Madden NFL 07
| Madden NFL 07

In an uncertain world, there is one annual event we can rely on: the latest Madden NFL appearing on every video game platform in the known universe.

With so many other consoles to cater for, it's perhaps not surprising that it's taken this, the third Madden DS, for EA Sports to finally say, "Hey, we should really do something with this whole touchscreen technology, guys".

And done something with it they have. But there's a lot of ground to cover before we get there.

At least Madden NFL's scope means those looking for depth and detail will not be disappointed. Like its console big brothers, the DS version of Madden is a beefy Victorian novel of a game, offering dozens of plays and an exhaustive range of extra tactical options, from hot routes (which enable you to define your own wriggling, defence bamboozling path for a favoured receiver) to user-definable audibles. With the latter you can assign your formation plans to four different buttons, then actually shout the one want into your microphone before the snap. (We find it helps if you do this in a ludicrously butch American accent.)

But before you even prize on your helmet and put a tentative toe into the field of action, there's much to decide. Game modes include exhibition matches, custom tournaments, full seasons or the mammoth Franchise option where you coach a team over a number of years. Fun DS favourites like the Two Minute Drills and Mini Camps are also here, offering specific quick challenges for those rushed on-the-move gaming sessions.

The wi-fi two-player mode is a nice bonus too, allowing competitive matches or Mini Camp face-offs against a gridiron-appreciating pal.

Once you head in-game, the DS' top screen provides an overview of the action, while the touchscreen presents an on-field 3D view, the camera lurking behind the scrimmage line with menacing intent.

Using the two together takes some practise but is necessary. While the 3D view gives a more realistic understanding of the field, the post-snap action turns into a polygonal pile-up as the defensive and offence lines merge on your teeny screen.

Spotting a running route through this claustrophobic crush can be a nightmare, so at first you'll find yourself favouring speculative passing plays, hopefully lobbing the ball beyond the thronging mass. But even using such plays, visually picking out those wide receivers amid the chaos is tough work, which is where the top-down view can come in handy.

At least the visuals are an improvement on previous DS renditions, with chunky but realistically-proportioned players and a camera that glides smoothly along with the fast-moving action.

Now for that touchscreen support. You can use the stylus for everything from taking field kicks to controlling your receiver as he legs it toward the endzone like a balletic psycho. The fact you're given a choice between touch and standard D-pad control, however, hints the designers are still somewhat nervous. And indeed, slashing the screen with your stylus feels too imprecise at times, especially when faced with two rampaging defenders and only a slim chance of jinxing betwixt them.

Also, the field kicking system is horrible. You touch the screen once for the starting place of the kick, touch again to define where you want the ball to go, and then draw a line between to signify strength. It's ill-conceived, almost unforgivably capricious and made us want to field kick the DS itself into the middle of a busy road.

For a European audience though, perhaps the biggest obstacle to enjoying this game is the sheer density of the knowledge you'll need to know about American football. The miniscule instruction leaflet does little but spell out the absolute basic controls, like a snooty waiter expecting you to know exactly what's in your pigeonneau du vend mois. So to get the most out of this game, you're clearly meant to have watched every Superbowl and have played every Madden since 1994. Frankly that's not good enough.

Still Madden NFL 2007 is a solid simulation and a worthy purchase for cerebral sports fanatics. Despite the average 3D graphics and sometimes successful touchscreen dalliances, the depth will get you in the end. It will either quickly become a barrier to your enjoyment or something you strive to overcome.

Learning to distinguish between the plays will signal the start of the love affair. Discovering how to read a defence before tearing it apart with one perfect 30 yard pass is the consummation. It will only be a passing fling, though: the definitive DS version of this long-running series is still to come.

Madden NFL 07

Madden NFL 2007 is a solid annual update, but it lacks visual panache and touchscreen brilliance