Reviewed: December 12, 2008
Released: November 17, 2008
I'll just start from the beginning and say I am not a fan of EA's NCAA Basketball series (formerly titled March Madness). I'm also not a fan of Dick Vitale's commentary style. Given my personality type, my motto has always been “if you're going to do something, do it right”... and EA has consistently made a hash of what should be the best basketball game on the planet.
EA used to have some competition for this sports series – competition which unfortunately has turned into a rarity. I find it highly suspect that in the same timeframe that EA was pursuing a takeover purchase of Take2 Interactive (2K Sports' parent company), 2K just so happened to cancel production on their successful and in most ways superior College Hoops 2K series. HIGHLY SUSPECT!
So given the rather dubious situation in the college basketball videogame market right now, I can't say I was jumping up and down with joy when EA's NCAA Basketball 09 arrived in my mailbox. Yes, I'm sure it has great graphics, but what about classic teams and a good management mode?
The developers at EA Canada decided that the old NCAA March Madness game engine had gone as far as it could go in 2008, so they basically ported the game over to the NBA Live engine. When I first heard this I was basically expecting NBA Live with skinny players. Surprisingly that is not what I found in NCAA Basketball 09.
Instead what I found was a surprising accurate college basketball game. It still has some of the minor annoyances of NBA Live, but it is its own game for all the good and bad that brings. There are over 1,000 new animations so the game looks a lot more realistic than March Madness 2008.
The authenticity of the NCAA Basketball atmosphere has improved greatly but still needs some work. The stadiums are much more accurate, however there are still some annoying errors and omissions. Some errors are simply bad staff work. Mackey Arena (home of the Purdue Boilermakers) looks about as accurate as I've ever seen in a videogame. Their mascot Purdue Pete has improved greatly, but the crowd is once again completely wrong. In NCAA Basketball 09 the crowd is mostly wearing gold shirts and cheers “let's go Boilermakers”. Not only do the fans in the real Mackey Arena mostly wear black, they also use the correct “Boilers” nickname in their cheers. “Go Boilers Go”, “let's go Boilers” and “Boiler Up” are the usual cheers. NCAA Basketball 09 is certainly an improvement, but some errors have been around for a few years and need to be fixed.
As usual when you start the game, you'll find a guy by himself on a schoolyard basketball court. You can play around there or bring up the menu to see just how deep NCAA Basketball goes. Play now mode is the usual “jump right in” to the game. Once you pick your favorite team, the default 'play now' teams will be your favorite and their biggest rival. This year the teams are even more accurate with ratings and scouting reports from the same people who made the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
Dynasty mode is one of the areas that is in disparate need of an update. You still pick your team and manage them to the NCAA Championship but there just isn't much new here to make people want to come back and play again. There can certainly be a lot more done to breathe new life into this part of the game.
Tournament of Legends is a 64-team tournament featuring the classic teams you select. Some of the teams you can pick include 1987 Indiana, 1996 Kentucky, 2001 Duke, 1988 Kansas, 1960 Ohio State, 1991 UNLV, 1992 Duke, 1968 UCLA, 1983 NC State, Larry Bird's 1979 Indiana State, Michael Jordan's 1982 North Carolina and a bunch of other great teams. I'm thrilled that EA is bringing all these great teams for use to enjoy, but there are still a lot more great teams that should be in here, including some conference classic all-star teams.
In the Tournament mode, you can pick from NCAA Tournament and the pre-season tournaments such as Maui Invitational, NIT Season Tip-off, Old Spice Classic, Anaheim Classic, and Puerto Rico Tip-off. Rival challenge puts you up against your favorite teams rivals on Xbox Live. If you pick a team such as Purdue, you will end up playing online against other teams from the Big Ten.
Xbox Live play is fairly standard. You can do the usual quick match and other plays, however I was sad to see that EA hasn't followed in the footsteps of their awesome NHL 09 and FIFA 09 online match-ups which can bring full teams of online players. NHL has full 6-on-6 hockey, and FIFA has a phenomenal 10 vs. 10 online. It's incredibly fun to play in those modes, but I guess we'll have to wait for next year for basketball.
EA does bring the EA Locker into NCAA Basketball. You can in theory download updated (and correctly named) rosters from the lockers of friends or others you may know. It's a great feature but at press time there was a bug preventing people from downloading rosters. Well it's not so much a bug as it is a stupid online language rule, which prevents certain names from being downloaded even if the perceived “naughty name” is actually correct. You also currently cannot play online with renamed rosters. There are rumors of a patch coming soon that will fix all these issues, including giving users the capability to edit the classic team rosters, but as always, don't put too much stock in rumors until you actually see the patch on Xbox Live.
The ESPN On Demand and Ticker options also are back. Thankfully they have included the full list of over 40 options for the ticker so you can choose exactly which sports will scroll on your ticker. Leagues range from Arena Football to English Premiere League Soccer.
Player creation has improved greatly. EA included a very long list of names that will work with in-game audio, including a few jokes like “Hairydog”. The player models are a huge improvement. There is an insane amount of head models, sock styles, and shoes from Adidas, Nike, and Reebok. There are also over 40 tattoos available along with headbands and other accessories.
The graphical improvements in NCAA Basketball 09 are a big leap from last year. With over 1,000 new animations and the detail level of the NBA Live engine, this is the best looking college basketball game ever made. Stadiums are rendered accurately and crowd animations are as close to real as I've seen in college hoops.
Dick Vitale, Brad Nessler and Erin Andrews return for another year of endless chatter baby!!! I can only hope that EA Canada borrows from the FIFA Soccer series and in the future offers alternate commentator downloads on Xbox Live. If you are a Dickie V fan, then this game is for you. But I can only listen to Vitale in small doses and NCAA Basketball 09 has him in his full out ultra annoying glory. Please, EA, PLEASE bring alternate commentary downloads to Xbox Live!
Over 300 NCAA division 1 schools are represented plus the addition of 64 classic teams in NCAA Basketball 09. There are certainly hours of gameplay possibilities here for the hardcore hoops fan.
There are 21 achievements for 1,000 points available. Some of the achievements just require you to win various tournaments, while others such as completing a 30-year dynasty mode are going to take considerable effort.
EA's NCAA Basketball 09 is certainly the best looking college basketball game ever made. Despite some research errors, the college atmosphere rivals EA's NCAA Football game. The conversion to the NBA Live graphics was a wise choice, but there's still a long way to go. The lack of full 5-on-5 teams on Xbox Live is a surprising omission, but this is the good start that only brings hope for 2010.