STAFF REVIEW of NCAA Football 09 (Xbox 360)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008.
by Tony Ingrassia

NCAA Football 09 Box art When NCAA Football hits the streets it usually means two things. One, football is in the air, and two, summer is fading fast! EA?s NCAA Football 09 is back once again with a long list of features, mini-games and modes to entice all you pigskin aficionados. The thing with football games is that we all know the game and how it?s played and we?ve seen it presented numerous times on console, so what makes this the latest and greatest, if it even is? This is football so there really is no reason to cover plot, or storylines, what we can tackle, no pun intended, is the mechanics and features of NCAA 09. One of NCAA?s big features is bringing you ?Wide open Authentic College game play?; this particular feature is enhanced by some home field advantage nuances to the game. If the visiting team gets rattled enough and starts to lose its composure, your button icons turn to question marks and routes to squiggly lines, if your pass gets picked off, yet another little nuance pops up, the ?Quarterback Quiz?, name the defense the opponent was running correctly to regain some of your composure. The kicking game is also affected by the pressure by the ?Icing the Kicker? mechanic. Late in a game call a time out to ?Ice? the kicker, a lower camera angle, audible heart beat and controller rumble ?Kick? in to try and un-nerve the player. Why do I bring these things up with a little sarcasm? Well, because these are just gimmicks in my eyes. Give me a solid game and keep the odd little bells and whistles for something else, none of these features make the ?Authentic College? experience pop out at me. You can pump up the crowd by clicking down on the left analog stick, which would have been more than enough. Why do I criticize so harshly? Because NCAA 09 has a lot to offer without the gimmicks.

The game looks great, real simple. The player animations and movement mechanics are pretty close to spot on. You even get to enjoy the cheer leaders high flying pyramids and jumps. Players will slide, jump and bobble passes to try and complete them. The control scheme is standard fair, everything where we have learned to expect it. There is a bit more fluidity in control via the analog sticks and audible and hot routes can be executed flawlessly from the line. On defense, you can ?Stick? player with bone crushing tackles and aggressively try and cause a turn over ?Striping? the ball with a push of a button. Time your jumps and moves just right for a quick ?INT? heading the other way. Plays are broken down by ?Coaches Picks?, by play, formation, etc?making it easy on all level of players to get into the game?so why do we need the gimmicks? Yes, playing the all mascot games is funny with the over the top jukes and jumps, that too would have been enough. If you want to really be part of the game create your own ?Campus Legend? live on campus go to classes, hang out at night, train and perform well in practice and move up the depth chart, he even has his own set of achievements, recruit him to your favorite team and see what you can do. It?s kind of your alter ego in NCAA if you will. So again I ask you? Why the gimmicks?

Now what is going to make many a football fans day is NCAA?s all new Online Dynasty mode. With 60 years of continuous play, 12 players can join your Dynasty playing as any team. Full recruiting, stats and NCAA news enhance the experience. This is more or less fantasy football played by you and your friends. Your new Dynasty is by Invitation only and you reside as the Commissioner, you are in complete control. You can track everyone?s progress and communicate to the group via Dynasty Headquarters. A really nice feature in the overall game is the ability to convert online to offline and vice versa, so the system is pretty seamless and effortless. The Dynasty mode is very deep and I can see it being the meat of this game for quite some time, you could lose yourself in this mode if you?re not careful, although I?m not quite sure if that?s a bad thing, true football fans are stat junkies anyway, so go crazy. You of course can launch a Dynasty the lazy mans way, which is ?Siming? your way through all the recruiting, building, training, etc? and get right to the schedule, so there really isn?t a reason for anyone not to try and give their ?Dynasty? a shot, its one thing to play as the Georgia Bulldogs, its another to be your own custom built team. So the quick way, or the right way, Dynasty mode is well worth looking into for every player with a pulse.

Aside form the ?Play Now?, ?Dynasty? and usual modes, there is a ?Gimmick? I did enjoy. Not because of its break form the norm but I have to give it an ?A? for originality and use of the entire team. I?m referring to the mini-games, not the in game ones, but the stand alone fun stuff. Returning are the ever popular, at least I enjoyed them, Option Dash, Bowling and Tug of war?my favorite. This year there are two new additions to the list, HORSE and Special Teams Challenge. We?ve all played Horse the concept is relatively easy. In NCAA 09 Horse pits kicker against kicker, where you are able to spot the ball anywhere on the field as your line of scrimmage, now all you need to do is keep knocking them through the uprights. You can even add wind and other elements to make the challenge that much greater. The special teams challenge is a ?Drive? to be the first to score, you can play against a player or CPU, 1 play each, back and forth, first to score wins. Lets say you return a kick to your opponents 20 yard line, then sty full their play right there, you can just kick a field goal to win. Conversely, you can play a position game by punting until the tide turns in your favor. All the mini-games, old and new are a nice addition, well thought out and a lot of fun to play when you need to step away from the X?s and O?s.

I didn?t mean to harp on the gimmicks, but while there were some minor flaws in the game, it?s a very solid effort for the long running series. The sounds of the game are well balanced and accurate, the home crowd cheering or jeering on an interception does add to the feel of the game, the commentary while at times a little repetitive is very accurate and the inclusion of custom sounds pretty much seals the deal?you want ?Wipeout? to play on a turnover? So be it, there are well over 20 specific game instances that you can upload custom sounds to. The Dynasty mode is deeper than a 10 page review could have covered, and all that being said, the ?Football? game, in its purest since, without the gimmicks and odd bells and whistles is more than adequate, so there really was no need for the gimmicks. Pick up NCAA 09 for the football and depth of the online Dynasty experience, play a few mini-games to break up the season, and does NCAA 09 really deliver an ?Authentic College Experience?? ?who cares, the "Football" game was well designed and I can still jam a receiver at the line to rattle his cage, that?s what counts.

In this gamers opinion, keep improving the mechanics and character animations of the overall game and realism of the online experience. Gimmicks will never put a game over the top.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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