NCAA Basketball 09 Review (PS3)
It seems that EA Sports got the message after OS gave last year's edition of March Madness a four out of 10 rating. The embarrassment was too much to handle and thus, EA had to change the name of the franchise from March Madness to NCAA Basketball.
In reality, with no other competition on the market, there is no reason to fear calling your game something generic like NCAA Basketball 09. But, does the name change equate to real change when it comes to the direction of the series? It seems as if the game has taken two steps forward, but it is still being weighed down by the same issues that have been plaguing EA basketball for half a decade.
NCAA Basketball is a big improvement over last year's March Madness in almost every way. This improvement makes NCAA Basketball one of the best college basketball experiences on a next-gen console. Is it the best yet? Probably not, but the game is certainly a big step in the right direction.
The EA College Basketball series is back under a new banner...NCAA Basketball.
NCAA Basketball 09 ships with a very similar feature set to last year's March Madness game. For those of you who may still be in the dark, this is March Madness under a new brand name. Therefore, if you have played any of the past few editions of March Madness, you should know what to expect in the features department..
New to this year's game is the Tempo Meter, which basically tracks the tempo of your game and allows you to try to play within your tempo. Honestly, it didn't seem like playing outside your tempo resulted in something too negative happening, as I would oftentimes run an up-tempo offense very successfully when I was supposed to be a half-court team. Ditto for running a half-court offense with an up-tempo team. I'm sure there is some kind of a benefit somewhere, but I have yet to discover why it is important to play your tempo in NCAA Basketball 09.
Another cool new addition to the game is a set of pregame "focuses" that basically allow you try to meet certain challenges during the course of a game. You can try to limit turnovers, hit the boards, shoot well or any other number of options the game offers. Of course, the specific pregame focuses you choose change based on what style of ball you play.
Meeting these challenges during Dynasty mode results in you getting "dynasty points" that can be used to upgrade your school's facilities, which in turn give your team certain bonuses. I know several people are scoffing at the mere idea of bonuses in a sports video game, but it is my opinion that the facility upgrades in NCAA Basketball offer realistic bonuses. If you have a better weight training facility, your players are going to be in better condition; the better your practice gym, the better your team is going to shoot; and so on and so forth.
College basketball is very much a sport about atmosphere and emotion. Unfortunately, NCAA Basketball 09 does a so-so job of capturing this aspect of the sport. The crowd chants are oftentimes misplaced, and a lot of times the crowd is just silent. I'm kind of sick of atmosphere in a college video game being an afterthought. The same development studio did such a great job with the atmosphere in NBA Live; so, it's too bad that magic couldn't carry over to NCAA basketball.
There are tons of authentic arenas in this year's game, a step up from last year.
Returning to the on-court action, you will notice right away that the game plays tighter than last year's game -- even a bit tighter than NBA Live. The canned animations still cause some funky side-effects, such as players getting backcourt violations or players running out of bounds when they get stuck in an animation that leads them in a certain direction.
As was the case with NBA Live, loose balls aren't handled very well, as players will just watch a ball bounce along the floor until one player runs by and picks it up.
Rebounding is hit or miss with NCAA Basketball. There are utterly frustrating possessions where the whole system seems off, and then there are possessions where you see players box out properly and gather rebounds. I can recall one time when my center just sat around with position under the basket, but then he watched the opposing point guard leap for the rebound and score the bucket -- the center did not even move. It was one of the dumbest plays I have ever seen on the digital hardwood. There was another time where I watched six guys jockey for position underneath the basket. So in other words, the rebounding is inconsistent at best.
Another gripe I have revolves around the computer A.I., as it simply doesn't go to its big-name players in the right situations. College basketball is more of a team sport than the NBA, but the game still revolves around its star players for the most part. There are instances late in a game when the A.I. will run its offense and won't go to its best player. It's a minor gripe since there are times when the best player does take the key shots, but it doesn't happen nearly enough.
No, he's not that #23.
While NCAA Basketball does do a few things wrong, the things the game does right make it a solid title.
For starters, your players are very active off the ball -- more than last year for sure. The action isn't as good as Live, but it is definitely better than it has been in previous years, and the game certainly more closely resembles college basketball as a result.
Another thing I'm a fan of are the coaches and their feedback during a game. Granted, most of the stuff they say is common sense, such as pressing when down late, slow or speed up the tempo, etc. However, the feature will help the beginners get into the game, and it is also a cool way to feature coaches in the game. The feature could also easily be expanded upon in later editions.
Thanks to a partnership with Blue Ribbon, EA has tried to re-create each team as accurately as possible in order to provide what EA calls "next-level authenticity." While I applaud the efforts that were made, each team still feels like it plays similar to one another. Perhaps including some pregame scouting reports and such -- as well as differentiating the teams even more in coming editions -- will do the trick, but each game felt largely similar from a stylistic standpoint.
Teams like South Dakota State, Wofford and St. Mary's will all play like lesser Division I teams. They won't shoot as high a percentage as North Carolina or Kansas, and they will also have trouble matching up against those teams athletically. It felt like I was running circles around South Dakota State with my Sooners in a game I won 103-55, which is what should have realistically happened on most nights.
Across the board, the shooting ability of most players will need some adjustment in the downward direction. It could have just been my defense sucking, but it seemed like most of my opponents shot at least 50 percent from the field during most games. With some tweaks to the game, you should be able to bring shooting to a more realistic level. I'm just waiting on the optimum slider sets to be released by the OS forum gurus, which will fix the overpowered A.I. offense.
Count me in for being thankful the era of the short shorts in basketball is over.
The control scheme for NCAA Basketball is overall a step up from its big brother, NBA Live. The controls are simpler and easier to understand, especially on defense. My favorite difference is the fact that the right-analog stick controls your defensive player's stance: You can go from a more on-the-ball stance to a stance where you hold your hands up, which is what you should be doing in a zone.
In case you didn't catch my Live review, I called the Signature Play Calling system the best ever play-calling system in a basketball video game. The fact that it is included in NCAA Basketball makes me very happy. Another great feature that has migrated from NBA Live is the Pick and Roll Control, which allows you to call a pick at any time.
The Quickstrike Ankle Breakers also make an appearance in NCAA Basketball, and they work just like they do in Live. The moves feel toned down a bit, which was my main complaint with the feature in Live. I do think the animations could be toned down a bit as well, since some of the players look like members of the Harlem Globetrotters as they make near impossible moves to the basket. I also do not like the fact that when an animation starts, it will not be stopped. It's time for interruptible animations in this series.
The Dynasty mode in NCAA Basketball is very similar to the one found in March Madness last year. I thought last year's mode was the best thing about the game -- there were upgradeable facilities and you were also able to track fan support easily, among other things. I also did not mind the e-mail system, which some were not fond of.
NCAA Basketball 09 is a worthy game if you are a fan of the sport.
This year, EA has added the Dynasty Yearbook, which basically allows you to look back on every season of your dynasty and see your top performers, key recruits, graduating players and more. This is a dynasty user's dream come true, and it has become one of my favorite new features in Dynasty mode.
Recruiting has borrowed a bit more from NCAA Football this year, and that is a good thing. You can now search for recruits by a number of attributes and ratings, but for some reason there is no recruiting board like in NCAA Football. Recruits tend to be rated a tad high overall when they arrive as freshmen, and it seems a bit easy to land four-star guys. I was able to land a pair of four-stars alongside a three-star guy while coaching in my first season at SMU, which is hardly a basketball powerhouse.
I'm not a fan of how the Dynasty mode was organized this year. Your calendar and messages are both pretty hidden from view because there is no single shortcut. So, instead you have to always scroll through menus. The menus technically work, and it is still fun to manage your program over the years, but it just seems like EA was trying to tweak the menus and fix something that wasn't broken in the first place.
For the most part, Dynasty mode is largely the same as far as functionality goes. However, because of the changes made to the interface, I feel the developers have actually knocked the experience down a notch due to the much-harder-to-navigate menu system.
Actually, it looks kind of real.
The Classic Tournament mode is a cool addition to the game, but I would love it more if you could randomize the bracket or even simply have the ability to swap seeds from region to region. Fans will criticize EA for leaving out teams who shouldn't have been left out, but that was inevitable regardless of which 64-team field EA picked. On a personal note, I am saddened that the '88 Oklahoma team wasn't included.
As far as online goes, the features that are defining online gaming in this generation are not in NCAA Basketball. There is no online dynasty, no team play online -- just the standard feature set from previous generations. Thus, the online mode is merely average.
NCAA Basketball 09 is the only new college basketball title on store shelves this season -- no more College Hoops 2K. As such, college basketball fans are going to put this title under a microscope and really pick it apart.
What fans should find is a good Dynasty mode, good but not great gameplay, and a game that is undoubtedly on the rise. NCAA Basketball 09 is one of the best college basketball games I have personally played over the last 10 years, but that is not saying too much considering how bad most college basketball games have been (sans a 2K title here and there).
True college basketball fans should pick this game up, but anyone who is on the fence about the sport should probably pass on this game and save his or her money for other games.
On the Court: Just as with Live, it's a mixed bag. You will have fun with the game, but you will also scratch your head when you see some of the things the game does wrong.
Graphics: The graphics are a step down overall from Live. They aren't bad and they aren't great. The animations do look good though, even if they cannot be interrupted.
Sound: The commentary is OK, far from my favorite in a sports game. The fans try their best to be loud, but the whole package is just average.
Entertainment Value: If you like NCAA basketball, you will undoubtedly like this game. If you are not a fan of the college game, you will probably find yourself bored. NCAA Basketball is good, but not great like that.
Learning Curve: It will take new players awhile to get accustomed to the controls, but veterans of the series will be able to jump right in and play.
Online: Average, vanilla, not awesome. You get the same feature set that has been in every sports game imaginable over the last five years.
Score: 7.0 (Good)