Sturdy Framework, Weak Gameplay
SCEA San Diego, in my opinion, makes the premiere video game baseball sim – bar none! Their attention to detail and realism is only surpassed by the quality implementation of gameplay. This isn’t just the case with their console versions either. The PSP has also received quality titles. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the latest entry in their portable basketball franchise: NBA 10: The Inside.
The game’s greatest strength is its sheer amount of content – every basketball mode you could wish for is represented here, and there is a lot of secondary content that suits the handheld format well. Whether you want to take the reins of your favorite franchise, participate in the All-Star Weekend, shoot around for practice, challenge a buddy to a pick-up game through ad-hoc support, or blow through loads of mini-games, NBA 10: The Inside likely has something for you.
Disappointingly, none of it is particularly fun. This is the game’s greatest drawback. Despite being lovingly designed specifically for the PSP, the basketball and even many of the mini-games on offer aren’t very good. This is largely due to the shambolic controls, but poor A.I. and an overall lack of in-game complexity and strategy also due their worst to foil the gameplay experience.
Let’s start in with the basketball, as it is the reason why consumers will purchase the game in the first place. Basketball on the PSP simply isn’t natural. Cramping is a constant issue, the analog nub isn’t accurate enough, beating players off the dribble is almost impossible, rebounding is completely random, shooting is very touchy, defending is haphazard… and on and on. There really is no single aspect of the controls that feels sufficient – I blame most of that on the hardware design (to be fair, we played the game on a PSP – 3000, not a PSPgo). Some semblance of quality is evident in that the devs included modifier buttons to make passing more natural and defensive stances imperative, but it still comes off sloppily. Controls while playing any of the hoops options are simply not good; they have a steep learning curve, making the game frustratingly and unnecessarily difficult. Not only is the game tough to master, but the fast-paced, tactical side of basketball has been totally neglected due to insufficient controls and hardware limitations.
Another huge problem is with the A.I. Defensively, your opponents are brick walls and shot-blocking machines. Trying to get open for good looks at the basket or driving the lane have basically been eliminated. The only way around opposing defenses is to run a slick, quick-passing, triangle offense like the Bulls circa 1995. Unfortunately, teammate A.I. is too stupid to run to good spots on the floor, they never set up screens for pick and rolls, and off-the-ball/backside running is non-existent. What’s more, there is no touch passing to keep the defense on their heels – the game feels extremely slow and deliberate.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the emphasis on post play. I can’t tell you how many times I was thwarted by drive-nullifying post-up animations. It gets really annoying when you’re beating a player off the dribble just to be stopped dead in your tracks by a post-up animation because a center or forward is marginally in your vicinity. As such, the slashing guard simply does not exist in NBA 10: The Inside. I could continue analyzing the pitfalls and inaccuracies of gameplay, but I think it should suffice to say the complexity of the game of basketball is completely lost in translation. The meat of this title simply does not do the sport justice. Thankfully, the mini-games presented are diverse and many in number, although they’re only slightly more enjoyable.
The Block Party menu entry gives players access to Pinball, Quests, Team Games, Solo Games, and Carnival games. As you might expect, everything is basketball-themed. If you picked up this title last year, you know what to expect, as only two new mini-game offerings – Open Lanes and Cherry Pickin’ – have been added this year. For everyone else, know that you’ll be able to play traditional and non-traditional mini-games.
While the traditional basketball minis (HORSE, Elimination, Give&Go) suffer due to the poor controls, games such as Pinball, Open Lanes, Hot Shot, and Cherry Pickin’ are decent fun. Pinball is self-explanatory, Open Lanes is classic, ten-pin bowling, Hot Shot is Skee-Ball, and Cherry Pickin’ is a Puzzle Bubble clone – these are the cream of the crop and should provide you with a couple hours of fun. In fact, it is likely that the mini-games offered through Block Party will get more playtime than the basketball portions of the title, as they are mostly well-implemented and are a natural fit for the handheld. However, that’s not to say that they save the game from itself.
Graphically, the game is competent at best. Though it runs at 60 fps and the floors look shiny and accurate, the players’ likenesses are quite poor, the animations are stiff and slow, and camera angles shift wildly. Aurally, the announcing duo of Kenny Smith and Ian Eagle doesn’t fair much better (suffering from serious repetition), and the ambient on-court sounds and stadium effects are sorely lacking. Perception of the quality of the music during menus is purely subjective, but it certainly failed to impress me.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that I didn’t enjoy my time with this game at all. In the end, the game of basketball on offer in NBA 10: The Inside for the PSP simply isn’t the complex, free-flowing sport it should be. Still, I am quite sure the game would be very good if brought to the PS3 and PS2, because it wouldn’t be bastardized by system limitations and punishingly wonky controls. Alas, NBA 10: The Inside is strictly a PSP release. If you’re a basketball fanatic that simply must have hoops on the go, this may in fact be the best title you’re going to get considering the SCEA San Diego pedigree; however, don’t expect to play it outside of short stints in the subway or while stuck in a public bathroom stall with no sports section.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The visuals are competently rendered but that’s about all. 1.5 Control
Overly simplistic yet somehow difficult to learn. Controls essentially sap all the fun out of the basketball side of the game. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Commentary is repetitive. Stadium sounds and on-court effects are lacking. The music may suit you, but it failed to impress me. 2.5 Play Value
There is a TON of content shoehorned into this little UMD. Unfortunately, you soon get the feeling that all of the extras are there to cover up the poor basketball experience. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.