I'll give it up to the challenge system in Sony's NBA 09 The Inside: it certainly keeps you busy. That said, playing through the challenges in this game is often a lot like the sports gaming equivalent of micromanagement in an RTS game. As a result, it can sometimes be about as much fun as making sure your SCVs are always busy in StarCraft. Let me explain.
For those who don't know what I'm talking about, the challenge system in NBA 09 is found in a couple of different modes. In NBA Replay mode, for example, you're playing in challenges based off of great real-life individual or team performances from actual games during the 2007/08 season. You'll also find challenges in the game's three-tiered story mode, dubbed "The Life" (which makes its very welcome debut in the PlayStation 3 version of the game). Here, you'll need to achieve specific goals based on your position on the floor--dish this many assists as a point guard, for example, or block a certain number of shots at center. In addition to the goals you need to achieve to merely pass a challenge, there are also "extra mile" goals that you can do as well. While the main goals usually involve your team's stars, the extra mile goals often center around your bit players.
It's in that artificial specificity that I have a problem with the challenges in NBA 09. These are timed events, after all, and you only have a few minutes to tick items off a sometimes pretty big checklist. Consider an NBA Replay mode challenge based on the Los Angeles Lakers' 100-92 win over the San Antonio Spurs in game 5 of this year's Western Conference Finals. In the challenge, you're required to score 9 points with the Lakers, outscore your opponent by 7 points overall, and the extra mile goals were to nail a three with Luke Walton and dish an assist from Pau Gasol to Kobe Bryant, all in a span of a couple minutes.
This challenge took me several tries to attempt, mainly because outscoring my opponent by 7 meant shutting the Spurs (and, in particular Tony Parker) down, which was no easy task. However, by my last try, I had it down to rote memorization: Inbound the ball from Pau to Kobe, hit a quick jumper. Next time down, it was time to get Luke his 3-pointer on at the top of the arch. Then it was rain down shots from anywhere and everywhere with Kobe.
By the end of the challenge, this felt less like basketball--where creativity is rewarded more than any other sport--and more like a laundry list. It's a problem that comes with many of the challenges in the game; they too often feel like things you have to do, rather than things you want to do. Too many times, I've passed up wide open lanes to the basket or easy 3's, just because it didn't fit within the relatively rigid structure of the challenge.
I can see the plus-side to NBA 09's challenge system--it definitely keeps you focused, and certainly provide an alternative to your standard five-on-five hoops games that you'll find in NBA Live 09, NBA 2K9, or indeed in NBA 09's main game modes. That said, I wish there was a different way to find success in challenges, without having to micromanage.