This 2009 basketball season gives sports fan something to smile about as publisher 2K showcases a number of revolutionary features that change the way you play hoops onscreen. 2K Sports is soaring into new heights with their latest offering of NBA 2K9. It all starts with redefining the gameplay to keep 2K loyalists satisfied. As you know, last year’s performance was incredible but it was more of the same because much of its content were recycled materials. With the demands for progression, Visual Concepts is in the forefront to up the ante. Thanks to the extra layers of animation, NBA 2K9 feels like the way basketball is meant to be played. Signature moves are a few of the game’s commendable properties; they have improved a considerable level, which provide a sense of being one of today’s NBA superstars.

The biggest improvement in the NBA 2K9 is the play mechanics. The fouls have toned down a bit, giving you more on-court action and less people shooting at the foul line. There are less petty calls for nudging the ball-handler, sizing up your man, or crowding the passing lane for potential turnover. Most of the common fouls related to shooting and blocking are now at a more tolerable levels, giving casual gamers a chance to redeem themselves. In addition, the blocking mechanism has been given a face lift. It is more accurate now as opposed to last year where players shoot through you like ghosts! You’ll also notice that the players on the court are less likely to incur backcourt violation and goaltending. It seems that Visual Concepts have minimized those sensitive areas that are prone to whistle blowing. As a result, you have more room to express your skills without getting into foul trouble.

Granted the play mechanics have become a bit more forgiving than in the past, but this is not to say the action on the court is all but a breeze. Isomotions are still a little loose and out of place. Trying to psych a defender with a crossover or a spin move requires a lot of work and most of the time it’s not the steps you end up doing. The conflict stems from having the left stick inheriting all the fancy dribbles by holding down the turbo button. Normally, the left stick is strictly used for moving a player; so when you apply ankle breakers on top of that, you’re creating a complicated footwork. As a result, your player tend to run in a direction that you didn’t want him to go in the first place. Needless to say, player movement and trick moves should have been placed in separate functions. Fortunately, the game comes with other button configurations, which you can modify to somewhat suit your playing style.

When it comes to highlight materials, NBA 2K9 knows how to deliver the very spectacle of the sport. Thanks to the impressive animation, the game brings all the NBA experience home. This year, it’s not all about the new dunks, though I have to admit that the latest dunk collection has more authoritative flair to it. But what’s thrilling about NBA 2K9 is the repertoire of jaw-dropping moves that leaves you practically in awe. One example is bouncing the ball high over two defenders and stuffing it home. There are other occasions where you’d be crossing over the ball at the back of your legs into the front and hot stepping your way into a spectacular layup. You also got these acrobatic shots – what look to be a sure tomahawk slam would wind up into a double clutch that ends with a sweet finger roll. NBA 2K9’s animations are simply incredible! Don’t be surprised if you find yourself using the replay mode a lot.

Visual Concepts really emphasized on bringing several new action sequences into the game. Because of that, you’ll see some interesting dispositions like you’ve never seen before. Here is one incident: we set up a screen hoping to get an offensive charging; instead the player dribbling the ball took a tumble to the ground upon hitting one of our big men. We picked up the ball and tried to run straight to the basket, but our opponent was still lying there in front of us. Instead of going around him, our guard just hopped over him and made a successful layup. Another interesting encounter we had was when we were driving towards the basket. There was a backdoor cut so we took it, not knowing one of their speedy guards had already sited us and therefore lunged at us with a very hard foul. Of course our player sailed into the crowd, but the very person who fouled us helped us back up in which he tries to show no hard feelings of some sort. These are some of the cool animations you’ll appreciate in this year’s NBA 2K9.

Graphically, the game is very impressive! The arenas feel much livelier than last year thanks to engaging crowds, cheerful mascots, attentive ball boys and sideline dramas. Character models look a lot closer to their real life counterparts and the lighting effects do an excellent job of delivering the tone of an authentic NBA game. As for game modes, most of them are intact. Association mode has seen a few upgrades, especially in the trades and contracts departments – they have been streamlined to make everything easier. The Blacktop mode is still here and the biggest change to it is that the dunk contest is much simpler and therefore more enjoyable. In the audio front, there are a few tweaks but nothing noteworthy. The announcers do a fine job of calling the play-by-play and analyzing the action. However, they tend to repeat themselves on various occasions. The crowds are loud but they do it at the right ambience. The arena music is alright but the jam session is where the good sounds kick in.

NBA 2K9 comes out of the Xbox 360 arena as the reigning champ, despite stiff competition from EA’s NBA Live 09. It holds more weight in capturing the NBA experience, especially with the inclusion of “living rosters” that provide up-to-the-minute stats. The new revamped gameplay offers a more balanced action on the court and more room to express your skills without getting into foul trouble. Visual Concepts have minimized those sensitive areas that are prone to whistle blowing and therefore it gives casual gamers a chance to be able to appreciate this illustrious sport. There is one downside to NBA 2K9, which is the isomotion scheme that is still somewhat out of place; it might need tweaking next year. Fortunately, the impressive animation more than makes up for it. NBA 2K9 is the most realistic basketball game you’ll find on any other console and the solid audio component all adds to an amazing court-side package. If you want to feel and live NBA as is, then NBA 2K9 is the way to go.