Basketball may very well be second only to football in terms of the most popular sport in North America. It’s fast-paced, high-scoring, and certainly a very exciting sport. When it comes to the video game, however, I get the feeling that developer EA Canada may have missed the mark with NBA Live 09: All-Play for the Wii. It’s not a complete disaster and is a bit of a step up from last year’s NBA Live for the Wii, but it’s still a good idea to keep your distance.
I’ve had the opportunity to play and review a number of sports titles for the Wii, and I find that the genre, at least for this system, is really a mixed bag. On the one hand, you’ve got standout titles like PGA Tour 09 that features awesome control, a wide variety of modes, thoroughly satisfying gameplay, and robust online play. On the other, you’ve got games like NHL 2K9, which features some good ideas plagued by technical issues and shoddy execution. Sadly, NBA Live 09: All-Play falls into the latter category of sports games.
NBA Live 09: All-Play has a decent number of modes, but it’s lacking the one that would be most interesting: a career mode. There are some party modes to the game, which contribute to the casual-oriented All Play approach that’s being taken this year. There’s also multiplayer and a new 2-on-2 mode that fails to stand out much at all. There are a variety of ways to play NBA Live 09, but the lack of a create-a-player mode or a career mode takes away a lot of potential depth from this game.
The biggest issue that NBA Live 09 suffers from is a lack of balance on the court; this game just does not feel realistic at all. Scores get far higher than they should, and playing good defense is essentially impossible. Players feel overpowered, and if you happen to have a star on your team, you’ll probably score every possession.
This over-scoring isn’t just the purview of the player. The A.I. takes advantage of the same scoring techniques that you will. As a result, NBA Live 09: All-Play manages to be a completely boring game. Using the same few button inputs over and over and over again, you can ensure that you’ll score on 95% of your drives. And because the A.I. will do the exact same thing, every game is just back-and-forth, with no real breakaways and absolutely no strategy involved. It’s an incredibly shallow experience; basketball is such a strategy-based sport, yet NBA Live 09 completely circumvents that aspect of the game.
While defense is just about non-existent in this game of basketball, offense has a huge presence. Big-name players can drive to the hoop and score with good consistency. When that doesn’t work, just mash A and B to pull off an alley-oop — its success rate is even higher. There’s nothing that you or the A.I. can do to stop these plays, and, as a result, games just become a waiting game to see who makes the first mistake. Even reading your opponent’s plays is completely unimportant, because there’s nothing that you’re really able to do to stop them anyway.
Passing is done via IR point control, much like Pro Evolution Soccer or NHL 2K9. This would be just fine, if there weren’t such a problem with the IR in NBA Live 09. However, it’s consistently off. This wasn’t just a problem with my sensor bar; I made sure by playing another game quickly, and it worked just fine.
I’m completely unaware how a problem like this comes about or, more importantly, how it managed to find its way into the final product. Regardless, it looks sloppy and adversely affects the gameplay. It can be difficult to pull off passes because of the inaccuracy of the point-control.
Visually, NBA Live 09: All-Play is little better than last year’s Wii installation of the series. They visuals still look like they’re right off a PS2, and while character models generally look pretty good, the game can experience some graphical slowdown. The title’s sound is not much better; the announcer is bland, boring, and forgettable, and there’s no good music to be found in this package.
NBA Live 09: All-Play has a multiplayer mode, which I was initially excited about. However, when you consider how broken the basic gameplay mechanic is, it’s tough to have any fun playing online opponents. Assuming you’re playing somebody who knows what they’re doing, you’ll take turns going back and forth with drives to the basket and constant, over-the-top alley-oops. Playing against live players who are mapping out their own strategy should be a lot of fun. Sadly, because of the near-broken nature of the game, it’s not enjoyable.
NBA Live 09: All-Play does have a lot of potential. Motion-based shooting, functioning IR control, upgraded visuals, and strategic gameplay would go a long way toward improving the title from what it is now to a fun, functioning game of basketball. There’s nothing to be had in this package for hardcore basketball fans or casual players. I’m just hoping that EA can get their act together for next year, because I’d love to see a great basketball game on the Wii.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.7 Graphics
The game looks like it’s on the PS2. It would be one thing if there were an obvious focus on gameplay, but there’s just no reason for a Wii game to look this mediocre. 2.5 Control
At times, the controls show promise (like with the motion-controlled free-throws), but IR feels off and control isn’t as tight as it should be. 2.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The announcer sounds bored — given how bad this game is, I can’t really say I’m surprised. 1.9
Imbalanced gameplay, a lack of career mode, poor online, and a gameplay system that just isn’t fun make it hard to enjoy NBA Live 09: All-Play.
2.3 Overall Rating – Poor
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.