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College basketball season has arrived, and with it comes NCAA “Don’t Call Me March Madness” Basketball 09, EA’s newly-branded and suddenly solo hoops offering. Thanks to 2K Sports’ surprising (and, it turns out, painful) decision to bow out of the collegiate basketball arena, it stands alone this fall as the lone choice for Dick Vitale wannabes.
Unfortunately, the wrong developer chose to exit stage left. NCAA Basketball 09 is a competent yet underwhelming effort, sporting few of the annoying faults of many EA hoops forerunners yet lacking any significant pizzazz, an unenviable trait for a sport that soaks itself in atmosphere and fan frenzy. The arenas feel dark and the crowds are lifeless; even at crunchtime, there’s little of the electricity that typically sets college hoops apart from its surly professional brethren.
Sharing the same engine as its NBA Live cousin is both good and bad; the occasionally curious bounces and unnatural player movements are an unmistakable trait, but the default settings are much more forgiving for the casual player. Hitting open shots, executing a simple pick-and-roll, and scoring in the low post doesn’t take an extended study lesson of the manual (take that, 2K!). Yes, it may be a little unrealistic for your little Rider Broncs to hang tough with mighty North Carolina for an entire game, but it’s also a lot less stressful - and we certainly love that.
One new feature that we do get a kick out of is the tempo meter, which adds a level of forced strategy that may have you rethinking your first choice of school. If your style is run-n-gun but your alma mater prefers a plodding, use-up-the-shot-clock mentality, chances are you’ll need to scout a safety school pretty quick. Choosing to ignore the right style of play for your squad is a recipe for disaster, as the further you veer from the preferred tempo, the worse your players will perform (not to mention the scolding you’ll get when the coach pops up).
Online roster downloads are another integral part of the mix, allowing fans to create and trade lineups without EA worrying about pesky license agreement violations with the NCAA. The audio team has pre-recorded lots of names that just happen to match those of many a real-life hoopster, another nice touch. Unfortunately, the inability to update the historical rosters with these names kept us from loving the brand-new Legends Tournament. It seems winning the mythical all-time championship with “Generic North Carolina Guard #23” instead of His Airness doesn’t pack as much oomph as it could have.
As the only game in town this year, NCAA Basketball 09 pulls its own weight but shouldn’t demand your full attention. Only hardcore hoops fanatics need drop down their hard earned cash; the rest of us can shuffle along just fine without it.
Nov 24, 2008