are literally piled on top of one another. On the other hand, the game moves at a quick pace with virtually no slowdown, even when playing with a friend via the game's wireless multiplayer capability. This speedy tempo, combined with the game's lack of detail in player models, works against it in some respects, though, especially when trying to pick out holes to run through in a defensive line.
The game's sound also falls short. On the positive side, the DS's dual-speaker sound system provides a rich audio experience, especially when compared with the tinny speakers of the system's handheld predecessors. The driving rock soundtrack found in the Madden menu screens sounds especially full, both through the onboard speakers or when using headphones. Unfortunately, there's not really enough quality sound in Madden NFL 2005 for the DS to make use of its audio capabilities. The ever-present hum of crowd noise sounds OK and seems to ebb and flow depending on the on-field action. The in-game commentary, however, is not only extremely sparse, but also muffled. Al Michaels' play-by-play calls are mostly relegated to pointing out first downs, interceptions, touchdowns, and field-goal attempts, and Madden's colorful analysis is virtually nonexistent. The observations are so sporadic, in fact, that you're left wondering why the developers even bothered with what little commentary there is in the game.
The DS's unique hardware configuration--specifically, the dual-screen display, the lower of which can be used in tandem with the accompanying stylus for touch-screen control--gives the DS version of Madden some unique capabilities. Dealing with two screens of information requires you to adjust your awareness of what's happening in the game, especially as plays unfold on the field. When you're on the field, the top screen displays the traditional 3D action, as well as down-and-distance information and the play clock. The lower screen simultaneously provides you with a top-down X's-and-O's perspective of the field and your players. Once you get used to paying attention to this secondary screen, it works to your advantage. You can clearly see which of your receivers are creating space between themselves and their defenders, for example. Blitzes seem easier to pick up as well, as you aren't necessarily completely focused on finding an open receiver (one or more of which may be offscreen in the DS's upper display), but rather have a more comprehensive view of the field.
The top-down perspective gives you an X's-and-O's point of view as the play develops on the field.
You won't be able to depend on this top-down perspective completely, however. While it allows you to gauge the distance between a receiver and the defender covering him, the 2D nature of this view makes it impossible to tell how much arc to put on the throw to ensure that it clears whatever defenders (such as linebackers dropped into pass coverage) might be between you and your target. Because of the inherent advantages and disadvantages of the lower screen, you'll be constantly flitting between both screens, trying to gather the information you need to successfully move the ball down the field. It takes some practice, but once you get used to it, you'll find the extra information useful.
Madden NFL 2005 makes decent use of the DS's other main hardware innovation--the stylus and touch screen. While you can use the stylus to throw to receivers by simply tapping the receiver of your choice on the lower screen, the most effective use of the feature is in the game's play-calling screens. In these screens, you can choose your offensive or defensive set, specific formation subset, and play by tapping the stylus on the lower display. You also have the option to go the more traditional route of choosing plays using the directional pad and the A button. Where the touch screen shines, however, is in calling audibles and hot routes. Instead of having to memorize button combinations to pull off these play variations, you can use the DS's lower screen. For audibles, you simply tap the corresponding portion of the lower screen and choose from the four preset plays that are then displayed onscreen. Executing hot routes using the touch-screen is similar--you tap the appropriate section of the screen, tap the receiver whose route you wish to alter, and then choose the altered route you wish that receiver to run. It should be noted that players can still call audibles and hot routes before the snap using the traditional button combos.
That takes care of the two biggest new features in the latest version of Madden NFL 2005. But what about those aspects of the game that have been carried over from the other versions? Sadly, this is where Madden NFL 2005 for the DS starts to lose its luster. The game's controls will be familiar to anyone who has played Madden on a console before, particularly when running with the ball. You hold down the A button to trigger a speed burst, tap the B button to perform spin moves, use the X button to dive with the ball, press the Y button deliver stiff-arms, and use the DS's two shoulder buttons to perform left and right jukes. The defensive controls--such as cycling through players, diving, and jumping--are also similar to what you'll find in the console versions. However, while the controls feel the same in terms of configuration, their in-game performance leaves a lot to be desired. For those accustomed to the analog controls found in the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube games, the DS's digital control scheme takes a bit of adjustment, especially when evading defenders or pursuing ballcarriers. Expect to miss more than a few tackles as you acclimate yourself to the digital control scheme.