Another year on the bench.
For every perennial NCAA basketball powerhouse like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky or
Arizona, there is a legion of backwater ball teams that will sooner beat the Harlem
than make it into the tourney. Everyone can't be a winner, right?
But year after year, those small, nameless schools renew their hopes for an elusive
bid, despite history, talent and the entire sports world telling them otherwise.
Likewise, 989's NCAA Final Four series routinely gets blasted
by critics and fails to post a winning record. Yet they keep on trying to make
the cut, evidenced by NCAA Final Four 2004 hitting shelves
just in time for the college hoops season. Unfortunately, it should promptly
dismiss any delusions of making the tournament. Instead, this pretender will
be spending the year wondering exactly what it needs to do to get off the bubble.
good place to start would be overhauling the gameplay, which is plagued with every
manner of awful mechanic you could imagine. Shooting, passing and jumping are all miserable
thanks to the terribly unresponsive control. You'll blow by a defender for an open
jump shot, press the shoot button, and stare blankly as your man does nothing.
You literally have to hammer on the buttons to get a reaction, but even when
you do it's rarely what you were hoping for. Players will gather themselves
up and slowly pull the ball back for an overhead pass even when the recipient
is standing right next to them. Jump-shooting is spotty at best; it is almost
impossible to judge when a guy is at the apex of his jump because he goes up
and down so quickly. Half the time players will dunk when under the basket;
other times they'll try some ridiculous fall-away hook shot instead of a simple
Speaking of dunking, I was unaware that everyone in college basketball has Vince Carter hops. Every guy on the court can dunk like a superstar. The under-six-foot white point guard for Cal throws down mighty two-handed jams in traffic. Huh?
And onward: The AI is just plain bad. Cranking up the difficulty results in
more steals, but so long as you don't pass and just run around for a bit, you'll
easily get your defender caught on someone, penetrate the lane and dunk. Defense
amounts to getting in between your man and the basket so he doesn't dunk.
You can switch from man to zone defenses at will, but watch out " if you select
Intentional Foul, it isn't a one-time foul. Rather, it turns intentional fouling
"on', meaning your guys will continue to foul until you turn it off. Yeah, that
comes in handy.
Even the free-throw shooting is lame, simply requiring you to hold down one button responsible for both power and accuracy. There are so many problems here it makes playing the game a chore and a bore.
Most of this is due to The Little Game Engine That Couldn't. Players move
with blazing speed at the default setting, at times faster than the movement
of the ball itself. Blind passes are common since players outrun the camera,
rendering fast breaks almost useless unless you slow it down, which defeats
the whole point of a "fast' break. Compared to what we've seen in the EA and
ESPN basketball games, NCAA Final Four's engine is dated and
That also means the graphics aren't so hot. The framerate is solid, but there's
no pizzazz whatsoever here. The players look okay but animate stiffly and awkwardly;
transitional animations are far and few between, leading to all sorts of goofy,
jerky sequences where players "blink' from one motion into another. The dunk
animations are very nice, though, and there's a lot of dunking, so there are a few times
when things look fine.
never sound it. While the effects are decent, the play-by-play and commentary
by Eddie Doucet and Billy Packard is absolutely retarded thanks to the painful
cries of middle-aged white men trying to sound urban. Responding to a ubiquitous
jump shot, Billy responds, "He did not just do that. Did he?" You did not just
say that, did you? And don't get me started on their insistence on calling a
lay-up a "sky hook." Wrong. The production values are the pits, even failing to
include the ability to use the USB headset like 989's own Shootout
While NCAA Final Four 2004 completely blows the gameplay
and graphics, it at least gets the NCAA part right as there are over 300 Div.
I teams to choose from. Mascots are here too, but are only featured in a fixed
pre-game sequence, complete with the scariest cheerleaders since
these chicks. They move fine but have expressionless faces, resulting in
freaky clown mannequins given
the gift of life.
Even the most optimistic of gamers will find little to cheer about here, but
believe it or not, NCAA Final Four 2004 does have a couple
good ideas, the smartest of which is its mode variety. You can play an Exhibition
game, set up your own Tournament or get used to the crummy controls in the Practice
mode, but the star of the game is its unique two-pronged approach to Career
Dynasty mode is the typical franchise setup, allowing you to coach and guide a team through multiple seasons. You select what level of coach you want to be " Graduate Assistant, Assistant or Head Coach " which determines how hands-on you get with recruitment. You can also set your team's practice schedule to steadily improve their overall stats over the course of the year. A new Bubble Watch feature gives you a better idea of your chances of making the tournament come season end.
An alternate take on Dynasty is the actual Career mode, which plays mostly the same except you start off having to coach one really bad team in hopes of getting hired to coach a better school. Eventually you might even get the call for a serious contender like Syracuse or North Carolina. These are all good concepts and work well in a college hoops game. Too bad it's this one.
If you're not the single-player type, NCAA Final Four 2004
continues 989 and Sony's excellent online play features. It's really one of
the best out there, trumping EA handily thanks to its good layout and great
stat tracking, but it's wasted on a product that's simply not any fun to play.
Whoever is coming up with ideas like the two Career modes and the ability to set
practice schedules should get promoted. Then, they should go work for a series
with more potential. Either that, or Sony should hire people who are serious
about gameplay, because NCAA Final Four 2004 clearly is not.
As it stands, this bubble has burst.