NBA 09 - Get Inside The Game

November 29, 2008

Once a dominant sports game publisher on the original PlayStation, Sony ran into some foul trouble while making the leap to next-gen systems. Foul, in this case, means "smelly." While Sony's NBA series on PlayStation 3 has failed to light up the scoreboard in terms of critical success, the prolific publisher hopes to win some points by introducing several distinctive features. For its third appearance on PS3, NBA 09: The Inside includes "the life," a drama-filled career-type mode that distinguished the series during its PlayStation 2 run. Is it enough to get it in your starting lineup?

After the three-gig hit for installation, NBA 09 offers a choice of seven game types: quick play, the life, franchise, NBA replay, progression, mini-games, and online. While most of the modes are self-explanatory, a few are standouts. Progression is not really a mode per se, but rather an addictive feature that ties together just about everything you do in the game. You can create up to five custom athletes and build up their attributes over time across all of the modes apart from NBA replay.

By achieving specific milestones, you'll earn points that can be used to purchase attribute upgrades, ability-enhancing equipment, or three types of goodies: fantasy arenas, retro floors, and classic jerseys. Don't be surprised if you start caring for your created players like characters in a role-playing game, and since each activity earns you experience, you are never wasting your time, even if you lose a match or mini-game.

NBA replay is a series of real-life situations from the 2007-08 season that will challenge you to recreate or improve on the results by fulfilling certain objectives. Those with an active Internet connection can also download weekly challenges based on the current 2008-09 season, with your top performances appearing on online leader boards. The mini-games mode features eight activities for a lighthearted break from the main content, while franchise mode lets you guide your favorite team on a 20-year quest for greatness.

The most interesting option, the life, offers three storylines to follow with a created athlete. Each story is focused on a specific position player: point guard; a shooting guard or small forward; and a power forward or center. You'll progress through a series of chapters, each prefaced with some humorous cutscenes that chronicle your rise to NBA superstardom.

To succeed, you must complete one or more objectives under a variety of conditions. As a point guard, you may have to dish out a certain number of assists within a time limit, while centers may have to grab rebounds, block shots, and so forth. You'll experience team scrimmages, playoff games, one-on-one matches, and more.

In all, NBA 09 has finally stepped onto the court with a game that can compete where modes and options are concerned. It does a decent job of finding ways to motivate you to keep playing.

NBA 09 is essentially an arcade-style take on the sport with a touch of the depth typically associated with more serious basketball games. The on-court action is fast, the use of turbo can be overpowering, and shooting percentages are high.

The shot system is interesting, since it uses an arc-shaped meter that has you holding down a button and releasing it when the marker falls within the green zone. The more difficult the shot, the smaller the safe zone. It's a slightly different take on the traditional timing method, but it keeps things interesting for those looking for something a little more skill-oriented and obvious.

Rebounds are extremely easy to snag thanks to an on-screen visual cue showing where the ball is about to land, and you have the option to use the SixAxis controller's motion sensing abilities to raise your hands on defense or perform shoulder charges or spin moves on offense. Everything about the game is smooth and responsive, which will appeal to those looking for a simple, pick-up-and-play arcade game. Considering NBA Jam has gone AWOL, it fills a nice niche. You can even turn on a showtime meter in the settings menu that energizes your team with each dunk, block, fast break, and more.

The controls aren't complicated, which is both good and bad. The good is that you'll be able to guide your offense without a hitch, the bad is that you can't do as much on the court as you can in the other NBA games. Defense options are especially limited. Holding down the left shoulder button will help you stay close to the ball handler, but it's hard to pull off correctly unless you are in the right location at the right time. Offense simply has all the advantages in this game, so those who like to play tight, cerebral defense should steer clear.

As the only basketball game to support true high-def, 1080p resolution, NBA 09 sports visuals sharper than LeBron James' cuts in the lane. Player models are smooth and polished, almost cartoon-like in appearance, and the crisp courts are buffed to a reflective shine. Animations are adequate, but the game lacks diverse signature-style moves and the overall variety of motions found elsewhere. The commentary is also a bit strange, as if both announcers were being forced to read from a stack of cue cards instead of making flowing, natural observations of what's happening on the hardwood. The create-a-player feature is disappointing from a visual standpoint, as you end up with the same, generic-looking athletes no matter which sliders you adjust.

NBA 09 is a solid effort on PlayStation 3, which along with MLB 08, proves that Sony can still deliver fun, exciting sports titles. It's still a few chest bumps shy of a championship caliber performance, as franchise play lacks the frills found in rival titles; online action is limited to exhibition matches and only supports two players; the atmosphere needs some work; and the game is far from a simulation in terms of realism and depth. Yet NBA 09 can still become addictive for those who want a fast-paced, accessible hoops game.