|System: PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: SCEA San Diego||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: SCEA (SONY)||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Oct. 7, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jonathan Marx
August 26, 2008 - The team at SCEA San Diego, well known for their excellent work on MLB 08: The Show, has been working hard on the latest release of the SONY-specific basketball franchise, NBA 09 The Inside. This week, I got the chance to tool around with the PSP version of the title so I can update all of you on the game's progress. So far, it looks as though the PSP version makes a conscious effort to equally mix simulation-style basketball with a load of portable-friendly mini-games. This may not resonate with b-ball purists, but it's probably a good thing overall. That's because, from the feeling I got from the preview code, the varied mini-games are every bit as engaging as the actual basketball itself.
The core play of basketball is still a bit rough, even at this late stage in development. Thankfully, the game is full of interesting ways to play outside of straight up, sim hoops. NBA 09 The Inside is divided up into three main areas: Online, NBA, and Block Party. This year, Online play is marked not only by Ad-Hoc and wireless network connectivity for up to two players but also by downloadable content, including updated rosters, which will be available over the course of the season.
The NBA section of play features Exhibition, Franchise, Playoffs, Practice, and All-Star Weekend modes. Not surprisingly, these game types will remain largely untouched from last year. The exception is that of Franchise Mode. It has been tweaked to bring a more challenging, hands-on experience to players. In addition to the various general manager responsibilities of hiring and trading, gamers will also have to coach their players to success by managing team morale. Trades, strategy, salaries, individual and team performances, etc. all have an effect upon the way your players play. Before each contest, you'll get a view of your starting team's players' morale levels heading into the evening's match-up. By watching morale over the course of a season, you'll know who you need to trade off the team, who needs more money, and who needs playing time. By balancing various factors successfully, you'll be able to forge a team that is confident and poised heading into The NBA Playoffs.
Outside of standard basketball modes, NBA 09 The Inside has added a ton of arcade elements that seem to suit the PSP quite well. This collection of mini-games is housed under the heading Block Party. Block Party includes fun series' standbys such as Conquest, Elimination, HORSE, and Dodgeball to new additions such as Elimiquest, Give & Go, and Bang the Boards. All these basketball themed mini-games use various rules and unique elements to keep gameplay fresh. For example, Give & Go is 5-v-5, full court basketball with a twist. It has players accumulate multipliers (up to 6x) by passing the ball several times before nailing a jumper, slamming the ball, or popping a three. That means someone that nails a three-pointer with a 4x multiplier will actually be awarded with 12 points for the bucket. The first team to hit 100 points wins.
What's more, mini-games also include carnival-style games that really have nothing to do with basketball. For example, players can choose from seven different pinball machines to pass the time with. All these machines provide players with slightly different goals to achieve and top scores will be tracked. Furthermore, games such as Hot Shot!, Big Shooter, Alley Oop, and, my personal favorites, Block A Shot (like Whack-a-Mole), and Shootin' Bricks (similar to Breakout and Arkanoid), round out the mini-game complement. The vast collection of basketball-themed, carnival-style mini-games are all quite entertaining and look to be a highlight for the title, not just tacked-on filler.
NBA 09 The Inside is in very capable hands; the folks at SCEA San Diego know how to make quality sports titles. However, like last year, playing hoops still feels somewhat messy and imprecise. Players tend to swarm around the ball, it's difficult to set up picks, the opposition has an uncanny ability to bIock your shots, and it is difficult to retrieve loose balls with any kind of consistency. Consequently, I hope the pure basketball side of the title improves before the October 7 ship date. After all, that's supposed to be the core portion of gameplay. I won't rush to judgment, however. One can never tell exactly how the gameplay will be until the retail copies are released. But, I figured it was important to identify a few of my concerns. Check back for our full reviews of NBA 09 The Inside on all SONY consoles in early October.
CCC Editor / News Director