Jamdat Sports NFL 2006, the Los Angeles-based mobile publisher's latest update to its highly successful football lineup, has some stiff new competition this year. For instance, Electronic Arts' Madden 06, while not the groundbreaking game some thought it might be, is a good footballer in its own right and is sure to benefit from name recognition on the download decks. Meanwhile, THQ Wireless is readying a very strong update to its own NFL Football series. Nevertheless, Jamdat didn't get to where it is today by lacking self-confidence. So instead of radically redesigning its football game, Jamdat's standing pat by making a fair number of incremental updates to last year's excellent NFL 2005. The trust the company has placed in the NFL series' core design isn't unfounded. And judging from our play-through, NFL 2006 seems to have been tweaked in just the right ways to keep it a half step ahead of the competition.
You've got plenty of plays to win with.
Perhaps the most important addition to this year's game is the inclusion of eight-man teams. True, this is only a single player more than in NFL 2005, and it's only three players fewer than the regulation 11 that Madden 06 and NFL Football 2006 sport. But, in fact, that one extra player adds a lot of possibilities to each team's playbook, and that player makes the on-field action more realistic, while still keeping the level of onscreen activity to manageable levels. NFL 2006's producer explained that Jamdat wants to keep playability at the top of its priority list. It didn't think it could make a playable game of 22-player football for the current generation of mobile phones, so Jamdat elected to keep the rosters in the single digits this year. However, the publisher plans to expand to 11-player teams once it feels devices can handle them.
In any case, NFL 2006 plays like a full-fledged game of football, even with miniaturized rosters. The game packs 140 total plays, allowing for 18 offensive and 18 defensive plays per team, plus some special-teams plays. All the playbooks are arranged in the same easy-to-use system of tiers that NFL 2005 used. As a result, there are run, short-pass, long-pass, and special-teams categories on both sides of the balls. NFL 2006 has also kept the "traffic light" system of indicators to assist with the on-the-field action. Basically, if an offensive player is surrounded by a green aura, he's in no danger from the defense. Meanwhile, yellow means danger is near, and red means a tackle is imminent. The same system goes for receivers, so their markers, which also display the key you hit to pass to them, turns green, yellow, or red depending on how open they are. This simple indicator system seems to work as well as it ever did, and it definitely helps you keep tabs on the offense when you're scrambling in the pocket. Jamdat's also introduced a few nifty control innovations. For instance, when carrying the ball, a single contextual action button lets you make a spin move, stiff-arm a defender, or dive for the goal line, depending on the situation.
Jamdat went out and hired their own version of Madden.
The other additions to Jamdat NFL 2006 are small individually, but they add up to a sizable update. One major new step is the inclusion of motion plays in the offense. However, you can also move a defensive player freely before the snap to cover these motion plays. Another step is layered audio and voice commentary. On higher-end handsets like the LG VX8100, the game features a very enthusiastic play-by-play announcer whose stentorian tones ring out through the speakers. He's not John Madden, but he certainly holds his own. Layered audio--meaning simultaneous music and sound effects--is a rarity in mobile games, and here it improves the game's sound quality immensely. Finally, Jamdat's added 200 frames of animation to NFL 2006, and the resulting action looks far more realistic than before, even though the game has kept its simplified graphics set. Offensive players will now spin to the ground when tackled, and they'll perform touchdown dances upon scoring.
All in all, Jamdat NFL 2006 is a great-looking football game that plays to the mobile platform's strengths: convenience and portability. The game is basically complete and should be released in early September, which is just in time for football season. We'll have the full review at that time.