It was a foregone conclusion that EA's Madden franchise would eventually make its way to the PSP handheld. After all, there's nary an active platform that Madden doesn't make at least some kind of appearance on. And now, roughly a month after its console, PC, and other handheld counterparts, Madden 06 is on the PSP. For better or for worse, EA Sports has managed to cram quite a bit of football into Madden on the PSP, with most of the key gameplay touches that Madden is known for intact, in addition to a full-fledged franchise mode and online multiplayer. Unfortunately, Madden 06 also comes encumbered with a few kinks in its padding, with the most notable issue being a painfully sluggish interface that makes menu navigation a severe chore. Still, if you're the patient type and can stand sitting through a fair amount of menu loading, you'll find Madden 06 on the PSP to be the best game of handheld football available on the market.
Madden 06 on the PSP has some things in common with the console versions of the game, but it most closely resembles a Madden game from a couple of years back. Some of the on-the-fly defensive playmaker controls (most notably the hit stick) are understandably absent due to the lack of a second analog stick on the PSP. However, in this case, with misfortune also comes benefit, as the game also lacks the flawed passing cone from this year's console version.
But enough about what Madden doesn't have--it's what it does have that's most important. Which is to say, it has just about everything else, gameplay-wise, you'd expect in a Madden game. This is full 3D football like you'd experience on the consoles, but in the palms of your hands. All the basic presnap gameplay mechanics are available, as well as all the basic offensive and defensive move controls. The developer even managed to squeeze in precision passing, the mechanic that lets you more accurately place your passes above, below, in front of, or behind receivers by angling the analog stick in the direction of where you want the pass to go. It's a great mechanic, though on the PSP it's a touch unwieldy, as the sensitivity of the analog stick is somewhat tougher to deal with. Meaning, if you press the stick too far in one direction or another, the pass will often overshoot the receiver by quite a margin.
In fact, the analog stick sensitivity is the one big problem in an otherwise fine game of football. It's most blatantly a problem in the running game, which is made infinitely easier by the stick controls. Essentially, you can quickly reverse directions on the stick while running the ball, and your ball carrier will switch directions almost on a dime. Evidently, the classic momentum-based running of the console Maddens hasn't quite been implemented here, so it's way too easy to dart and dodge around defenders while gaining huge chunks of yardage. While regular big runs might be the norm for some backs, having 250-rushing-yard, five-rushing-touchdown games with Kevan "2.3 yards a carry" Barlow on a semiregular basis strikes us as problematic. Upping the difficulty to All-Madden does make the defensive artificial intelligence tough enough to plug up those holes (more often than not), but it also makes the rest of the game wicked hard. So it's tough to find a balance.
Apart from the rushing inconsistencies, the feel of the game is still great. The passing game has a wonderful feel to it, and the defense is as satisfying as it can be without the aid of the hit stick. Sadly, the flow of the game isn't quite as excellent as it could be. This is exclusively due to a momentary hang-up that crops up every single time the play-calling menu pops up, as well as to the subsequent hang-up that comes immediately after you select a play. It's never longer than a second, but it's a second longer than you'd expect from a modern football game. It effectively extends games longer than you'd prefer, and it's hard to really make quick play calls when you're on a roll.
This problem is clearly some kind of optimization issue between the game and the system, and it doesn't stop with in-game play calling. Loading times are scattered throughout the game, and though only a few of them are especially long, Madden 06 is the kind of game where you'll want to jump around the menus fairly quickly. And you simply can't because of these loads. Nowhere is this more a problem than in the game's franchise mode. This is an almost identical representation of the depth and detail found in the franchise mode on consoles. Owner mode and the Tony Bruno show are absent, but you can perform pretty much every other type of managerial task, like signing free agents, drafting rookies, making trades, playing practices and training camp minigames, and ultimately (hopefully) taking your favorite squad to the Super Bowl. There's also a new practice squad function that lets you add free agents to the squad for reserve purposes, in addition to a new assistant coach mode that earns you bonus ability points for your team via goals set for you by assistant coaches for each game. It's a great franchise mode overall, and it plays out with few glitches or annoyances--beyond the one gigantic annoyance, that is.