Review: NCAA Football 09 All Play (Nintendo Wii)

NCAA Football 09 All Play
Genre: Sports
Developer: EA Canada, EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: July 15, 2008

To me, football is life. The summer is honestly the most boring time of the year for me because even though I enjoy baseball, I just can’t handle anything but it. Besides that, the heat is astronomical down here in the south and there isn’t a single down of football being played. But come the end of July, there are training camps to pay attention to. What players are doing well? What players might not end up on the roster when it’s all said and done? What kids got suspended for doing something stupid? These are all questions that roll through my head, and it’s conversations I have with others that keep me going. But when the end of August and the beginning of September rolls around; your best bet is just to leave me be.

You see, I meant it when I said that football is life. During the fall, my Saturdays consist of setting the alarm for eight fifty A.M. so that I can get up to watch College Gameday at nine. After that’s over at eleven, it’s flipping around between all the college football games that are on until a little after midnight when usually USC or UCLA finish up their games. After that is the wrap up show for all the scores of the day and then bed around one or two. Sunday is kind of the same thing except that it’s with the NFL and my day isn’t usually as long. It begins around eleven in the morning and usually ends around eleven at night. Mondays have one game on in the evening and then November starts the one game a week on Thursdays. But in between, I’m paying attention to scores and highlights online and on recap shows.

Football is a god to me no matter how I get it. And college football is probably my biggest weakness. So when the opportunity came about to review NCAA 09, I was all over it. EA Sports’ first college football venture onto the Wii and it’s about time. But could the crowd keep me in it? Let’s see.

Story / Modes

The biggest mode in the game is to play through the “Dynasty.” Here you take your favorite college team and take them through the current 2008/2009 season. After that is over, you keep on going through season after season. Along the way you’re going to recruit players, and coach them, and discipline them, and redshirt them, and do every single action that comes along with being a coach. Kind of puts you in the driver’s seat while also having to get out there and make all your decisions work too. It’s an all out blitz to keep your team in line, and make sure you build the best one over multiple years. But the problem here is that this is the least amount of requirements I’ve ever seen for a Dynasty mode in my life. It just seems as if most of the fun of recruiting and everything has been dumbed down a bunch of notches.

Let’s not forget some of the other modes which are alright, but nothing special. There is the “Mascot Game” in which you can play as your favorite team’s mascot against another team’s mascot. Fun, but it isn’t Earth shaking. There’s the “Play Now” feature where you can just pick any team and play against the computer or a friend. And that’s about it.

Really?

Yes, really. There is no “Campus Legend” mode. You can’t create your own player or create your own team (school). A lack of online play is also very upsetting considering that was one of the big selling points of Madden 08 for the Wii, and here we don’t even get the option. So much was taken out of this version of NCAA Football that it isn’t even funny. And I’ll get into this more later, but this specific version of the game is obviously aimed at families with the whole All-Play thing going on and I think that’s great. But why on Earth would you take out multiplayer mini-games when you want everyone to play together? It just makes no sense.

While the game itself is fun from a football point of view; it just pales in comparison to anything else.

Story Rating: Mediocre

Graphics

Well, we’ve come a long way from 10 Yard Fight, but this is in no way a beautiful game. The player models look good for the most part. There is enough detail on the players themselves that they look like real people at times, but that’s where the realism ends. The uniforms are what bothered me the most. Never at any time do they move. You’ll see no wrinkles and so far I haven’t seen any dirt or tears or anything and the team I chose to play a Dynasty with plays on a grass field. How do you expect me to take this seriously when as much wear and tear happens to the players’ jerseys as it did in Tecmo Bowl.

Let’s move over to the sidelines where there is absolutely nothing going on. Why aren’t the teams standing over there? I mean come on people. The teams aren’t there yet the chain gang is running along freely like they are supposed to have no-one to contend with. Move over a little further to the stands and they have one or two banners on the walls which looks incredibly retarded. To make matters worse, the fans all look exactly the same and they are flat as boards. Yes folks, we’ve got plywood people again. Hello 1995!

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

Sound

NCAA 09 does make one long for the lazy days of fall watching tons of football when it comes to the sound department though. Every team’s fight song is included here making for some good memories and new hopes for the upcoming season. The band for LSU (my chosen team) actually played a couple different songs that I’ve heard numerous times by attending games in Tiger Stadium. They come through perfectly and with plenty of cheers from the crowd (?), err…crowd.

The announcers are Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN fame, and they do a decent enough job. As with all football games though, the dialogue gets very repetitive after a little while and starts to become annoying. I hate Herbstreit enough already as it is, but I’m willing to sit and listen to him for the little bit he does talk during games.

What will end up bugging the ever living hell out of you is the guy who screams at you constantly through the Wii-mote. He lets you know when the clock is running down or if the defense is going to blitz which is all fine and dandy. It’s the idiotic remarks he makes at other times for no reason at all. He screamed at me constantly when a guy was open and he wasn’t. Then he’d yell that the other team is running the same play, but they were about to receive the kickoff from me after my team scored. I wanted to reach into the Wii-mote and strangle him. Other then him though, the sound came through pretty nicely.

Sound Rating: Good

Control / Gameplay

Ok, let’s step into the All Play mode first so that everyone can understand where that’s coming from. This was designed so that even if you are not an avid game player and can’t possibly figure out how to hike the ball, pick a receiver, throw it, catch it, and then have the speed up to gain yardage. Also for kids. With All Play, simple flicks of the remote can do just about anything on the field you need to do. It will pass for you. It will lateral the ball. It’ll do anything and the computer will do the rest so you don’t have to try and find open holes in the defense or anything. That is all fine and dandy and can get a football loving family together to play a game even if they aren’t video game savvy.

Playing alone though is a different story. I’ve been playing Madden and NCAA since they first came out so long ago. I put the difficulty up to the highest setting and usually end up demolishing the computer. If I lose a game or two though, it’s kind of fun because it keeps things interesting. The problem here is that the AI is one of the biggest cheating sons of bit…a-hem, excuse me. It’s just ridiculous. There was one game in particular that my quarterback threw six interceptions. SIX! In one game that was played with four minute quarters. How is that even possible? I’ll tell you how.

If you seem to know what you’re doing fairly well, then the game will recognize it and make sure that you suck every once and again. Let me throw an example out there. I was driving down the field being up by a good twenty points. My receiver was running down the middle of the field all alone and in the clear for a long touchdown. I targeted him, threw the ball (flicked the Wii-mote) towards the screen, and the ball flew about five yards between two defenders and they intercepted the ball. Seriously! That happened more times then I care to even talk about here because it was just ridiculous. It barely ever paid attention to where my quarterback was actually throwing the ball unless the game was close or the opposition was ahead.

Throw on top of that the simplified running game where you can break about ten tackles on one play just by shaking the Wii-mote and all realism goes right out the window. Besides the bad passing and interceptions too, there are way too many fumbles for a game where any player has hands. If they all had nubs, then I’d understand. One game between LSU and Troy saw a total of fourteen turnovers (fumbles and interceptions) combined for both teams. That is just one of the most absurd things ever.

Oh, and while I’m at it, allow me to throw in another complaint. This one may be minor, but it happened enough to bug me. On kickoffs, the in-game scoreboard and clock will appear at the top of the screen. Well, it blocked my entire team. I never had a clue where my controlled player was until the very last second when the opposing team’s returner was right up on him. Hello!

Control/Gameplay Rating: Poor

Replayability

With all the troubles that come with the game, it’s also one that will be played over and over again. Sadly though it’s my love of football and LSU that has me constantly playing because it surely isn’t anything the game did correctly. It’s really hard to come up with much more then that. If you love football, then you’ll play this game regardless of the problems with gameplay, the shoddy graphics, and screamer guy coming through the Wii-mote. If you’re not that into football, then you’ll be turned off right away. Simple matter of preference here.

Oh wait, you can keep playing the Mascot Game over and over again. The reason I say that is because at least this way you can see exactly who the mascot for every team is and what they look like. I still don’t understand why the Alabama Crimson Tide has an elephant as their mascot. Makes not a damn bit of sense.

Replayability Rating: Above Average

Balance

Is the game balanced? No, by God no and I’ve already touched on this. There are four levels of difficulty and one never seems to be harder then the other. Some teams are more competitive then others, but that’s to be expected because it is that way in real life. North Texas isn’t going to give LSU a run for its money nearly as much as Florida or Georgia would. That is one of the better things here, but it doesn’t matter because no matter who is playing who on whatever difficulty level, the computer will still screw with you.

My first playing of the game came with me controlling LSU against Appalachian State on the Heisman difficulty level which is the supposed hardest. After playing through the four quarters set at five minutes in length each, the final score was a victory for LSU standing at 84 – 0. My quarterback had thrown four interceptions, but I got back the ball on fumbles. Trindon Holliday (real names can’t be used in the game for legal purposes, but I know who it was by his body build and number 8) ran back three punts for touchdowns against the Mountaineers and destroyed them. Immediately after finishing the game, I restarted it and played them again. LSU won 21 – 3. All of a sudden the App. State team was running all over LSU and making us fumble left and right so they stayed in the game the whole time.

How about even the smallest amount of consistency here?

Balance Rating: Poor

Originality

Can’t really say this is an original idea because it is a football game. Football has been around for ages as have games modeled on them. Hell, this series of NCAA games along have been around for years even though this is the first jump onto the Wii. Not too much has changed from the models found on previous games from other systems except with things being left out and this version being a bit crappier as a whole.

You know what would have been a nice touch here with the theme of all this family togetherness and getting the kids involved? Instead of only having the Mascot Game, let there be a Mii Game. Have the teams have the heads of your created Miis on them instead of helmets. Kids could get all excited by seeing themselves passing the ball or running in for a tackle. The only time the Miis are actually included in the game is when you make a good play or get hit hard, then the face shows up in the corner for a few seconds.

The All Play mode is very good though and quite the nice touch so that everyone can join in. It is simplified beyond all belief and does not take a genius to figure out that simply flicking your wrist will allow you to pass and other such things. It’s a great idea that can really be wonderful for any family that enjoys football, but knows not to get near dad when the game is on or he’ll bite your head off.

Originality Rating: Poor

Addictiveness

Even though the football aspect of the game keeps me coming back for more; I just found it so hard to sit down for hours on end and play constantly. I’ve been known to play through over a half a season in one sitting, but this game just annoys me so damn much at times that one play through is enough for me. After that I’ve got to just take a break for a while and do something else because I know that I’ll come back later for more. Sadly though since the game has been in my possession, I’ve noticed that it’s being played less and less daily. It will get plenty of gameplay out of me especially during the college football season when real games aren’t on, but not in big lumps of playing time.

Small spurts folks, small spurts.

Addictiveness Rating: Decent

Appeal Factor

NCAA Football is a game that has been a staple in my collection for years now, and it upset me tremendously the last couple years when the Wii hadn’t put out a new yearly release. When the news hit my ears that we’d be getting one for 2008/2009; words failed me. It was finally time to start playing as my favorite LSU Tigers and having the control over them I wish was mine when watching them live on television. Fans of the series are going to feel the same way and pick up this game so that they can make their own decisions about it no matter what reviewers say.

This is a football game geared towards football fans, but that’s not all. EA Sports knows that the diehard football fans are going to be all over this game so they went a different route to attract a larger audience. All it has to do is hit either the son or father in a family that is a football fanatic, and then let their family know everyone can play together on it with great ease. All Play is going to make this game appeal to so many more people then past versions have. A lot of the problems and omissions better be fixed before next year’s release though or the appeal is going to be limited, and I don’t mean to the families. If the hardcore football guys start to avoid a football game, then there’s a problem.

Appeal Factor Rating: Above Average

Miscellaneous

Having every possible team to play through is a great thing and could make for endless match-ups that I could never get through in my lifetime. That’s one of the things that was done right, but that’s about it. So much else was done wrong or just not done at all.

Have I mentioned the pointless act of building up your team and exciting the crowd? After every score you can freak out and move your Wii-mote as much as possible to build up the crowd. If you’ve done a good job, then your excitement stats get higher and then do nothing for the game. Point?

I don’t care how much you gear your products towards families because it is great if a company is looking to promote togetherness. But if you are going to alienate your core fans by taking a beloved franchise and turning it into a children’s game, then you’ve got a real big problem. College football fans are freaks; myself included. We know what the stadiums are supposed to look like. We know what our teams do in certain situations. We know the atmosphere surrounding the big games of the season. You can’t possibly pass off a college football game without both teams standing on the sidelines and consider it realistic. It just isn’t done that way.

And sure these are all young kids playing the sport, but they’re on their way to be professionals in a sport they love. Enough of this nickel and dime crap of making sure the game stays close by having every other play result in a turnover. If you suck at the game, then get better. If you have worked your butt off and played the game until you needed a serious haircut, then you deserve to destroy the computer if you’re able to.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores

Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Good
Control / Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Above Average
Balance: Poor
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Decent
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Poor
Final Score: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary

NCAA 09 had my hopes built up beyond belief for over two years and then had them crash down and break into pieces in mere minutes. As a sports’ fan, I’m just disappointed. It has none of the big time feel of my beloved college football, and has taken everything I love about this franchise and just left it on the cutting room floor. There are so many games aimed at children that it’s easy to come up with a football one for them. Start from scratch on it though. Don’t take a developed franchise and make sure it’s friendly for everyone in the family to enjoy. Because when you do something like that, you don’t make it enjoyable for all. You only make it enjoyable for those who have never played it before.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play NCAA 09 and not be happy about it.

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