E3 06: Madden NFL 07 Hands-On

John Madden, shrunk down to handheld size. We check out the PSP version of EA Sports' football game.

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LOS ANGELES--Last year's debut of Madden on the PlayStation Portable made a splash with its solid representation of the classic Madden gameplay, a bunch of new training-camp minigames, and an overall presentation that compared very favorably with the PlayStation 2 version of the game. This year, in addition to arriving on all the major current- and next-gen consoles, Madden will once again be returning to the PSP with Madden NFL 07. We had a chance to check out the game today at Sony's E3 booth and are happy to see it coming along just fine in the development process.

The playable demo of the game focused squarely on the gridiron gameplay that is the centerpiece of the game--no other major modes or minigames were available. We dove directly into a game between last year's Super Bowl contenders, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Seattle Seahawks, with the specific goal of checking out how the run-heavy focus of this year's game translates to the handheld console. For those who've been living under a rock (or perhaps sleeping under a big pile of steaming Turducken), the game's focus is all about the ground game, and that focus is manifesting itself in two new features: the highlight stick and the lead blocking controls.

Because the PSP has only one analog stick however, the highlight stick has been tweaked a bit on the handheld. On consoles, all highlight stick moves, such as duck-unders, spins, and power moves are controlled with the right analog stick; on the PSP you can pull off these same moves by holding down the triangle button and then moving the right analog stick. It works pretty well, though you have to compensate for a bit of sluggish response (as we also found in the console version of the game) and anticipate your highlight move sooner than you might think.

The other big running feature this year isn't running per se, but rather blocking. Lead-blocker controls lets you take control of any player on the field and act as a roadblock to defenders looking to bring down the ball carrier. Before the snap of the ball, you can switch to various players by pressing the circle button repeatedly. Typically you'll want to control either the fullback or a tight end in situations like this, but if you've always wanted to play right tackle in a football video game, this is your chance. There are even specific blocks you can put on opposing players, which adds a bit more interactivity to the experience. The only caveat to the controls, you probably won't want to play with it on misdirection plays, as the camera focuses on the player you're controlling; if you roll right and the running back runs left, you won't have any idea what's happening on the other side of the field. As such, we expect folks will only use the lead-blocking feature in specific situations.

The PSP version of Madden 07 doesn't use the passing cone introduced in last year's console version of the game, and the passing game seems largely unchanged, which is to say it works pretty well. While the passing game remains the same, the new kicking meter, which utilizes an down-and-up motion with the analog stick, is a welcome change from the tired old button system used in previous Madden iterations.

Sharp detail and bright colors highlight Madden NFL 07's graphical presentation. Because of the E3 din, we couldn't get a good idea of the game's audio. In the near future, we hope to get another look at the game to see what new minigames are in and how some of the main game modes have improved. Stay tuned for more on Madden NFL 07 for PSP in the future.

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