|System: X360, PS3, PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA CANADA||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 17, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4 (1-2 Online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Leon Hendrix III
Singular license agreements like EA Sports exclusive NFL license are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the annual output of a title like Madden ensures that football fans and gamers alike will have something to kick around every single season.
On the other, it has long been my theory that these agreements (or other unwritten relationships where one company dominates a license) hurt gamers by weakening the market and making gamers settle every year for what is essentially the same pre-packaged game experience usually running on an old engine. As a gamer and critic, I feel that this cheats consumers and allows developers to maximize profits and minimize the actual time they spend developing.
And so it is with this years EA Sports College Basketball entry, NCAA Basketball 09. First a disclaimer: this is by no means the worst basketball game you will ever play. In fact, in some ways its better than some predecessors and even its more popular NBA cousin, the NBA Live series. Animations are crisp and fluid, A.I. seems a bit sharper, and a few new wrinkles to the in-game strategy (team tempo, pregame coaching, etc.) seem to significantly affect the game experience. Real NCAA basketball fans (excluding fair-weather fans and tournament gawkers like myself) will geek out at the prospect of the all new Tournament of Legends mode, which allows players to pit 64 of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball against each other. Finally, presentation shines as one aspect of this entry that will keep gamers entertained; like any ESPN fan, I almost never get tired of hearing Dick Vitales voice.
Still, despite its high-points, or maybe because of them, EA manages to deliver an experience that is mostly familiar and shows a lack of desire to innovate or alter the game in any truly significant ways. Once again, the sports sim powerhouse seems to have stuck to its if it aint broke dont fix it underachieving philosophy, which manages to keep NCAA 09 from achieving any real new success. Fans of the series will buy it; newcomers can buy any title in the next-gen series and get roughly the same value (or better yet, get NBA Live which is likely the game your friends are playing).
EA has gone far out of its way to present a pretty package and that is what we get. NCAA 09 is likely the first next-gen version many gamers will play (lets face it; 07 and 08 EA games were not the best next-gen efforts) and visually, graphically, and animation-wise, it will not disappoint.
Everything from dunks to crossovers and steals seems to have new animations. This game runs on the NBA Live engine (a first for the former March Madness series), and the truly observant will note some borrowed animations, but it is an upgrade from older NCAA titles.
Most teams allow players to select several vintage and contemporary jerseys (legendary teams even sport the short shorts), crowds look and feel a bit less like faceless cardboard cutouts, and games in the Tournament of Legends are even broadcast by ESPN Classic and played on hardwood so shiny you can literally see the players reflections.
From the moment the game comes on and throughout every load screen, players will be treated to a fully responsive practice mini-game, which features a college player (presumably NCAA 09 cover-boy Kevin Love) shooting hoops on an empty college outdoor court. Admittedly, this is inconsequential to gameplay, but as an EA sports gamer for the last decade, I have to say it is an enjoyable way to pass those agonizing seconds between load screens.