Like that slacker college roommate of yours who took a few semesters off to “find himself”, NCAA football has taken a bit of a break the last two years on the PSP. It returns this season none the worse for wear, sporting a slightly different attitude but a remarkably similar look and feel to the collegiate gridiron games you’ve been playing for years now.
The focus this time around is making things easier for more people to jump in without having an MFA (Master’s in Football Administration). Recognizing that the world of virtual football has zoomed past plenty of fans, EA decided to focus on implementing a Freshman Mode that dramatically reduces the amount of decisions and button presses it takes to get from the snap to the end zone. You’ll be given visual cues when it’s time to try and bust that tackle and when a potential receiver is open (or, more importantly, covered like a blanket). Featuring a slimmed-down menu of plays and a one-button mechanic, it’s the best shot that casual fans have had at winning a portable national championship in years.
For those of us who consider ourselves aficionados, though, all is not lost. The good-old “advanced” mode brings back most of the complicated, multiple-buttons-for-every-possible-combination system of audibles, hot routes, and assorted formations that we’ve been used to for years. If you’ve been bowling in the BCS on your PS2 the past couple of seasons, you’ll feel right at home here. In fact, between the recycled animations, cutscenes, and commentary, it can get too familiar for our tastes.
While the action between the snap and whistle is solid and smooth, there are stutter-steps after the play is over. In fact, the on-field animations pause not once, but twice before you get back to the huddle, which makes you wonder why the developers didn’t just skip right to the play-calling menu in the first place once the ball is down. There’s also a distinct lack of character beyond the admittedly impressive collection of college stadiums, as bare sidelines and virtually standstill crowds sap much of the atmosphere.
The single-player Dynasty mode is plenty to keep your commute occupied, but it’s more than a little surprising at how much has been removed this time around. A lack of wi-fi multiplayer is disappointing; only ad-hoc is supported. While we admittedly had our issues with anonymous online quitters and a jittery connection rate a couple of seasons ago, it’s still a good time being able to play against your buddy whether they’re across the room or on the other side of the country. There’s also none of the nifty ESPN updates or highlights we’d grown fond of. Definitely a bummer.
While its return isn’t exactly triumphant, NCAA Football 09 is still plenty of fun. We were expecting more bells and whistles, but in the end we’ll take what we can get. In this case, something is definitely better than nothing.
Jul 21, 2008