I’m a big fan of San Diego Studio’s MLB games. They’re fun and offer some great unique features for a baseball game. It’s just too bad that NBA 09: The Inside is such a disappointing basketball game plagued by animation and gameplay problems.
I’ll start with some of the good stuff that San Diego Studios has done with the game. Graphics wise, the game players look OK but the crowd is really well done. Normally you’d get a few carbon copy animations from same folks scattered about in the arena or ball park like in their MLB game but this time around, there’s some nice variety to the animation. It seems each individual is modeled and when brought together, the visual created is one of the nicest looking crowds in a sports game.
When playing the game, you have to be a little more careful passing the ball. In other basketball games, I usually dished the rock without much hesitation. Here, the defensive guys will make you pay if your man is guarded or you try too many of those threading the needle type passes. Shooting the ball produces a radial indicator that shows you when you should release the button to obtain the greatest chance of sinking the shot. What’s nice is that depending on the situation, the green sweet spot can grow or shrink even if you are in the exact same spot. It’s a nice way to let you know when you’re trying a tough shot or when you are wide open. To help with rebounding, there’s a flashing indicator on the ground to let you know where the ball is going to fall. It’s your job to get into position and time your jump right. It’s better than trying to judge the ball in other games as it’s hard to judge how the ball is going to bounce in most games.
NBA 09: The Inside includes a few mini games that are actually fun to play. The standard 3 pt shooting contest is there but some unique ones appear as well. Mimic the All-Star Skills Competition by doing various drills such as passing, shooting, and dribbling between players. The blacktop golf gives you various areas where garbage cans are placed. You have to shoot into the garbage cans making your way closer to the basket whereby then you can try a jump shot. Like golf, the least amount of shots needed wins and knocking over the garbage can will incur a greater penalty. What makes it a little more challenging is that if you do hit the garbage cans without sinking the ball inside, the garbage can can move thus altering the course as you make your way to the basket. Owning the court pits you against another competitor where spots are marked on the ground with various points assigned to it. As you sink shots from those positions you rack up your score. What’s interesting is that your opponent can steal the spot by making the shot at the same spot and upping his score while subtracting from yours. The player with the most points wins. You may have the most spots but your opponent might control the higher scoring spots. There are a few others but I found the three I mentioned to be fun and a great diversion from the real game.
The big addition to this year’s version is the Life whereby you take part in three different story lines with your created player. It tells the story of a street ball player who makes his way up from the D-League to the NBA. In between various challenges, you’ll get a little bit of the story line told in a cut scene using the game’s engine. You won’t be playing full games though as you’ll have to achieve various goals in a certain time frame. It might be picking up 4 assists or out scoring your opponent by 5 points. The problem is though if you don’t achieve the main goals to go to the next part in the story, you’re stuck. There were a few scenarios where I had to redo many times with one taking me an hour to accomplish even though the entire event lasts three minutes. There’s no way to skip it and it made the Life portion unnecessary long. I guess they had to do this as the Life portion is really short and you can get by all three of them in relatively short amount of time provided you achieve all the goals outlined in a timely manner. Also, there’s no way to skip the cut scenes so if you decide to walk away from failing an event and come back you have to sit through the latest one again and some can be pretty long. The Life is a short and not too compelling so while San Diego Studios is pushing this part of the game, it’s really not a strong suite of the game.
What really makes this game disappointing is the basketball action itself. There are some nice qualities such as seeing players move around, setting screens, using motion to get open. But, many problems appear when you are playing the game itself. For starters there’s just an unbelievable amount of blocks called. When I mean unbelievable I’m talking in the high teens to twenties in the amount of blocks that are whistled. I was even called for a blocking foul jumping straight up to grab a rebound. I’m pretty sure you can’t be called for a block fighting for a rebound but I’ve had it happen to me a few times.
I’ve played plenty of basketball games with rebounding issues and NBA 09: The Inside also has some problems as well. On free throws, don’t expect one of the two players in the box out position to box out. On almost every single free throw, you’ll see one of the players from the shooting team slip around and stand in the middle ready to rebound a miss free throw while the box out player just stands there. It’s pretty frustrating and I sometimes missed the second one on purpose because I had a good chance of getting a rebound and dropping it back in for a three point play. During games, it’s not uncommon to see a ball just roll down a player instead of having it grabbed. It looks pretty awkward and it’s also not common to have it picked up by the opposing team when it happens to you. You'll also see plenty of times where the player looks like he's blocking out but the opponent just walks around him and gets into a better position to steal the rebound away.
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