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Critical Reception: EA Tiburon's NCAA Football 09

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Electronic Arts' NCAA Football 09, a U.S. college football sequel hailed as "national-championship caliber" in recent reviews - impressions, commentary within.
This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to NCAA Football 09, a college football sequel hailed as "national-championship caliber" in recent reviews. NCAA Football 09 debuts this week as the sixteenth game in EA's long-running college football sim series, which began life on the Super NES and Sega Genesis in 1993 as Bill Walsh College Football. This latest entry earns a Metacritic-averaged score of 85 out of 100. 1UP.com's Todd Zuniga awards NCAA Football 09 a rating of A-, explaining that the addition of an online dynasty mode is key in the sequel's success. "After years of online fumbles by developer EA Tiburon, our annual war cry for an online dynasty mode has been answered," he begins. "Not only is NCAA Football 09's most impressive innovation brilliantly seamless, but it's full-featured as well (from recruiting and scheduling to talking sure-fire pros into staying on an extra season)." "The lone limitation -- max of 12 players -- means you'll play plenty of CPU games over the course of a campaign," Zuniga continues. "That's a significant difference from how Madden 09's leagues should run when it launches in August, as it only features human-versus-human match-ups. But we forgive NCAA -- Madden lacks divisions, playoffs, and a Super Bowl in the online dynasty mode, but NCAA has everything in play, including the full Bowl Championship Series machinations." NCAA Football 09 features additional improvements over last year's game, according to Zuniga. "On offense, we dig the stellar new tackling and shake-loose animations, and we really like how you pay for knuckleheaded mistakes (like throwing into double coverage or pitching the ball on a doomed option) and are rewarded for throwing an in-stride strike to your wideout," he explains. "And everyone can rejoice: Last year's turnover issue is resolved." The experience isn't perfect, however. "There are some goofy bits," Zuniga admits. "For one: What's with the tackling angles? Instead of pressing us to the sidelines on All-American difficulty, we'd sometimes score an extra 20 yards. Very strange. To balance it, CPU players sometimes wander out of bounds even with 10 yards of daylight. Hmm." Otherwise Zuniga feels that NCAA 09 is a worthy improvement for the series. "This may be the only NCAA football game in town (EA's got exclusivity)," he admits, "but even with competition, there's no question this one's national-championship caliber." Paul Curthoys at Official Xbox Magazine rates NCAA 09 at 8.5 out of 10. "In its first two seasons on Xbox 360, the NCAA series struggled a bit," he writes. "But this year, the football fiends at EA Tiburon took Dynasty to stratospheric new heights and applied some much-needed polish elsewhere in the game." "The downer of Dynasty mode has always been that it’s a solitary, hardcore pursuit to manage a recruiting pool of thousands and build your college from dud to stud over decades," Curthoys explains. "NCAA 09 poleaxes both of those weaknesses, primarily with the awesome new Online Dynasty mode." Curthoys praises NCAA 09's online Dynasty mode as being a standout feature. "It all worked beautifully in our testing, as did the optional new CPU assists that help less-hardcore players manage the many intricacies of recruiting," he says. "Brilliant stuff, plain and simple." "Campus Legend mode, however, remains forgettable and weak," Curthoys warns. "You’re still mired in the tedium of an unrewarding series of practices, homework, and playing at a single position. We wish EA had cut it instead of letting it wallow in this mediocrity." Overall, Curthoys describes NCAA 09 as a full-featured package that comes up short only in comparison to EA's Madden series. "Although we’re definitely impressed with NCAA, we have to say that if you’re looking to play one great football game this year, it’s gotta be Madden 09," he notes in conclusion. "NCAA doesn’t match its big brother’s dazzling upgrades in graphics and features, but it’s no slouch, and if you’re a college fan at heart, you can kiss the rest of your summer goodbye and go bury yourself in an online dynasty." Over at GameSpot, Aaron Thomas gives NCAA 09 a score of 7.5 out of 10. "The NCAA Football series has always been in the shadow of its big brother, Madden," he says. "This year's effort benefits from the inclusion of an Online Dynasty mode and the ability to share custom roster files, but other than these two additions, little has changed." Taken on its own merits, however, NCAA 09's online Dynasty mode is described as a much-requested feature that is as deep and polished as series fans have hoped. "Up to 12 players can compete head-to-head online for up to 60 in-game years," Thomas describes. "Setting up an online dynasty is a breeze. One person acts as the commissioner and sets the rules and difficulty and sends out player invites." Potential problems are easily solved within NCAA 09's interface, according to Thomas. "NCAA 09 seems to do a good job anticipating the problems that typically arise when coordinating a large group online for any length of time," he praises. "If one player is holding the group back, the commissioner can advance the week or even boot the offending player from the dynasty." However, Thomas cautions that the mode's mechanics have changed little since last year's edition. "While you now have the option for the AI to handle a few minor aspects of recruiting and you can quick-call prospects to save a few minutes," he says, "the process once again gets tedious after you're about halfway through the season." "Another mode that hasn't received a whole lot of attention is Campus Legend," Thomas continues, "where you create a player, guide him through the final games of his high school career, and help him pick a college where he can pursue his dreams of becoming a legend." Thomas notes that newcomers may find Campus Legend mode "a lot of fun for a season or two," but feels that experienced players may be disappointed in the continued simplicity of its execution. "Despite these problems, the gameplay has been improved over last year and generally plays quite well," Thomas concludes. "However, those are the only noteworthy changes to a game that otherwise has a little too much in common with its predecessor to feel entirely fresh. Playing NCAA Football 09 is like watching your favorite college team blow up a lower division opponent; fun, but not very surprising." Reviewers note a number of encouraging improvements in NCAA Football 09, the most notable of which is a long-requested online Dynasty mode. While some feel that little else has changed significantly, others assert that this year's edition of NCAA Football is a worthy update that will please series newcomers with its polished gameplay and longtime series fans with its new features and additions.

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