Developer: SCEA Studios San Diego
Release Date: October 7, 2008
Perhaps the highest praise I can give to NBA '09: The Inside is this: As I sit down to write this preview, I have no idea where to begin. That's not a knock on the game or an attempt to call it disjointed, disorganized or flawed, but rather a testament to just how much Sony has crammed into one UMD. The Inside is perfect for the casual basketball fan, mixing big name players and fairly deep sim action with goofy carnival games and pinball. That's right, this basketball game has a whole section devoted topinball. How many sports franchises bring that kind of action? Ultimately, The Inside succeeds in bringing something for everyone, and should provide you hours upon hours of entertainment when it debuts next month.
While The Inside offers standard pick-up-and-play games as well as a robust franchise mode, those are really just bones thrown to traditionalists; the rest of the title features experiences as diverse as quick mini-games resembling what you would find at your local Chuck E. Cheese to epic, turn-based strategy affairs that tax your tactical skills just as much as your b-ball prowess. No matter what your mood, it's hard to turn on The Inside without being able to find some game mode or variant to sate your gaming needs. This is a game that's trying to be all things to all people, and for once, it looks like it may succeed.
So what all is featured in this cornucopia of modes? Well, there's Alley Oop (Skeeball with moving baskets as targets), Bangin' the Boards (wager on the number of points and rebounds you can score in a set amount of time), Block a Shot, which is basically a basketball-themed version of Whack-a-Mole, Shootin' Bricks (Breakout! with NBA flair) and many, many more. In addition to these fun oddities, the game also features seven pinball machines, each with its own unique theme and presentation. So if you ever get tired of the action on the hardcourt, you can jump over and try your luck with a set of flippers and a steel ball.
Another interesting concept implemented in The Inside is the inclusion of Quest mode, which is further broken down into Conquest and Elimiquest. Conquest plays like an NBA version of RISK, where you pick a team in one city and try to expand your basketball empire into all corners of the league. Teams take turns attacking and defending cities, and success leads to more cities under your control, as well as upgraded players and courts. Elimiquest expands on the concept by forcing each individual member of a team to score a certain number of points. Once that character reaches the point total, he disappears but leaves behind a power-up that will help the rest of the team make up for their lack of numbers with enhanced speed, shooting, defense, etc. Some of the more wacky powers turn the entire team invisible or shrink everyone down to a miniature size, thus making them more agile and adept at stealing.
In both modes, there is just as much emphasis on off-court strategy as there is on, as you'll need to constantly shuffle players around to make sure that vulnerable cities are defended by your best athletes, while identifying potential threats and acting on them before they can come after your territory. It's a very unique way to approach the game, and it adds a lot of depth to a mode that could have otherwise been written off as superficial.
The preview build of the game exposed a few issues that may or may not be fixed before the final version debuts, so you may want to look out for the following when playing the final build. For instance, the AI seemed significantly unbalanced even on the easiest difficulties, with CPU teammates simply standing around and refusing to work for the open shot, while opponent AI seemed to be constantly swarming to the ball and blocking all but the most wide-open and well-prepared shot. Considering that NBA players are not exactly renowned for their defensive capabilities, it was odd to have such a difficult time making a five-foot jumper over a single defender who was half-heartedly putting a hand in my face. Also, there seems to be some ball detection problems on rebounds and blocked shots. Oftentimes, I would situate one of my players where the ball was set to come down, simply to have that person inexplicably miss while the ball bounced to an opponent a few feet away. I quickly learned to just let the AI handle the rebounds, since I apparently had no idea where to stand in order to get the ball.
Regardless of these minor issues, NBA '09: The Inside looks like it's going to have a lot to offer fans when it comes out next month. Whether you're a simple fair-weather fan of the home team or a hardcore NBA junkie, there's something for everyone in this year's edition. Trust me when I say that this is one title that has the capacity to keep you entertained for a long, long time.
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