College basketball is another example of a sport that’s lost a lot of zip over the years. It basically boils down now to the NCAA Tournament and Everything Else. The best players don’t tend to stay in college for more than one year, and that’s only because the NBA mandates it now. Teams play musical chairs with which conference they’re in, so traditional rivalries have been borked all to hell. Teams have had entire seasons and tournament runs wiped away because of things that happened 20 years ago. It’s a mess, but at the end of the day, the rim is still ten feet up and two points is still two points. As for college basketball games, they tend to be few and far between. Ironically enough, one of the best ones is the one we’re taking a look at today…made over two decades ago. It’s proof that the basics can get the job done, NCAA Basketball for Super Nintendo.
NCAA Basketball features a selection of teams from five of the biggest conferences: The ACC, SEC, Big 8, Big East, and Southwestern Conference. To let you know how old this game is, three of those conferences don’t exist anymore, and none of them still have the same membership from ’92. The Big Ten is also excluded altogether, so you can’t pick Indiana and scream at your players like Bobby Knight, sadly, but there are still many of the big-ticket schools available: Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Syracuse, Georgetown, Maryland, and a list of others, so you should be able to find a team you don’t hate.
Also, needless to say, the real players aren’t in the game, but they at least gave the players actual names instead of the current standard of names like “PG #12”. You can pick a 1 or 2 player exhibition, or go through the rigors of an entire season, which forces you to play an entire season with 12-minute halves. If you win the NCAA Tournament, you can then start right from the first round of the tourney or the Final Four, which helps considerably because a full season is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 games. You can also save during a game, which also helps make the season a bit less of a drag.
When you get into the actual game, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the setting. There’s no crowd or arena to speak of. You’re basically playing on a basketball court surrounded by a blue purgatory, or, as me and a few others liked to call it, Basketball Hell. Now, all jokes aside, this was probably done to facilitate the Mode 7 effect, which I don’t quite understand and won’t even attempt to explain here, but it’s basically the reason the game looks the way it does, and works rather well. Players are basically faceless sprites that run and move stiffly, but again, this was 1992, and the developers were trying some new things here, so I’m not going to just bag on them for it. Sound isn’t bad; the crowd gets amped at the right moments, the referee’s whistle actually sounds like a whistle instead of a beep, and the PA announcer imitates the rather robotic sound an early-’90s loudspeaker would make. And the swish of a perfect three-pointer from the corner is a nice little flourish.
On offense, A passes and B shoots. That’s really all you have to know. L and R change your current play or check which play you’re supposed to be running, but the closest thing you’ll have to a complex maneuver is choosing which dunk you want to attempt with the control pad. If you pass, it will go to the player with their position and a shape over their head, so you may have to turn around or change position to pass to someone other than who the game picked by default, but, in another helpful touch, the icon will change color depending on how safe a pass is; green means you’ll get it there no problem, red means it’ll probably get stolen along the way. Your teammates do a pretty decent job of doing what they’re supposed to do within the current play, but they don’t have any room to improvise, so there’ll be no telekinetic passes for easy buckets because a teammate saw an opening and cut to the hoop. Also, you’ll probably have a bitch of a time going around defenders yourself, as you have a weird habit of getting stuck on them, and the referees can and will call you for charging while you attempt to unstick yourself. Free throws are also pretty simple, an arrow moves back and forth over the basket and you press shoot when it’s in the middle.
Defense works on pretty much the same principle. A switches players, B tries to block a shot, and X attempts a steal…although there’s no steal animation, so you’ll press X and either do nothing, steal the ball, make a slapping sound, or make a slapping sound and get called for the foul. It should be noted that you can actually have enough players foul out to forfeit the game, but you REALLY have to try for that to happen, as the refs are pretty good about swallowing the whistle unless you’re pretty much blitzing the steal button. Your teammates are a little sharper on defense than on offense; they tend to understand where zones overlap and how to stay on their man fairly well,but again, most of the onus is on you.
NCAA looks and plays like something you would come up with in a basic programming class today, and yeah, it’s easy to make fun of the giant endless blue swath and the primitive look, but it handles the fundamentals of basketball superbly and is entertaining, and remember, this was leaps and bounds better than the Double Dribbles of the world we were seeing, despite being damn near ancient by gaming standards. It’s nothing terribly flashy, but it was probably the best college hoops game for a decade, and certainly worth a play for any roundball junkie.
Does everything you want a basketball game to do, AI actually has an idea of what it’s doing, groundbreaking for its time.
Still short a few teams, and less emphasis on creation and making plays than on textbook execution.