Name: NCAA Football 2009
Genre: Sports – Football
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, Wii (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Reviewing sports games is always a dicey proposition. Generally speaking, there isn’t a whole lot of difference in most franchises from year to year. I mean, sure, this year’s iteration may add a new celebration system, or a host of mini-games. And the on-line modes get more and more fleshed-out as time goes on. But for the most part, the graphical presentation and the mechanics of gameplay tend to feel like cut-and-paste jobs. This generalization is most often applied to college games, which in the past have felt more like watered-down versions of their professional counterparts than actual complete games. But NCAA ’09, even with a few problems, is a solid game unto itself.
You all know the routine: four downs, end zones, run, pass, defense, kick, blah blah blah. I’m not going to rehash how to play a football game for you. And since it’s college, your players are a number and position, rather than a person with a name (that way only the NCAA, and not the players, can collect on the license.) All 130+ major schools are represented, and you can build your own custom team with the Recruiting tools.
There are some changes to this year’s version that are worth a mention. Player animations have been improved, so that you don’t see runners getting stuck in one repeated action for extended periods of time. This allows players to string together more complex and dynamic runs. Dynasty mode is back, and as in years past, you recruit a team and try to coach them to a national championship. But NCAA ’09 takes the Dynasty mode on-line for the first time, with support for up to 12 players.
The game has added the “Quarterback Quiz”, which is a mini-game entered after a player throws an interception. You are shown three possible defenses called against you, and three still images from the interception play. An correct answer will allow your QB to regain his composure for the next possession, an incorrect guess will cause your QB to become rattled and more prone to make mistakes later in the game. Players can also be thrown off their game by playing in front of vociferous crowds on the road, which is shown by passing route arrows being blurred when the crowd gets pumped up.
For those looking for the silly additions, NCAA ’09 has the Mascot Challenge, which is just a regular game played with mascots instead of humans. And there are a host of mini-games, including H-O-R-S-E, Bowling and Tug-of-War.
Personally, I feel that the standout mode of NCAA ’09 is the oft overlooked Campus Legend. Essentially it is a create-a-player mode, but rather than pick a school for your digital student-athlete, you start off in your home state’s high school state championship tournament. You get four games to prove your worth to scouts from the NCAA, and then you are offered chances to go to various schools. For example, my HB (creatively named “Sean Curran”) was offered a chance to go to #1 Georgia as a 5th string, or to #18 Illinois as a starter. So for me, it was “Go Fighting Illini !” You then must balance a schedule of classes, practices, and gym sessions in order to upgrade your player’s abilities. And at the end of your four years, you have the option of importing your Legend into Madden, which you can rest assured I will do. Interestingly, when I created myself as a player, the game started correctly pronouncing my last name, without any name recognition software. It was kind of eerie...
As I mentioned earlier, there are definitely some problems with NCAA ’09. EA touted that you would be able to download the names and positions of the actual players in the NCAA, but this hasn’t worked since day one. Forums have been abuzz with talk of problems with the on-line dynasty mode, with people claiming the system simulates games that have been played by humans. There are some problems with simulating an entire game as well, as the CPU seems reluctant to kneel on the ball or take starters out, leading to unrealistically lopsided victories. The saddest part about all of these issues is the NCAA ’09 shipped with these bugs. And although EA has promised a patch, we have not yet seen one nor been given a date to expect it.
Still, even when you stop and consider the problems that the game has, NCAA Football 2009 has finally taken the franchise, if not out from under the shadow of its professional cousin John, then certainly a good distance closer to the light. Certain game modes (Dynasty, Campus Legend) are addictive enough to eat up hours upon hours of your free time. If you’re a fan of college football, or if you just need your pigskin fix without all the self-aggrandizing of professionals, this is your answer. I personally had to own this game, but I understand that for most gamers, Madden is the only real MUST OWN, but you still owe it to yourself to give this one a rent.