Search For Posters!
  Join the SGN staff!
Help Wanted
Release Dates


About Us

The Sports

Partner Links
Auto Insurance Quote
Irvine Moving Companies
LA Moving Companies
Brand Name Shoes

NCAA Final Four (PSX) Review

Publisher: 989 Sports
Release Date: Fall 1998

Background Info

College basketball season is upon us and many sports gamers are clamoring for a game that brings the complete college hoops feel to the Playstation. EA Sports released March Madness 99 a few months ago, and for many reasons it failed to fill the void of quality PSX college basketball games. Now Sony's 989 Studios is stepping up to the plate with a college hoops game of their own, NCAA Final Four 99. With over 300 men's teams included, is this the game that will finally satisfy college basketball junkies? Will it capture the unique feel of NCAA basketball? Let's find out, shall we?

Presentation/Graphics : 73
Graphically, Final Four 99 is a decidedly mixed bag. The players appear quite fuzzy, as if your TV is out of focus. These graphics are quite a bit below those found in EA Sports' NBA Live 99, and at first glance they don't look as good as March Madness 99 either. In many ways they remind me of a first-generation PSX title. If you were going by appearance alone, the player graphics would be a tremendous disappointment. Once they animate, however, the player graphics improve quite a bit; they move very fluidly and for the most part the animations are quite believable. There do not appear to be any frames of animation missing, as was clearly the case in March Madness 99. The dunks look fantastic, and small touches such as players bending over to pick up loose balls add nicely to the appearance.

Uniforms appear to be decently drawn, but again look grainy and out of focus. From what I have seen they are fairly accurate from team to team. Arenas are a different matter, with only a handful of different models appearing in the game. The courts, however, appear to be accurately modeled after the real deal.

Coaches stalk the sideline, which would be a neat addition if they were not the only people present. They walk up and down the sideline in front of 5 empty chairs; there are no bench players present, perhaps because there is nowhere for them to sit!

There are plenty of camera angles to choose from, though as usual only a handful are useful while you actually play the game. Instant replays have a bit of a twist in the you can choose to play them back in black and white, with the ball handler alone being in color.

Presentation/Audio : 75
The good news about the color commentary in FF99 is that is nice and clear and keeps up with the action pretty well. The bad news is that it is done by Quinn Buckner, doing his worst Dick Vitale wannabe schtick. Maybe this won't bother other gamers, but it drove me nuts. Hearing Buckner try to relay the game's proceedings while remaining "hip" is torture to my ears. Some of the phrases he uses will have you absolutely cringing. You can lower the volume of his calls, but then playing the game seems awfully lonely. What a predicament; live with the absurd Buckner or have absolutely no commentary at all.

Fortunately the crowd sounds are pretty well done. They keep up the noise pretty well and cheer when the home team rallies. The crowd here is much more effective than that of March Madness 99. By pressing all 4 shoulder buttons, the home crowd will rise up as one as if trying to rattle the visiting team. You get 6 chances to do this per game, and though it appears to no effect on actual game play, it is a neat little feature. Do this on the road, however, and the crowd will let you have it!

Fight songs are played as the players come onto the courts, and when the game is paused. That's it. I would have like to have had a little more interaction from the bands when there is a break in the action, such as during substitutions.

The standard on-court sounds are included, such as sneakers squeaking on the floor, nets swishing and rims rattling. While nothing special, they do the job adequately.

Interface/Options : 72
The menus for FF99 are easy enough to navigate. You can set the game up to your liking without too much trouble. Modes of play include Exhibition, Season, and Tournament. A neat feature of Tournament mode is that you can rearrange the brackets any way you like, even adding teams that were not in the default brackets. Very nice!

You can choose to play 5, 10 or 20 minute halves. A little more flexibility here would have been welcome, even if it just meant including 15 minute halves. Honestly, I wish all sports games would let the user select period lengths in one minute increments, though perhaps that makes it more difficult to model simulated stats. Regardless, I find that the 3 options for half lengths in FF99 is insufficient.

Stats are kept in a variety of categories, both for teams and players. While certainly sufficient, the game still lacks a bit of the statistical depth EA Sports games is so famous for, excepting of course March Madness 99.

Control is pretty much standard fare. The players move around the court very well and are quite responsive to your commands. There are the usual control options, such as a turbo button, and even some added options, such as protecting the ball by backing in as a defender blankets you. This looks really neat and works to perfection. Sadly, some of the niftier moves in earlier Sony basketball games have been omitted. No longer is there one button to pull off that dazzling spin move or behind the back dribble. Instead there is one button that pulls off "special moves," and these appear to happen almost at random. Many times as I crossed half court with a guard draped all over me, I yearned for the spin move but instead got a cross over dribble. This lack of control is very frustrating and takes a bit of the fun out of the game.

Passing to the desired teammate can be quite a chore when using the directional pad. Fortunately, Sony has included the now-standard Icon Passing, which takes out all the guesswork, as long as you have the dexterity to hold down a shoulder button and pass at the same time. New to the game is Icon Cutting, which allows you to select a teammate to cut to the basket. This is a neat idea, but resulted in lots of turnovers when I tried to pass to that cutting teammate. Icon Switching is also included, allowing you to easily select the defender you wish to control.

A new twist to this hoops game is a "shot meter," which begins when you hit the shoot button. A small meter appears and a green bar starts rising. There is a sweet spot in the bar, and by timing your release you have a lot of control over whether your shots are good or not. This is kind of neat at first, but can throw the game play balance off a bit.

Gameplay : 79
Game play is what matters, and once again FF99 delivers a mixed bag. On freshman level, the game is way too easy, with 3 pointers going in for you right and left. It is also too easy to get the defender in the air with a pump fake, allowing you to drive straight to the basket for a dunk. Using the shot meter is almost a crime here, for the sweet spot is very forgiving. In one game on Freshman level, I made 18 out of 18 3 pointers. Unfortunately, raising the difficulty merely gives you the dreaded "superhuman computer opponent" syndrome. We'll get into that a bit later, but suffice to say that this game has major difficulty issues.

There are other problems with the game as well. Every missed shot rolls around the rim once then shoots straight up into the air. This looks ridiculous and really spoils any illusion of realism.

Substitutions are a problem here, much as in EA's NBA Live 99. Playing 10 minute halves, with auto subs enabled, the computer never once subbed for either team. 20 minute halves are the only way to get subs in this game. Sure, you can sub for your own team if you like, but guess what? There is no way to see how fatigued your players are! None; no numbers, no meters, nothing. This is almost laughably ridiculous. Once again, the bench players in this game are relegated to sitting on the sideline doing nothing. Well, that's not exactly true; remember, there are no chairs on the sideline! It all makes sense now, since subs are only ever seen in 40 minute games!

Rebounding is pretty well done, even with the ridiculous looking missed shots. You must position yourself perfectly and it feels as though there is a bit of pushing and shoving underneath the basket. Steals are much like every other basketball game out there. You can repeatedly hit the steal button and usually nothing at all happens, besides the ball handler finally blowing by you. Other times you will get whistled for a foul, and only occasionally will you actually get the steal.

Shooting free throws is even simpler than the format so prevalent in other basketball games. There is a bar, just like the shot meter. If you hit the sweet spot as the bar rises, swish! If not, you miss. It's that simple. Personally I find the T-meter, used in almost every other hoops game, a bit more satisfying.

As mentioned earlier, the control in this game is dead on, so getting around the court is a snap. Once you get used to the button layouts, you will find yourself having quite a bit of fun if you can accept the flaws of the game. It is definitely on the arcadish side (the control is TOO tight, really), but taken on its own merits, the game can be enjoyable, especially in two player mode, where you don't have to deal with CPU difficulty issues.

Difficulty : 72
This is where FF99 stumbles quite a bit. Simply put, there is very little middle ground in this game. On the Freshman level, the CPU does not even give you a game; you can dominate it the first time you pick up the controller. That in itself is not so bad; having an easy setting lets you get the hang of the game while you improve, getting you are ready for the next level. At least that is how it works in theory. But the game steps up the difficulty in dramatic fashion, even on sophomore level. That is not to say that you can't beat the computer; you can, but the realism goes out the window. For one thing, the computer is on fire the entire game. 3 pointers are nearly a given, and shooting percentages are through the roof. One game they shot 83% from 3 point range. Remember, this is SOPHOMORE level!

An even bigger problem is the computer shooting fadeaway jumpers from about 10 feet out. In the last game I played on sophomore level, the CPU was a perfect 23 out of 23 shooting these fadeaways, and I was in his face and going for the block every time. As a result, the stats are very skewed. The CPU averaged about 68% shooting, and this includes the 8-10 blocks I get per game. Add those blocks into the equation, and you have some unbelievable stats.

Speaking of blocks, the CPU cheats like mad on the higher levels. Each time you block a shot, the ball goes directly back to the CPU shooter. And what happens when your shot is blocked? Well, the guy that blocked it actually catches the ball and starts down the court. Unfair? You bet, and not much fun either.

And you can forget about pump-faking the defender to get him up into the air. He will leap, but he gets down so quickly that you can't get around him. You can even start your shot as he descends from his leap, and he will still get back up into the air and block your shot 50% of the time. These guys must have springs on their shoes.

With the help of the shot meter, you can compete on these higher levels, but in order for you to win, you are going to have to put up some outrageous numbers yourself. On sophomore level, I averaged around 65% on field goals, including around 58% from three-point land. Winning on the Senior level is a real chore, requiring you to play a virtually flawless game both offensively and defensively. It also requires you to put up with an even more ridiculous disadvantage, as the CPU cheats every chance it gets.

Overall : 64
NCAA Final Four is not a bad game if you are satisfied with arcade sports games. The fluid player movements and the lack of any frame rate slowdown certainly make this game more fun than March Madness 99. However, those looking for a simulation are sure to be disappointed with the lack of realism. In the end, the game can be a fun little diversion, but not much more.

By: Jim S. 2/6/99

© 1998-2006 Sports Gaming Network. Entire legal statement. Feedback

Other Links:
[Free Credit Report  |   Car Insurance Quotes  |   Designer Shoes  |   Outdoor Equipment

MVP Baseball 2003
Street Hoops
Mad Catz Xbox Hardware

Inside Pitch 2003
MLB Slugfest 20-04
Tennis Masters Series