Review: NCAA Football 2004
Version Reviewed: 1.00
Not available to gamers outside the US and not likely to become available this little title has become a mystery for many. It's first appearance in the form of clips online and commercials in the states left gamers unimpressed, but with the gaming fiesta EA delivered in FIFA 2004 many are taking a second look. Here at All About N-Gage we decided we should take a look too. NCAA Football 2004 is part of EA's popular college football series in the states and represents one of their first round of releases for the N-Gage. While it doesn't stand shoulder to shoulder with FIFA 2004 for all out gameplay it is a solid American Football outing that will satisfy many fans.
Because not everyone out there is familiar with the rules of American Football I'll run through them as a primer to this review. If you don't need this info feel free to skip over this next paragraph and jump right to the meat of the review.
American Football sets two teams against each other in a competition for highest score. Not unlike every other game in the world, right? But here come the details. The game begins with a coin toss to determine who gets to select whether they wish to start the game as offense or defense. The defense then kicks off the ball to the offense and the game begins. After the player returns the ball for as many yards as possible (1 yard is about 1 meter and the field is 100 yards long) he is eventually tackled and play continues from the spot he was mangled on. The teams line up on either side of the ball strategically choosing the positioning of their players for maximum effect on the play. Once the offense moves the ball play begins and each side has options. The defense is generally trying to crush the ball holder and prevent a gain in yardage and the offense is trying to gain as many yards as possible before getting stopped and beginning with a line-up again. The offense gets four tries or "downs" to achieve a gain of 10 yards (meters) before the ball changes hands. Generally if the 10 yards aren't achieved by the 4th down the offensive team will kick the ball down field to give the other team a weaker starting position on the field or try to kick a field goal and score for their team before handing over the ball to the other team. If the team manages to get 10 yards they get another 4 downs to try and progress towards the end zone. If and when they make it into the end zone they score a touchdown and are able to either kick for an additional point or try to run/throw it in for an additional two. That's about it. There are many other details but that's the gist of it. Now, on to the review (But not before Ewan points out they all have girly padding and stop a lot becuaset hey get tired. Where's EA's Rugby League St Helens vs Wigan? - Ewan)
From the first screen you become aware that this is a quality title that EA really put work into. The music is full of that nostalgic overwhelming college football energy and you are immediately aware that this is going to be fun. Your first list of choices gives you three game modes (Play Now, Multiplayer & Season), an options/stats area (My NCAA), and the always disappointing QUIT. For a quick game you can jump right into an exhibition match with Play Now or Bluetooth a friend into submission with Multiplayer, but the real fun for fans playing solo will certainly be in the Season mode, which delivers a full season of college football for your enjoyment. There are injuries and team customizing and you can track your team's statistics through the course of the season.
Irrespective of which mode you choose to play it runs smoothly and quickly with no appreciable slowdown which is I'm sure in part due to the only major complaint I have against the game, the graphics. EA's team wisely chose to use a combination of a 3D arena/camera and 2D sprite characters (just like FIFA 2004) to deliver it's college football experience to the N-Gage, which allowed for a faster development cycle and lets the game run (with no load times) very fast even with all the players on the screen playing a 2-player Bluetooth game. The only down side to this is that when the camera zooms in to the line of scrimmage everything looks so ugly and pixilated that you'll swear you were playing something on the venerable Nintendo Entertainment System. I am one of the few players in the world it seems who cares little for modern bang zoom 3D graphics, but this was a mild shock even for me.
Luckily, as I stated above the game runs smooth and this brief splash of ugliness before every play is a minor obstacle for players that is quickly forgotten once the mayhem ensues. And the mayhem of college football is accurately captured right down to popular rivalries like UT and A&M.
AI in the game is acceptable with the tougher teams actually being harder to beat and team mates displaying something not unlike intelligence. Still you'll want to handle almost every decision or move like in FIFA 2004 because the computer seems slow to catch on to changes in the field of play. Running is a joy just as it should be with a bevy of options including spinning, hurdling, juking, stiff arms, and all the things that get yardage for a runner. Passing is much the same with numerous options including audibles and pitching the ball for a run. Defensive players can even strip the ball and dive at the unsuspecting just like they do in the real game. You will likely be overwhelmed with the number of control options at first but after slowly one by one adding them all to your repertoire you will be able to enjoying crushing all opposition and occasionally pulling off 80 yard returns for a touchdown.
In it's own way the game harkens back to the greats of the 16-bit era and the Madden games of the day or my personal favorites from Sega Sports on the Genesis (aka Mega Drive). The game's sound is comparable to that era and the game play is of the time as well. Certainly for those hoping for the 3D bone-crunching they have become accustomed to on their XBOX or PS2 this will be a step backward, but it does deliver the fun of the sport and fans will be able to slide comfortably into it with only a few games for transition (it took me about 6 games of my first season to get it down and I didn't lose any of them).
In short, EA has delivered American Football for fans of the sport and those fans would be well advised to consider adding this title to their N-Gage library. For anyone unfamiliar this might not be a good purchase unless you are willing to deal with learning both the game and the sport, which considering how inaccessible this game would be to those unfamiliar with the standards of the genre could certainly be a frustrating and possibly boring journey.
For NCAA College Football 2004 it's a strong 68% with the hope that future releases may take the series as high as FIFA 2004's awesome 80% and deliver something that goes beyond satisfying genre fans and actually creates genre fans.
Reviewed by Chris Rydberg at