Game Review: NCAA Basketball 10

December 11, 2009

After revamping the once dominant March Madness franchise with last year's inaugural edition of NCAA Basketball, EA Sports is once again taking college hoops fans back to the hardwood for its second season on campus. With a focus on atmosphere and fundamentals, NCAA Basketball 10 seeks to deliver the most authentic college basketball videogame yet. But are broadcast-quality presentation, new offensive play sets, and minor gameplay enhancements enough to save it from the dreaded sophomore slump?
As fans of college basketball know, there are certain aspects of the NCAA hoops experience that help differentiate it from other forms of the game. These aspects are at the heart of NCAA Basketball 10, as a focus on motion offense, proper recruiting, and presentation step into the spotlight. Of course, the dynasty mode is where you'll see most of this play out, and after you select from a rather miniscule list of customization features to create your coach, you're off to embark on a career spanning up to 30 years. Nothing is really new here, but the revamped focus on executing the proper motion offense on the court will certainly factor into your decisions off of it. Recruiting the proper players to help run the motion offense you're most comfortable with becomes a rewarding task.

Of course, if you're more run and gun, you can quickly jump into a game between two bitter rivals, join or create a tournament with friends, or head online to square off against personal rivals of your own. This year, the game's toughest places to play feature highlights the 20 most intimidating venues in college basketball as selected by the fans, and the all-new dynamic update hub promises to pull stats straight from each Monday to parallel the real life NCAA season. Last year's tempo meter and coaching feedback systems are back, but have been refined to more effectively guides players, rather than punishing them for not constantly following a predetermined flow on the court.


Factor in the unprecedented dual presentation from ESPN and CBS--a first for any sports video game--and you can tell that the team behind NCAA Basketball 10 was determined to deliver quality instead of quantity. Sure, the modes are mostly of the repeat variety, but college hoops fans will appreciate the authentic experience.

While those fresh off of EA's NBA Live 10 might feel a sense of deja vu, NCAA Basketball 10's flow is pretty different than its professional counterpart. Unlike the NBA, college basketball relies less on flash and more on tactics. With about 10 different motion offenses to select from, NCAA attempts to replicate this style of play while also making complicated offensive sets accessible to players unwilling to master the nuances of a particular motion set. Finding the proper offensive set to compliment the abilities of your roster can be a bit of a challenge, but doing so helps you appreciate what really makes NCAA 10's take on basketball distinctive.

On the court, the analog juke moves are simplistic but rewarding, the icon and direct passing mechanics provide flexibility on offense, and shooting the rock feels accurate from all points. The controls in general are simplistic, but a lack of responsiveness coupled with less-than-impressive AI will frustrate you at times. Teammates over-pursuing on defense, making wide cuts along the baseline, or just plain stepping out of bounds will disrupt the most crucial element of any motion offense: timing. Players will also move without the ball rather slowly, making some swing passes as slow as molasses and circumventing your ability to capitalize on an opponent who has stepped out of position or failed to close on defense. Once it's your turn to defend, the same issues arise, with slow steal attempts and lazy rotations leaving the opposing offense wide open way too often.


Online, the game carries itself as you would expect, and tosses in a few nice touches to keep things interesting. The ability to locate various matches based on skill level, determine your own keys to the game, and develop personal rivalries help extend the atmosphere and keep you coming back for more. Hardcore college hoops fans will certainly become addicted.

The gameplay in NCAA Basketball 10 is all about execution. If you run your most effective offense, capitalize on mismatches, push the ball whenever possible, and stay away from careless turnovers, you'll be rewarded with an intelligent hoops experience that's only hampered by a few nagging flaws.

Since 1982, CBS has been the home of the annual NCAA basketball tournament each March, but with over 500 games broadcasted each year, ESPN is no slouch when it comes to college hoops. For the first time, EA is implementing both presentation styles complete with authentic graphics packages and commentary that you can choose between or set to random. Anyone who has ever tuned into a game on either station will instantly recognize the signature theme songs and overlays. Replay montages depict the story of the game throughout, and even the menus exude the feel of authenticity. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery deliver the call on the CBS side of things, while the returning team of Dick Vitale, Brad Nessler, and Erin Andrews report on the action from the ESPN perspective.


The commentary from both presentation packages is laughably bad at times, though. Dick Vitale brings his trademark energy and enthusiasm, but inaccuracies, out of place commentary, and a text book's worth of generic one-liners make the ESPN package feel repetitive. Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery can get repetitive too, but the overall presentation on the CBS side of things is more engaging as a whole.

Beyond the broadcast booth, players are about as detailed as you would expect from an NCAA game, although stiff animations, awkward transitions, and the glued-on hair look have got to go. Crowds are robotic but energetic, almost to a fault, and the game's mascots and cheerleaders heighten the atmosphere while sometimes providing some laughable moments of their own. And speaking of atmosphere, arenas will shake, rattle, and roll when teams go on scoring runs, and the camera pulls back to capture the raucous nature of college hoops with rather impressive results. This is a nice touch that heightens the atmospheric nature of the game and amplifies the focus on the toughest places to play in college basketball.

NCAA Basketball 10 improves on last year's title in nearly every way, tapping directly into the heart of what college hoops fans love. If you're already hooping it up with NBA Live, though, the sparse feature-set makes it hard to justify the additional purchase, unless you're a diehard fan of NCAA basketball, or particularly love to run a motion offense.

Reviewed on Microsoft Xbox 360.

Source: EA