NBA 09 The Inside Review (PSP)
NBA 09 is a full-featured loosely-based basketball simulation. I say loosely-based because NBA 09 rewards you for playing a herky-jerky, frenetic style that would make most "sim ballers" squirm. This arcade-like approach isn’t a new development when it comes to Sony’s PSP title, but it’s still a bit strange to go that route in a simulation game. Regardless, it’s the actual game mechanics of the game that are the issue, not the style of basketball.
First-time players will probably be in awe of this game, at least at first. A quick browse through the menus and a glance at the in-game graphics will make first timers think this game is a dream. And yes, while the graphics are beautiful and the game modes are seemingly infinite, the beauty is mostly skin deep when it comes to the actual in-game action. The core mechanics of this basketball game (rebounding, shooting, passing) are just not as sound as they should be in a basketball title. This is a shame really, because for a handheld game, it does so much that no other handheld sports game is doing presently.
I’ve seen no other handheld sports game that pulls off presentation quite like NBA 09 -- not even MLB 08. Within games there are post-game highlights, in-game cuts to player’s stats, and it’s all held together by solid commentary -- there are even replays that play during stoppages that are from earlier in the game rather than just the previous play. NBA 09 has it all when it comes to presentation, and that carries over to the graphics as well.
Obviously not all the faces are spot on -- it’s a handheld after all -- but the graphics are sharp, the framerate only tends to bogs down on free-throw rebounds, and everything looks smooth in motion because the animation system is up to the challenge. You will also see impressive dunks, varying types of blocked shots, and nice looking moves because the animation system is quite solid.
But returning to the original point, this is why it’s so frustrating to play the actual basketball portion of the game. Yes, playing some whack-a-mole type mini-game, skee-ball, pinball, etc. are all more fun than they probably should be, but that doesn’t change the fact that rebounding, passing, and shooting are all incredibly frustrating during a game of actual NBA basketball.
The rebounding issue is the most glaring gameplay negative because a wildly inconsistent system is in place in NBA 09. Like many basketball games before it, there’s an icon that shows up on the court that tells the user where the ball will head after coming off the rim. The problem is your players are oblivious to the ball once it gets to that icon on the floor. On a routine basis your user-controlled player will jump and miss the ball, or a ball will hit the floor and it will be there rolling around until some player eventually picks it up.
Shooting is just based on an odd color-coded system -- a series stalwart. The system that’s in place is all about color-coded release points, which takes into account the shooter, what type of shot is being taken, etc. This is fine, except for the fact that when the release point is green your shot will seemingly always go in -- it’s a skill that isn’t the hardest to master either. In addition, this system takes a lot of the chance out of the game, or the need to get ready for an offensive rebound because you know what will happen if the release is green.
Lastly, the passing system is just cumbersome. There is icon passing, which will alleviate some of the frustration, but the system in place -- plus a poor camera -- makes for an aggravating experience when trying to move the ball. The X icon is always located above one of your teammates, which means you will always pass to that teammate if you press X (the pass button). In theory, this is a way to simplify the experience, but really it only slows down the passing game and leads to errant passes. The camera doesn’t help because you can’t always see who is on the other side of the court or along the sidelines; so, even when you want to do icon passing you don’t always know where all your teammates are on the court.
These issues surround the arcade-style basketball action on the court. However, I’m not going to say it’s a negative that the game plays very "arcadey," because NBA 09 is a pick-up-and-play handheld game and the arcade-like approach is rather enjoyable. Yes, it is a bit odd that a simulation game is going this route, but playing a long-passing fastbreak style isn’t the worst thing in the world because this is a handheld game. The game is supposed to be picked up, toyed with for 10-15 minute spurts, and then put down until later. Now it is a bummer that it’s very hard to play a “sim” style and succeed -- there are a lack of moves, plays, and strategy -- so you almost have to play a Denver Nuggets style on speed to succeed. Nevertheless, playing a spastic style in spurts isn’t a hassle to me.
Simply put, NBA 09 is a game saturated in game modes, while the on-court NBA action is chock full of issues. So really it’s a matter of what you want out of a handheld basketball title. If you want slick presentation, lots of quick and fun mini-games, and other enjoyable modes to spend your time with for a few minutes at a time, then this game is going to be worth it to you. If you’re looking for a polished basketball sim to play on the run, then this probably isn’t that title.
Graphics: A good looking game that has a solid framerate and impressive presentation elements.
Sound: The announcing is solid enough, and in general I didn’t notice anything that stood out as a huge negative.
Entertainment Value: Franchise Mode is the big addition this year when it comes to game modes. It’s a rather underwhelming first showing though, because it’s so barebones. Also, the trading system in this game is very easy to take advantage of. Elimiquest and few new mini-games join the Conquest mode. Elimiquest basically revolves around taking over the U.S. similar to Conquest mode, but now the goal is to score enough points with individual players to get them off the court. As you get players off the court you gain powerups, which makes up for your squad being short-handed.
Learning Curve: New users should have no problem picking up the game and succeeding. At points the CPU A.I. seems to be smarter than your own team’s A.I., which is odd.
Online: There will be downloadable roster updates, and the online play, while laggy at points, never affected how I actually played the game. Hopefully enough people come online, making it relatively easy to find someone to play.
5.5 (Slightly Above Average)