"All the bugs of Unreal with all the action of Madden..."
Brilliant ideas occur everyday at Electronic Arts, and NCAA Football '99 is one of their best. When designing the game, they obviously wanted it to play a lot like their successful Madden franchise while incorporating the teams of the NCAA. Many people enjoy college football over professional so there must be a huge audience. This, of course, is true and makes for a good idea.
On the bad idea front, beta testing seems to have been rushed on NCAA Football '99. Bugs pour out of the program at every corner, including timing and control issues - probably the two most important things in a sports game. What it adds up to is a game that can be great at times, but can be a dog at others.
Graphically, NCAA is lackluster. With games like NFL Blitz coming out on the PC shortly, graphical flair is a must. NCAA looks shabby even compared to last year's EA offering of NHL '98. Even through the use of 3D acceleration, NCAA can't come close to recent football games - including those on the Playstation and Nintendo 64. This is truly sad.
Control, on the other hand, is rather good. You actually feel like you are a part of the game, executing spin moves and straight arms as you advance up the field. Controlling your passes is fairly standard, but where the game excels is in its running controls. You can execute a plethora of moves - besides the aforementioned spin and straight arm moves, you can also jump and make quick cuts left and right. These controls (especially the quick cuts) give you a never before seen sense of immersion while piloting your running back. Still though, there are significant bugs, including problems with Gravis Gamepads and Microsoft Sidewinder joysticks - the most widely used joysticks and the two that don't work very well. But bugs aside, control is great.
Now I may like to watch college football, but I'm no expert on the hundreds of rules and regulations. Unfortunately this is one of the product's largest downfalls - it has virtually no instructions and it doesn't explain the quirks and rule differences between college and professional football. After picking my favorite team, Nebraska, I was baffled at the bizarre calls that I was getting. Unable to look up the rules, I stopped playing in frustration.
Sound is far and away the best feature of the game. EA has captured lots of your favorite band music that is played at games to use as background for the menus and during play intervals. The bone crunching thuds and cracks of tackles echo loudly, giving the impression of actually being in the middle of the action.
For the hard core fan, statistics and school information is kept in a large database that you can look up to learn about different colleges. There is even a section about historic games in the life of college football that is extremely interesting even for the passive fan.
All in all though, NCAA Football '99 is a game that had the potential to be great, but failed to achieve it with bugs and lackluster graphics and instructions. It's a shame too, as there are really no other NCAA game alternatives.