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Platform

GameCube

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

Tiburon

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Release

Q3 2003

 

 

- Most complete college football game ever

- 160 new teams insures practically everybodyís alma mater is in the game

- College Classics mode brings back memories of some of the best college football moments in history

- Great licensing coup stealing ESPN announcing crew away from Sega Sports for announcing and play-by-play duties

 

 

- GameCube controller just isnít very functional for sports games

- Hefty memory card requirements for Dynasty mode

- EA Sports Bio seems like just a gimmick to induce buying even more EA Sports games

- No online play

 

 

Review: NCAA Football 2003 (GC)

Review: Madden NFL 2003 (GC)

Review: NFL GameDay 2003 (PS2)

 

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NCAA Football 2004

Score: 9.4 / 10

 

The annual rite of Fall is about to begin: another college football season is ready to tee up and kick off, and that of course brings another rendition of the magnificent EA Sportsí NCAA Football franchise to eager gamers everywhere.

 

NCAA Football 2004, the newest offering of the best-selling college football game is in a league of its own this year. Its only serious competition, Sega Sportsí NCAA Football 2K series, threw in the towel by not even publishing a 2004 edition, leaving the college football gaming to the overwhelming favorite, NCAA Football. But that doesnít mean that EA Sports was just sitting back on its laurels this year. No, EA Sports gives the hardcore college football fan the best college football video game ever, so packed with even more new features than gamers could even had hoped for, that thereís no need for the final bowl game to decide: NCAA Football 2004 is the unanimous and undisputed Champion among college gridiron gaming.

 

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NCAA Football 2004 is just like a Heisman Trophy winner: solid and polished from head to toe. NCAA Football 2003 was seemingly unstoppable as the penultimate college football game. But EA comes back full throttle with NCAA Football 2004, adding to the already overwhelming gameplay and features that were already part of NCAA Footballís package. As much as NCAA Football 2003 had, EA somehow was able to add all these new goodies: 200 new plays (including trick plays), a revamped 

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Dynasty mode that will satisfy even the most fanatical fantasy league gamers; 160 new teams added to the already loaded roster of teams, including 100 classic teams and 36 of the top I-AA football programs; the gimmicky EA Sports Bio, which entices future EA Sports game purchases; and finally, the well-appreciated and instantly hall of fame worthy College Classics mode, which allows gamers to replay some of the best and most memorable college football games and moments in the last two decades.

 

NCAA Football already had a stadium-full selection of teams to play. But now thereís classic teams such as the legendary 1924 Notre Dame squad, Bo Jacksonís 1985 Auburn Tigers, and a bunch of I-AA schools, including one of my favorite teams in the Philadelphia region I live in, the Villanova Wildcats.

 

Plenty of visual and audio treats await players in NCAA Football 2004. The graphics follow up on the excellent presentation that NCAA Football 2003 had, including smooth animations that give NCAA Football 2004 an even bigger authentic touch. Weather effects like rain are rendered believably, and stadiums are painstakingly replicated. Again, however, the graphics slip when it comes to the crowds sitting in the stands and the sideline and cheerleader cut-scenes. A minor quibble, since they donít have any effect on the gameplay and overall visual quality. NCAA Football 2004 really hits pay dirt with the sweet sounds and excellent announcing crew. Fight songs are played throughout the game-action, making you feel like youíre sitting at the 50-yard line in premium ticket seats at the stadium. The gameís announcing crew features the ESPN College GameDay trio of Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit, and coach Lee Corso, who do an excellent job with their commentary. EA does an even better job at throwing appropriate commentary at the almost-always right time during games.

 

ncaa football 2004 gamecube review           ncaa football 2004 gamecube review

 

(Just a side comment. Itís interesting that the ESPN announcers appear in this game, because Sega Sports now has a contract with ESPN itself to include heavy ESPN presence in all its sports games, although Herbstreit, Nessler, and Corso already had a agreement with EA in place. Thatís a very possible reason why Sega Sports didnít put out another new college football title this season, and may not until the College GameDay crew is actually available to lend their talents to a Sega Sports game like many of their ESPN colleagues, unless they somehow convince the original voice of college football, the esteemed Keith Jackson, to lend his vocals to their effort. Itís a great licensing coup on EAís part to lock up the College GameDay trio, thereby simultaneously boosting its productís excellence level while severely crippling ((or in the case of Sega Sportsí college football series, killing it off completely)) the competition. )

 

College Classics mode is by far the best mode included in NCAA Football 2004. It puts you in key moments of classic college football games of the past 20 years, including Doug Flutieís miraculous Hail Mary for Boston College nearly 20 years ago and Kordell Stewartís even more miraculous Hail Mary heave for Colorado against Michigan.

 

Your goal is to either match or reverse the finishes of these games. Some College Classics are just a single play, while others are the last few minutes of a game. Many of these arenít easy at all, especially the Flutie and Stewart Hail Maryís, which I still havenít been able to do even after about a 100 tries (which gives you an even greater appreciation for how amazing these classic moments really were).

 

The greatest reward of the game comes in the form of the unlocking of these classic teams for use in the game once a College Classic has been completed. So if you complete the difficult objective, youíll unlock (if you know the particular player played for a certain team; NCAA Football 2004 obviously doesnít include actual named players, instead labeling them only by position and number because of NCAA regulations) college-players-for-the-ages such as Bo Jackson, Charlie Ward, and Donovan McNabb.

 

Of course the main unlockable bonuses are again the many pennants, nearly 400 in all. By performing feats, like gaining over 100 yards rushing, passing for more than 300 yards, or getting a safety on defense you gain points. The bigger the accomplishment (such as getting two 150-yard rushers, which is extremely difficult to do), the more points you can earn. You're able to buy pennants with these points (at 25 points a pennant) that unlock new teams, bowl games, stadiums, and cheats.

 

Another great mode is the Rivalry mode, which allows you to play in all the long-running college rivalries that have been built up over the years (and win the many trophies that accompany a triumphant victory), including the revered annual Army-Navy match-up.

 

And what would an NCAA Football game be without the bizarre-yet-fun Mascot mode? My favorite mascot to play is the pint-sized leprechaun mascot of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. These Mascot games can be particularly challenging to play against a human opponent, because most teams are on par with each other talent-wise, so you have to actually display your NCAA Football playing prowess to win.

 

If the rest of the modes arenít enough, NCAA Football 2004 scores a major touchdown with its Dynasty mode, which lets you control a college program from recruiting to coaching. Serious fantasy leaguers will enjoy the create-a-player, create-a-school, and create-a-stadium options that let you design your own university, stadium and player roster literally from the ground up.

 

ncaa football 2004 gamecube review

 

Overall, NCAA Football 2004 is a challenging game. Gone are the days when you could go to the same basic ďmoneyĒ play and run rampant over your opponent on the scoreboard -- human or AI-controlled. NCAA Football 2004 has been balanced nicely on both sides of the ball. A big reason for its balanced gameplay is the expanded playbook featuring all kinds of traditional college plays, including the Maryland I and my favorite, the option. I love the option plays in NCAA Football 2004. Even though they carry the major risk of turnover on any given play, the reward of big runs more than make up for it. For aspiring quarterbacks, passing is a lot harder to do in NCAA Football 2004. Plenty of practice and a nice touch on the ball is the key to developing a quality passing attack.

 

The only issue that deflated NCAA Football 2004 on the GameCube was the GameCube controller itself but despite the GameCube controllerís shortcomings, NCAA Football 2004 controls remarkably well.

 

EAís Sports Bio is an interesting new addition that really serves as a blatant attempt to get gamers to buy more EA Sports titles. The Sports Bio actually keeps track of all your EA game statistics in one menu, giving a virtual resume of your EA Sports gaming activity. Youíll be able to see your greatest in-game moments and also how much time youíve spent playing each game.

 

Only if you own the PlayStation 2 version is online gameplay available. And NCAA Football 2004 is a memory card hog when it comes to the Dynasty mode (which is not a problem with the Xbox version). But if you only own a GameCube and are an avid college football gamer, NCAA Football 2004 is a great GameCube sports game.

 

NCAA Football 2004 brings every possible feature to appease college football gamers (short of Keith Jacksonís legendary college football announcing talents). Without any reservation, itís easy to proclaim NCAA Football not only the best college football game of all-time, but also one of the best football video games period. This game is so good, itís almost impossible to think that thereís a possibility that the NCAA Football series can improve. NCAA Football 2004: this is college football gaming at its best.

 

- Lee Cieniawa

lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(August 20, 2003)

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