I'll be the first to admit I really haven't paid attention to the NBA for a couple of years. I still root for my Milwaukee Bucks, and even still use them in video games, but I rarely watch them play any more. Lately, if I'm playing a basketball game, it sits firmly in the "arcadey" category. I even own a full-sized NBA Maximum Hangtime arcade cabinet.
When I opened the small package that I received from Sony, and realized that this was the first pre-release game that they sent to us here at the PS Nation Podcast, I was shocked and excited. I may not spend an insane amount of time on Basketball games like I do for other titles, but I do play them. There's a lot to cover here, but I'll tell you this--what I've seen and played so far is surprisingly good!
Gallery: NBA 09: The Inside (PSP)
Before I get started, please remember a couple of things. This is a PREVIEW BUILD, which means things could change, and there are a couple of bugs. Also, this preview is ONLY for the PSP version.
Let's look at the features first. San Diego Studios obviously made an effort to give players a package with an insane amount of replay by adding a ton of content. I have not seen or played NBA Live 2009 for the PSP, so I will not be doing any comparisons. Instead, I'll list features that were sent to me with the game and I'll give a lot of personal impressions of what I've played so far.
New this year is a completely revamped Franchise Mode, where players can extend their experience in running a team where performance and player morale are tracked on virtually every level – salary, playing time, trades, team performance, and much more. Players will be able to participate in a full season mode as well.
Conquest mode is back from last year, which allows you to participate in territory acquisition and management. Defeat all of the territories and own the entire league. Also, another new mode–made to compliment Conquest–is the new Elimiquest Mode. In this mode you try to take over all teams and cities while playing in an Elimination-Style mini-game format. I've only played Elimiquest for a little while, but I am really enjoying it and actually, I keep going back to play this mode.
Along with all of this is a suite of Mini-Games and Carnival-Style Mini-Games. They've included games that are similar to Pop-a-Shot, Whack-a-Mole and many others. The one that shocked me the most was the addition of seven different Pinball tables; that's right, I said Pinball! I'm a Pinball fanatic. Three of the tables are a lot of fun, one I think could be fun if they tweaked it, and the other three aren't good at all. None of them are on the level of a Williams Collection or a Devil's Crush, but they are fun. It's cool to see all of these extras, as this is actually a game that will allow you to pack lighter for a trip since there's substantially more on this disc than expected from a "standard sports title."
On top of everything that I've listed above, you can also play basketball (Gasp!). I've played four full games now, and I am definitely enjoying what I'm playing so far.
From the textures, to the animation and even the collision detection, this game looks brilliant through and through. Anything that impresses my non-sports gaming co-host Mark has got to be doing something right. The animation is fluid with no noticeable hiccups at all. Once the game is loaded, that's pretty-much the last load you'll deal with unless you make player changes. Arenas are personalized for each team, but of course the PSP doesn't allow for the full architecture etc. Still, the differences are enough to make the player feel like it's the actual venue.
The Play-by-Play is very energetic and keeps up with what's happening in the game. The announcers sound like a couple of the guys from TNT, but they never say their names. I've had a couple of weird calls, but again, that may be fixed by the time the game is finished. The sounds on the court are very well done, and definitely keep you "in the moment" while you're playing. Not surprisingly, the music is filled with Hip-Hop, which is expected after playing numerous other basketball games over the years. It only plays in the menus and during timeouts and compliments the game well.
Here's the biggie, and I'm always skeptical in terms of control with a game like this using the PSP "Nub." Refreshingly, the game controls great in every way. I had no problems with the analog stick, and the rest of the control is your standard fare for an NBA game on a Sony platform. Shooting is a bit weird at first, as the "shooting meter" is a ring of color around the ball; red being a shot you'll miss, yellow in-between, and green -- with the sound of a cash register bell -- means you'll hit the shot. The Shooting Meter can be turned off, if that's your preference. Personally, I had a tough time with this aspect, but the more I played, the better I got. I never had issues with losing sight of the ball or finding the player that I was controlling, which always ends up being one of my biggest pet peeves.
NBA 09 supports both Internet and Ad-Hoc wireless multiplayer. They've also included the ability to download roster updates, which is still pretty rare for a PSP sports title. Unfortunately, online is not working in this build, so I can't give you any impressions.
In closing, this game is really shaping up to be an incredible value at $29.99. Not only can you play basketball, but the new modes and mini-games that they've added increase your possible playtime immensely. I catch myself trying the mini-games quite a bit, and most are compelling enough to keep me coming back. They've even added a Trophy System to this game. There is no word if it will be tracked on your PS3, or if it interfaces with the PS3 version, but it definitely shows promise for the future of interoperability between the platforms.