If the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of "NCAA Football 09" are the starting seniors, then Wii owners might feel like redshirt freshmen with EA Sports' first college football game for Nintendo's popular gaming console.
"NCAA Football 09: All-Play" ($49.99, Wii) marks EA Sports' debut of its new "All-Play" lineup, five Wii-specific sports games looking to bring more casual gamers into the mix.
The game offers a friendly, laid-back presentation, arcade-style gameplay and a simplified "All-Play" control scheme that lets novice players simply shake their remotes to punt, pass and kick.
But the Wii-specific version disappoints with a complete lack of online play and graphics that are simply too inferior to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.
Any thoughts that "NCAA Football 09: All-Play" could be classified as a sports sim are quickly quashed by the main menu, which offers "Mascot game" as the top choice.
Sure, playing 11 Albert the Alligators versus a team of Sparty the Spartans might be cute, but it's a feature better suited for a hidden cheat code than a game's primary option.
A better choice is "Play now," which can default to your favorite college team playing at home against an archrival.
The next step is to choose how much you want to control.
The simplest option is to use only the Wii remote, letting the game guide player movement while the player simply gives the remote a quick shake for throws, tackles or jukes. The problem is you don't really feel like you're impacting gameplay much.
For slightly more control, players can add the nunchuk and use its control stick for player movement while continuing with the shakes, but the contextual automation sometimes misses your intentions.
On one play I decided to run the option, a popular college play in which the quarterback rolls out either left and right and can choose to keep the ball or lateral to his running back.
In my mind I decided to keep the ball and attempt to juke past the approaching tackler, but the game interpreted the remote shake as my decision to toss the pigskin to my running back, resulting in a drive-killing fumble.
Standard control is similar to the more intuitive "Madden" scheme, and it's the best choice for experienced players and possibly many beginners. Gameplay can be fast-paced and fun with this option.
Touchdowns invite the scoring player to drum their remote and nunchuk to pump up the crowd, but these end-zone celebrations grow old quickly. Fortunately, this gimmick and the arcade-style trails on the football can be turned off.
"NCAA Football 09: All-Play" features team-specific fight songs and cheers, but stadiums seem to be missing the little touches that make you feel at home. I expected to see "This is ... The Swamp" in the corner of Florida Field, but it wasn't there.
What's really surprising is the game's emptiness on the sidelines, which were inhabited only by the chain gang — no benches, players, photographers or sounds guys. For comparison, I fired up last year's "Madden 08," and there they were.
I'm all for bringing more people into gaming, but companies wanting to broaden their reach must be careful not to alienate those of us who like sports games and have made the Wii their console of choice.
This game simply doesn't offer enough for that crowd.