Sony's San Diego studios returns this year with their next NBA PSP game. We ran a preview article recently on the site, and we've since gotten the game in for review. This year's iteration, NBA 09: The Inside, features more mini-games and refinements than any previous year, as well as the introduction of a Franchise mode for the first time.
Leaving It All On the Court
So this year's biggest addition is that of a Franchise Mode. By popular demand, the devs decided to implement a Franchise Mode this year that will allow players to take their favorite team through many seasons of play, having to deal with all of the trades, salary, injuries, and other coach, player, and management issues that arise in the real world. The PSP version isn't as deep in this manner as the PS3 version, which we reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Still, gamers will take the role of player, coach, and general manager to negotiate contracts, draft new players, participate in the Draft Lottery, and sign free agents in the off season. Fortunately, you can't easily outwit the AI with a bogus trade like in previous years. With the introduction of Franchise Mode, managing your team requires more effort and interaction on your part than ever before, and for NBA fans, that's a plus.
The second most significant addition or change to the PSP version this year is in the mini-games. The mini-games have always been a bright, even brightest point you could argue, for the NBA series on the PSP. As with previous years, these mini-games are essentially the substitute for the PS3's story mode (where The Inside part of the title comes from), which is completely absent here. This year's version has fifteen mini-games, including the popular Conquest mode, where players challenged three man teams across the United States in a battle for territory. Now, a modified version of the popular Conquest mode is included too, and it's called Elimiquest. This new mode offers an interesting twist; players participate in a five-on-five game with the CPU. Each player on the court has a set number of points that, if they meet this set number, are eliminated from the game. In exchange for reducing your total number of players, you'll unlock a power up that will help your remaining players score or rebound or defend better. The first team to reduce their number of players to one, i.e., eliminate four of their players, wins. This mode may come off sounding either overly complicated or silly, but it works out well for itself and it's pretty fun.
The core basketball experience in NBA 09 remains the same. Full NBA rosters, teams, arenas, a TV style announcement crew, it's a still a very well rounded and now even more complete package than before with the Franchise Mode. The shot meter, something I believe the Sony team created themselves a year or two back, is once again included and itis still helpful, but the core game itself still suffers from head-shaking AI and various physics problems we saw last year in both the PSP version and the PS3 version. That's not to say competitor's versions on either platform are exempt from problems, but the gameplay in the NBA 0x series seems to suffer more so than its counterparts on different platforms (although EA seems to be tryingreally hard to take this 'crown').
That said, it's really the ease of picking up and playing NBA 09, thanks mostly impart to the number, variety, and quality of mini-games, that make it something special, although not necessarily great.