NCAA 2004 ruled my Gamecube for a long time last year. Sure, it came out so I could play a little Viewtiful Joe or Need For Speed, but I played NCAA 2004 almost daily. As football season came to a close, my NCAA time dwindled but was still played pretty frequently. When details of NCAA 2005 started appearing, my appetite was slowly whipped into a frenzy. Great things were promised. I’m here to report that most of the promises have been delivered, but unfortunately not everything.
I’m not going to rehash the NCAA 2005 basics. Go read my NCAA 2004 review for the lowdown. I just want to touch on what’s new and what I think about it.
The biggest addition has been home-field advantage and the effect crowds have. I am an Ohio State Buckeye fan. (It has been a painful year, but as a fan you’ve got to go through the bad to savor the good.) Anyway, I’ve been to Ohio Stadium, also known as the Horseshoe. I’ve been there for Michigan games. I’ve been there when we beat Michigan. The feeling and atmosphere is indescribable It’s electric. It’s a spiritual experience. I know it affects those players. It has to! It’s affects me and I’m just a humble fan. NCAA 2005 has done a superb job recreating that feeling. College football is about emotion and NCAA 2005 conveys that emotion (to a point). When you play somewhere like the Horseshoe or the Big House or the Swamp, it is loud. You can barely here the announcers. When the crowd gets rocking, the screen shakes and the controller vibrates. It feels like a Saturday in November. I applaud EA for that; they have captured what College Football Saturday feels like. A+
The next addition is the match up stick. Using the C-stick, you can see how your team matches up against your opponent and you can see if your players (and theirs) are rattled, if the crowd is getting to them. You can see who’s good and who stinks. Another great addition, it adds a dimension of strategy. Your number one receiver is lined up against a rattled freshman? You’ve got your guy. It’s pretty nice. A
Another thing the C-stick is used for are “Big Hits”. This is a pretty nifty little thing; you get close to making a tackle and wham on the C-stick. If it’s timed right, you’ll make a big hit and maybe even cause a fumble. It’s especially effective on kick-offs. Hard to time but rewarding. B+
Dynasty mode has been revamped, too. There’s the added dimension of running a clean football program – discipline. If your players run afoul of the rules (or the law) you’ll have to take appropriate actions (or you can act like Bobby Bowden and pretend they never happened). You can suspend players for a quarter, a game, a season, whatever you want. But be warned: the more you shrug it off, the more the NCAA will start breathing down your neck. Don’t appease them and you might lose scholarships or TV appearances. It’s happened to me, it isn’t pretty. It’s a great idea in theory, but not executed perfectly. You have plenty of “discipline points” each week so this usually isn’t a problem unless you want it to be. B-
Celebrations have been added, including fans with signs and fans doing dances. I hate to say it, but the fan models look bad. They look alien and all wrong. Now you can celebrate after big plays and touchdowns. I have a love-hate relationship with the celebrations. Some are sweet (hushing the away crowd after a touchdown is a personal favorite). But I tire of big celebrations in the real game. Just make the play, congratulate your teammates and get back to the huddle. No need to showboat and dance around. Just play the game and save your antics for the NFL. Ranting aside, the new celebrations are well done. B+
Those are the major additions. There have been some minor tweaks as well. Everyone who plays NCAA 2005 knows that Dynasty mode is what keeps them coming back. There are some welcome additions there, too. You can allocate resources to training, discipline and recruiting as you see fit. Recruiting (my favorite part of them game) has also been tweaked. The biggest change for my money has been the fact that there are fewer five-star (blue-chip) prospects compared to 2004. In 2004 there was too many five-star players. Now it’s common to only see three or four five-star players at each position. I like that. You can also scout a player before you recruit him. That gives you a little more info than what you get to begin with. Things like his discipline, his understanding of the game, that kind of thing. Another welcome addition. B+
There are others I’m sure I’m missing, but those are the ones I felt worth mentioning. But all is not perfect. The graphics still leave a lot to be desired. It’s frustrating to see games like Madden and ESPN NFL look great while NCAA 2005 looks three years old. Some updated graphics are there, it’s just not enough. There are still frustrating glitches in the sound and commentary, but it’s not a deal breaker. Control is pretty much the same but I still yearn for a little more control over the passing game. It’s there but hit or miss. And the physics for the football! Good night! It’s like a balloon out there, bouncing around, unbound by any laws of gravity and momentum. This is nitpicking, to be sure, but it can go unmentioned.
Overall, it’s a great update to NCAA 2004. It’s unfortunate that we still have to pay full price for what really is nothing more than an expansion pack, but so be it. Xbox and PS2 owners get online play, which would be cool if I had the time, but I don’t really miss it. In the end, it’s unfortunate but it isn’t as great as 2004 was. It pains me not to rate this five buttons mashed, but there are some issues that bring this down. I can only go four buttons mashed on this one. If you don’t have 2004, don’t hesitate picking this one up. If you do, strongly consider the additions and go from there. I say go for it, but it isn’t a cheap upgrade.