As a gamer and a sports fan, I love this time of year. The holiday gaming season is in full swing, football is everywhere, the NHL is back, and the NBA is nearly underway. In fact, I just watch some preseason NBA earlier tonight. As a fan of NBA hoops and games, each year at this time I'm taking in the newest versions of the three annual NBA titles that include NBA 2K from 2K Sports, NBA Live from EA Sports, and NBA from the San Diego Studios of SCEA. Up first this year for me is NBA 10: The Inside from Sony. Unlike recent years, NBA 10 is only available on the PSP this year as opposed to also including the PS2 and PS3. However like previous years, NBA 10 is much more than just an NBA sim. It's chock full of great alternate modes that are very likely to capture more of your time than the actual NBA sim itself.
What's New This Year?
With annual sports games, you've always gotta know -- what's new this year? Well, NBA 10: The Inside isn't a revolution from NBA 09 as much as it is an evolution. New this year are three new quest modes: DodgeQuest, Give&GoQuest, and MiniQuest, which I'll breakdown later. Two new mini-games are here as well: Cherry Pickin' and Open Lanes. And, compimenting some minor AI tweaks, commentary from Ian Eagle and Kenny Smith has been polished and expanded to provide a more realistic and fluid experience.
Select Your Mode
Whether you are looking for a quick mini-game fix, a franchise mode, or want to explore the Conquest modes, NBA 10: The Inside does a great job of offering something for every style of play. From the main menu, players can choose between several options, but the primary two are NBA and Block Party. Under NBA lies Exhibition, Practice, Franchise, Playoffs, and All Star Weekend modes. Most of these modes are self-explanatory, but the Exhibition mode includes both single matches and tournament ladders. The tournament ladders are a great way to get a few games of practice in while still working towards a goal (winning the tournament). It's a little more rewarding than just playing single exhibition games, and by playing through the ladder, you can earn Tickets that go towards unlocking goodies in the Prizes menu. Prizes include historical jerseys and alternate court designs. Ladders can be saved and restored too, so there's no pressure to play through an entire tournament in one sitting.
The Franchise mode is actually pretty deep, giving players the ability to play through multiple seasons while acting as player, coach, and manager. Trades, drafts, money management, and all that good stuff is part of this Franchise mode that is frankly much deeper than you might expect for a portable title. Naturally, Franchises can be saved, as can your Playoffs Mode game. In Playoffs mode, you can seed the brackets with present day teams and then work your way through to the championship, with team and player stats being monitored all the way. For an extra challenge or surprise, a Randomize option is included.
The Practice Mode is all about improving offensive skill, although other modes and mini-games of play help with defense. In Practice, your selected team puts its five starters on the floor and you're literally part of a Shoot Around. You have the option to switch between players by passing the ball to them. When you're ready to practice free throws, just press Select. Whatever player you were controlling will be at the line for practice shots.
All Star Weekend lets players participate in a few activities including an exhibition game between the East and West All-Stars. Even better is the NBA Skills Competition which has four NBA players running through a dribbling, passing, and shooting course in a race against the clock. This is a really great mode because it's fast, challenging, and just a lot of fun, perfect for an NBA fix on the go. I've also spent a lot of time engaged in tournament ladders against the CPU in the 3 Point Shootout. As with the Skills Competition, what makes this mode so rewarding on the PSP is that it loads fast, is challenging, and is just a lot of fun. As with the other tournament ladders, players can save their progress in between games or events.
All of these modes are nicely done and I'm happy to see them included once again this year, but the best part about the NBA series has always been the creative or alternate modes and mini-games that you just don't see in other NBA titles.
Block Party - Carnival Games
Just including the NBA modes discussed above would have made for a straight-forward NBA title, but over the years the developers at the San Diego Studios have made the entire product better by including a variety of more creative modes. You'll find this collection of modes and mini-games under the Block Party entry of the Main Menu. You've got five choices under Block Party: Carnival, Pinball, Quests, Team Games, and Solo Games.
From Carnival, you can choose between Open Lanes, Cherry Pickin', Block A Shot, Shootin' Bricks, Hot Shot!, Big Shooter, and Alley Oop. Open Lanes is actually a bowling game. The game is played with the PSP rotated vertically to create the illusion of a long bowling alley. After tweaking your aim, simply use the Right Trigger to fire off the ball. A bowling game seems out of place in an NBA game, but after having spent some time with it, it's fun, what can I say.
Cherry Pickin' is like Asteroids meets Tetris. Here, players aim and fire team logo icons towards an oncoming wave of other team logo icons. The idea is to match up team logos and prevent the oncoming flood of logos from getting across the screen. This is yet another fairly addictive little game. Block A Shot is like Whack-A-Mole. You control motions with the d-pad and face buttons, and the idea is to press two buttons simultaneously to touch basketballs that pop up out of a whack-a-mole-style table. The challenge increases quickly when whistles begin to pop up from the table in addition to the basketballs. Touching one of the whistles results in a foul, and three fouls is enough to end the game. High speed and accuracy are required in this fun and tough mini-game.
Shootin' Bricks is a brick breaking game in which players bounce a ball repeatedly back into the field of play. The idea is to smash through a variety of blocks to clear a stage, with powerups available, too. Hot Shot! puts a random NBA player in front of a mini-basketball goal setup. I'm not sure what they're called, but I'm sure you've seen the setup where there is a goal about ten feet from where you step up and shoot slam balls at the goal. A net and a hammock surround the goal so that the balls roll back towards you. Anyway, in Hot Shots!, the idea is exactly the same except the goal moves back and forth on you (albeit slowly) and you're tasked with adjusting the power behind your shot accordingly.
Big Shooter is based off Skee-Ball. You have to judge the amount of power to put behind a small ball that you toss out into the field of play. The ball rolls down and then up a ramp, and the idea is to get the ball to go up just enough to come back down inside of a mini-hoop. I enjoyed this more than Hot Shots!, which is comparable.
And finally for the Carnival games is Alley Oop, which is kind of a strategic bowling game. Once again the PSP is held vertically and the d-pad or analog stick is used to adjust the aim while the Right Trigger is used to input your desired level of power. Instead of going for a strike at the end of the alley, you are instead trying to hit certain markers and avoid others for points.
Block Party - Pinball & Solo Games
The Pinball mode includes seven different themed pinball machines. These include Classic, Away Game, From Downtown, Skills Challenge, Court Dreams, B Ball Bot, and Dunk Contest. The flippers and appearance of these boards differs a lot and the variety is pretty intriguing, check the included screenshots to see a few of these tables. Pinball fanatics will enjoy this, but otherwise it isn't terribly appealing.
As for Solo Games, players will find three more mini-games. These include Bang the Boards, Horse, and Own the Court. Horse mode supports both single match and tournament ladder, and it's my favorite of the Solo Games. When selected, you first choose two NBA players (one for yourself, one for the CPU). To get the shot you want, the d-pad is used to select between jumper, bank shot, hook shot, and lay up. Then, it's up to you to figure out how you want to pull off the shot, be it an easy lay up or an "impossible" turnaround bank shot three. Once a player makes a shot and it's up to the other player to match it, a marker is shown on court to indicate where the 'challenging' player must shoot from.
In Bang the Boards, two players are chosen again and then you set a bid. The bid represents how many rebounds you think you will get. You and the CPU battle for rebounds created from two shots that come flying in at different angles off screen. Some of these shots score, so no rebound is to be had, but most will bounce off and it's up to you to quickly rebound and shoot. Each ball only lasts a few seconds before it disappears so you have to move quickly. This is another fun and frantic little game that supports single match and ladders.
Finally, Own the Court is a cool mini-game where up to three NBA players can participate at once. The goal is to score as many times as possible in a short amount of time. Several different court layouts are included that greatly alter the official NBA lines for scoring, making it all the more interesting. Player shots are worth 1, 2, and 3 points, and you don't have to get your own ball on a rebound -- you can get whatever ball is closest to you which adds to the frenzy.
Block Party - Team Games & Quests
Team Games include Dodgeball, Fast Break, Elimination, Give & Go, and Pickup Game. Dodgeball is just like you would expect given the name, although it also includes powerups, unlike elementary school. Fast Break challenges players to deal with two on three and three on two situations in the half court. It's not only fun, but also a good tool for practicing this scenario in a real game. Elimination requires that you perform certain moves with your own players to eliminate them from the game, with the winning criteria being to eliminate all of your players. Give & Go is another practice type mode where your score is multiplied the more times that you pass before shooting. Finally, pickup game lets you put together your own team of NBA stars to compete against other teams.
The Quests branch includes Conquest, Elimiquest, Give&GoQuest, DodgeQuest, and MiniQuest. These modes are much longer than the mini-games as it plays out like a long and tough tournament. Players must lead their team across the United States, taking over city after city by attacking and defending other teams. Conquest is the most straight-forward form of this mode. Elimiquest alters Conquest by instituting a rule that scoring six points eliminates one of your players. If you eliminate four players, you have won the game. There are a variety of other rules too that are explained to you before you begin. These aren't rules like NBA rules; for example, if you dunk on a player, that player is temporarily dazed until his team scores again. While dazed, the player moves slower, giving the team with the dunk a slight advantage.
The Give & Go mode is similar, but is a more pass and steal driven gameplay experience. DodgeQuest expands upon the Dodgeball mode by turning it into a Conquest style of game, while MiniQuest mixes Dodgeball, Elimination, Give & Go, and Conquest. The new modes aren't terribly interesting, but they're a welcome addition.
Gameplay & Presentation
So there obviously a whole lot of modes and mini-games in NBA 10 to spend your time on. As with last year, I've spent far more time with these alternate modes and mini-games than the traditional modes of exhibition and franchise. It's not because the core basketball game is bad, it just isn't as satisfying as the other options in NBA 10. Additionally, for my true simulation experience, I turn to a console release rather than a PSP one. Ultimately, the gameplay of NBA 10 from a 5-on-5 NBA perspective is mostly solid, and errs just slightly more towards a fast paced, almost arcade feel than a deliberate and hardcore sim. On that note, all 32 NBA teams are included, as well as both All-Star teams. NBA fouls and rules are of course in place, although NBA 10 just plays a little looser than other sims. Also, there are no user controlled replays, still, which is pretty annoying because I love watching a really great play over a few times. I have dozens of saved replays on my PS3 from NBA 2K9 that I enjoy reliving from time to time, but the NBA series does not, and never has, offered that.
As far as control, the best part about the NBA series is its shooting mechanic. Players shoot with Circle. As soon as Circle is pressed, a circle appears around the ball to indicate, almost completely accurately, how well the ball is shot. The colored circle goes from Red to Yellow to Green to indicate how good the shot is. Movement is done with the left stick, with dedicated face buttons for jumping, stealing, passing, switching players, and switching defensive posture. You can adjust your defensive stance from wide to tall (i.e., where the hands are placed) with the tap of a button which is cool.
Visually, NBA 10 doesn't look any different from what I remember last year. That's good in the sense the frame rate is silky smooth and the animations are varied and cool, but it doesn't really impress otherwise. As for audio, the team of Ian Eagle and Kenny Smith are sounding better with each year and they do a fine job here. Effects and soundtrack are fine, no major issues there.
And with that, let's get to the summary...