Review by: Doug Trueman
Published: March 2, 1999
As long as there have been video games there have been sports games. In fact, the first game ever to reach the mass public was a form of tennis. So it’s no surprise that companies look to the sports world for inspiration when ideas run low. We’ve had almost every type of sport imaginable converted to binary: racers, skiers, baseball, hockey, football, jetskis, hang gliding, sky diving, etc. But rather than work on yet another extreme sport, 989 Studios has decided to return to the classics for its latest title: college basketball. Enter NCAA Final Four.
NCAA Final Four takes amateur basketball teams and lumps them all together for one heck of a simulation. There are so many schools to choose from that one should have a few favorites before even opening the disc; otherwise one is likely to get swamped in the sheer number of choices available. Once a team has been chosen, players can then decide what type of game they wish to play. There’s the random exhibition game (which chooses teams for the players), the quickstart game where players select their favorites and dive right in, and there’s the usual season option where players can follow the course of the league all the way up to the finals.
Gamers with lots of friends will be pleased to know that NCAA Final Four supports the PlayStation multitap: up to eight players can participate in the same game at once. However, the title also supports a two player game just as easily. Gameplay is simple: it’s basketball. Get the orange sphere through the metal hoop more times than your opponent does and you win. There are various rules that can’t be broken, however, and NCAA Final Four has included them all: three second key violations, doubling back over the center court line, charging or fouling the other team, etc., have all been included and will result in the appropriate punishment for the offending team, be it a loss of possession or a free throw. Cynical gamers will be pleased to know that 989 Studios has even included a deliberate foul button so players can choose to knock opposing athletes out the game, or simply disrupt them on the way to the basket.
NCAA Final Four has a rather unique interface that takes some getting used to, but once players have mastered the learning curve they’ll wonder why the scheme wasn’t thought of earlier. All of the buttons on the controller have specific functions (shoot, pass, sprint, etc.), but the two lower shoulder buttons have a unique “override” feature for complex plays. When a player depresses the L2 button, for instance, all of his team members will suddenly have ghostly images of the main four PlayStation buttons underneath them. With the L2 button still depressed, the four main buttons are reassigned to the four remaining members of the player’s team, and pressing the appropriate button will result in a pass to that player. The recipient of the ball is assigned the O button, and the rest of the team is rearranged accordingly. Furthermore, players can use the R2 button to get a similar effect: when selected, the chosen player will drive to the basket. Players then have to merely switch back to the L2 button to indicate a pass, and the ball will immediately head towards the selected player. This removes the need for the traditional “aim the controller towards your intended recipient and press pass” scheme that has led to many missed opportunities in the past (although gamers can still play this way if they choose). When the player is on defense, the two shoulder buttons revert to instant character selection and cherry picking commands.
Shooting is also simple. Players can use the traditional “shoot at the peak of the jump” for best results, or they can enable a shot meter which will appear beside their player when the X button is pressed. So long as they release the button while the meter is in the green, they’ll make the shot. Interestingly, all of the players have specific hot zones where an attempted shot is guaranteed. Once gamers learn where these spots on the court are, they can manipulate their team into the best possible scoring opportunity.