When EA announced thaton the PlayStation Vita wouldn't be able to take your PlayStation 3 Madden NFL 13 save back and forth between systems (a la MLB 12: The Show), expectations were set fairly low. Madden Vita hasn't exceeded those expectations. The portable version of the NFL sim isn't bad, but it's nothing more than a serviceable version of handheld football.
Packing an offline-only franchise mode, online head-to-head, create a superstar and Madden Moments, Madden NFL 13 on the PlayStation Vita boils the NFL down to a basic experience. All the teams are here along with the new commentary of Phil Simms and Jim Nantz, but there's little flair. Stadiums seem barren, players blocky, and the framerate can chug during replays and the TV-style cutaways. In fact, the framerate drops while you cycle through the playbook.
But here's the thing: the gameplay of Madden NFL 13 Vita is good. When you're on the field, the game looks crisp and the controls are responsive. Like I said, things stutter during the nonessential presentations, but I didn't see those issues when I called a hot route or had a running back punch through with a HB Blast. Sure, the game is far from silky smooth, but it's running better than PSP football games did and is totally playable. Kicking field goals and pulling off passes all felt good -- if not a bit simple.
See, if you've checked out the PS3 review for Madden NFL 13, it's important to note that the new physics of the Infinity Engine are not part of the Vita version. Madden on Vita plays and feels more like Madden NFL 12. It seemed really easy to complete passes, put the ball where I wanted it, and not get picked off.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- and you can obviously jump in and adjust sliders to tailor your game experience -- but it did make Madden NFL 13 Vita feel like a simpler product, and that feeling is only driven home by the previously mentioned barebones modes and some goofy backend stuff.
When I said this game feels more like Madden NFL 12, I really meant it. For instance, stats seems to be untouched from Madden NFL 12's data. When you start a franchise, the game lists the 2010 records for teams (so the Bears are listed as 11-5 instead of last year's 8-8). When you jump into a game as the Miami Dolphins, Chad Johnson is still Chad Ochocinco. When you run the Wildcat offense with the Jets, Tebow doesn't line up. Yes, these are all little details that don't drastically change the game, but they do make Madden NFL 13 Vita feel like a lesser product that didn't get the TLC Vita owners deserve.
Driving home that point, Madden NFL 13 Vita introduces a number of touch screen/motion controls and makes them mandatory. When you're kicking the ball, you direct the kick by angling your handheld. If you want to shift your D-line, you need to tap the D-pad and then drag on the rear touch panel. These aren't the end of the world, but we all know how to play Madden. Shoehorning in these options seems silly. You can juke with the rear touch panel but you can still use the right stick, too, so why lockout other options?