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Madden 19 goes for emotion again, but what it needs most is to be portable

This year's Madden is still missing the one key thing that could make it great.

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Madden is better, but in lots of small ways.

EA Sports

I'm sitting on my sofa, Xbox One controller in hand, playing Madden 19. I'm playing Longshot mode -- it's the second storyline mode that EA Sports has added to its annual NFL game.

I didn't play Longshot when it was introduced last year. It didn't interest me at all. I play Madden as a way to learn about the NFL season, and model future games that my favorite troubled team, the New York Jets, might play. I play it as penance for a weird childhood going to Jets games I only half liked, and an adulthood where I've become addicted to following the team my dad used to love before he died.

Madden and I are old friends.

I'm playing Madden even though the NFL has become a bizarre landscape. And I no longer have season tickets to Jets games. And I find it harder to care about any of it in the real world.

Longshot: Homecoming ended up sucking me in. I think it's because I didn't expect it to be so much like a movie. It's more storyline than gameplay, and it's heavy on the cliches. But I ended up finding it unexpectedly dramatic and emotional. 

It stars Ron Cephas Jones as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Friday Night Lights' Scott Porter as a player who feels a lot like his character on Friday Night Lights and even, weirdly, Rob Schneider as the Cowboys' general manager. The cast is generally great. The music is well done. It worked for me -- even though the simple storyline paralleling the NFL preseason and two players trying to make a roster seems pretty basic.

Somewhere in the middle of Ron Cephas Jones' heartfelt soliloquy on aging and parenthood, I shed a tear.

Then I wondered why the rest of Madden feels so sterile in comparison.

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Madden Ultimate Team mode has improved, but it's still completely cryptic to me.

EA Sports

For instance, the card-collecting Madden Ultimate Team mode, which feels like it keeps growing tentacles throughout EA Sports' Madden franchise, is a weird beast, a whole other part I've never adopted. Pop-up reminders of special player cards or offers make the game feel spammed by in-house ads. That world of Madden, the mercenary world of competitions and microtransactions, is why I don't play Madden on my phone, either.

Madden feels like it's being split into three different directions now: A collectible card game, a total NFL simulation and now a dramatic story-driven experience. I'd prefer, maybe, some way of having all three at once.

What if I could play a season as the Jets, and it unfolded more like the old Steve Sabol-produced NFL Films highlight presentations that used to get my dad so emotional every season? What if the way I played started to feel more cinematic?

Madden, admittedly, is a great game overall. Franchise mode is easier to get into, and Madden has already ramped up its presentation a lot over the years. Sometimes it's casually indistinguishable from actual TV football. But that "Madden feel" is largely the same this year, even with the player motion revamp. Players move more realistically, seem to do surprising moves I haven't seen before. But I feel like I've said the same thing other years.

If only Madden were portable, though... that would be a big change.

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EA Sports

There's one key thing that bugs me about Madden more than anything else this year: I can't play it on the go. The Nintendo Switch has been my go-to console, more than the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, because it's perfect for a commuting dad. There still isn't a Madden game on Nintendo Switch, even though FIFA and NBA 2K made the leap. For season and franchise investments, hours of gameplay I keep whittling away at for weeks, the Switch seems like the perfect way to play. Coming home for appointment gaming on my sofa isn't, quite as much.

Madden is trying to be many things, now. But in all those separate pieces, I wonder if it all needs to be reworked into a game that captures more of what's missing. And, at this point, just focus on games that can be played faster and on the go. Madden not being on the Switch is the biggest reason why I won't play Madden as much this year as I did in 2017. That's not Madden's fault, really, but it's up to EA Sports to make it happen someday soon.

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