Updated roster and new play mode notwithstanding, the Game Boy Advance version of Madden NFL 06 is roughly identical to Madden NFL 2005. The controls, interfaces, artificial intelligence, graphics, audio, and pretty much everything else in this latest game are mostly unchanged from the previous one. That's not a complete negative, since last year's game delivered some great football, but you may be disappointed if you were hoping to see significant upgrades to this year's model.
Exient Entertainment, the game's developer, made numerous improvements when it took over development from Budcat Creations last year. The folks at Exient made the AI smarter, put in adjustable difficulty sliders, made the field easier to see by pulling back the camera viewpoint, and made the playbook easier to understand by including diagrams of the receivers' actual routes. Madden NFL 06 also incorporates all those improvements but doesn't bring any fixes or enhancements of its own to the table. In fact, the development team didn't even implement the heavily hyped quarterback-vision-passing feature that was newly added to the console versions of Madden NFL 06. It did add a new play mode, however, called minicamp. Minicamp mode is a set of four minigames involving field goals, passing, running, and tackling, and it can be played with as many as six participants by passing around a single GBA.
Although it may be disappointing to some that the GBA version of Madden NFL 06 doesn't play the same as its console counterparts, there's no denying that it's a solid, well-rounded football game in its own right. Beginners can dive right in and start picking and running plays just by making use of the D pad and the A button. Seasoned players, meanwhile, can take advantage of expert controls that let players reverse plays, call audibles, and spin and dive all over the field. The playbook contains more than 400 different offensive and defensive plays. After picking a play, you can initiate the snap by tapping the A button, or you can change the play on the fly (known as an "audible") by tapping the B button. After the snap, the iconic passing system lets you toss the ball from the quarterback to one of three preset receivers using the GBA's button array. On offense, the GBA's button layout lets you tell your receivers and running backs to sprint, dive, spin, or juke. On defense, you can make your linemen sprint, jump, or leap. Whether an interception or a tackle occurs depends on where the receiver is with respect to the ball and the defender. The CPU seems to play an intelligent game. In particular, it's good about passing to the most open receiver on offense and deflecting long-range passes on defense.
Madden NFL 06 is also a perfect fit for the GBA's "play anywhere" portability. It includes numerous play modes that are designed for short or extended playing sessions, as well as for one or multiple players. The play modes consist of season, practice, two-minute drill, quick play, situation, and minicamp. Players with only a few minutes to kill can get in a few snaps in the two-minute drill, practice, minicamp, and situation modes. The situation mode is a particularly good time-waster because it lets you set up what-if scenarios by adjusting the teams, score, quarter, time left, team of possession, downs, number of time-outs, and yards left to the goal. Players with at least 20 minutes on their hands can dive into the quick play or season modes. The game automatically keeps track of records throughout the season and maintains statistics in roughly 80 categories. Most modes support two-player link play. The new minicamp mode supports up to six players in pass-and-play fashion. All that's missing is a create-a-player feature, which is an odd oversight considering you can trade and release existing players that are already in the game.
The two areas where Madden NFL 06 could have used some sprucing up over last year's game are its graphics and audio. Visually, the game earns a pass, mainly because the skewed field viewpoint and sprite-rendered players work together in adequate fashion to convey a 3D perspective, which is no easy feat on the traditionally 2D GBA. Player bodies are tiny, and some animations are choppy, particularly tackles, but the overall flow of players down the field is relatively smooth. If you ever played Madden NFL '98 on the PlayStation, that's about what this game looks like. On the audio side of things, Madden NFL 06 comes up lacking and actually seems to have taken a step back from last year's game. The persistent crowd noise and player grunts are the same. However, both the variety and frequency of spoken comments from John Madden and Al Michaels have been reduced.
All told, Madden NFL 06 isn't much different from Madden NFL 2005. If you already own the previous game and don't care about the latest rosters, there really isn't a compelling reason to upgrade. However, if up-to-date rosters do matter to you or you don't already have a football game for your GBA, then don't hesitate to pick up Madden NFL 06.