A funny thing happened on the way to another lukewarm PSP review of Sony’s latest pro hoops title – the more we played NBA 09 The Inside, the more we realized just how much fun we were having. Instead of throwing together a barely-improved rehash of the last couple of versions of their game, Sony has produced a remarkably enjoyable portable basketballer that surprised us in all the right ways.
Just as they were last year, the on-court gameplay, TV-style presentation, and in-game commentary remain undeniably smooth. Without going overboard with praise (players get tangled together too often in the paint, wonky ball physics cause unrealistic rebounds, and slam dunk animations don’t come together particularly well) it’s hard to find too many serious problems as you look to dominate on the hardwood. Even better, a full-fledged franchise mode is part of the mix, filling a major gap from last season. Unfortunately, the single-player story-based campaign that The Inside draws its name from is nowhere to be found; it remains attached to its console brethren only.
Normally, we don’t pay much attention to mini-games and alternate modes, but NBA 09 turns that theory on its head; the bounty of nifty offerings has us hopelessly (and happily) addicted. Tops on our list is the series of pinball games, sporting a bunch of hoops-inspired tables with unique challenges that are perfect for on-the-go gaming. We also love the Breakout/Arkanoid-style Shootin’ Bricks.
We’ve been raving for a couple of years now about the Conquest mode, a turn-based hoops-strategy hybrid with the goal of conquering the basketball world one city at a time. It returns intact this season, along with an all-new flavor called Elimiquest that adds yet another key twist to the mix. Score enough points with each player to get them tossed out until only one is left – doing that means victory. Confused? We were too, at least for the first few games. Then we realized the brilliance of the design and all the strategic decisions around individual players and their associated powerups, and we haven’t stopped since. Elimiquest is seriously challenging, and we’re loving every minute of it.
Even though some of the fundamentals are less than perfect, NBA 09 The Inside has plenty of good times to offer on-the-go hoops fans. It’s addressed our biggest complaints from last season and added plenty of worthy material, staking its claim as a top-tier handheld NBA sim.
Oct 9, 2008