As EA continues their acquisition of exclusive sports licenses, increased pressure ends up on every release. After 2K Sports passed on their College Hoops franchise, that leaves the re-titled NCAA Basketball 09 as the only college series left (at least in terms of basketball). With March Madness gone from the title, one would expect this to be a fresh take on the game… and it’s not.
As with NBA Live the game starts on a playground, where you can randomly shoot hoops while the game loads. Oddly, the game features the Weather Channel license so you know the weather at your current school of choice. Apparently, the Weather Channel hands out their license in bulk, and EA figured “why not?”
In terms of modes, there’s nothing new here. Seasons, Dynasty play, quick start, and online matches are all expected. There is a Tournament of Legends, letting players select from classic teams, putting them into a 64-team bracket to determine the top one. It’s not all that different from any other prior tournament mode.
On the court, the big push this year is game tempo. It makes sense, as the sport is based on hot streaks and momentum. However, the feature is overdone to the point of nausea. Every time out, many breaks in play, the commentary, and anywhere else it can be mentioned, it is.
Granted, it’s important. It can dictate whether your hot players start missing shots, or make crucial turnovers. Again, great idea in principle. However, if you take a team based around a half-court offense and manage to run the ball down the floor quickly to go on a 10-0 run, you’re actually penalized. The new coach feature (which pops up in the corner of the screen to offer simple advice) will begin berating you for not sticking to the game plan, despite a 20-point lead built entirely off fast breaks.
Like NBA Live which NCAA now shares an engine with, it’s far too easy to score inside points. Beating defenders is simple, and while the AI is usually quick to pick up on pick & rolls, it’s too easy to blow through the second defender as well. Why bother setting up and running an offense when it’s easier to just push the ball inside?
To be fair, the engine is solid. Many will prefer this to College Hoops. The pacing, when played like a legitimate basketball game, is realistic. Animation is excellent, making transition moves feel smooth and natural. Live has made strides over the past few years, and this is the game that benefits from them.
That said, there’s still plenty of room for improvement here. The new features being added are frustrating more than exciting, a sign of things going the wrong direction. For those looking for some NCAA Basketball on their 360 though (or any console for that matter), this is the only choice you’ll have. It’s either live with flaws or wait until next year and hope some additional experience can change things around.
NCAA Basketball 09 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PS2, PS3.