I wish I was little bit taller, I wish I was a baller... And in some cases never picked at all...
It’s gotta be a little lonely being an outside party to EA Sports’ decadent conglomerate orgy. Imagine being that kid in after-school extracurricular basketball who is always picked second. Despite having trained harder than ever this season, you harbor a hidden acknowledgment that you’ll never be quite as formidable of a baller as the jerk-ass who just made team captain. How do you save face? Maybe if you bring your teammates a bunch of crap unrelated to actually playing basketball like fresh-baked cookies or beer, they’ll love you, err... more?
[image1]Sony Computer Entertainment has consistently published some fairly high-quality sports titles like MLB The Show over the past few years, but none has quite reached the same level of fanatical devotion as EA Sports’ heavy-hitters, or even 2K Sports’ best offerings. NBA 10: The Inside isn’t a horrible B-Ball game by any means. Unfortunately, mere competence just barely cuts it. Despite an updated uniform for 2010 and a Pandora’s Box of extras, The Inside just doesn’t have the hops needed to take it to the finals.
Graphically, we’re talking more Larry Bird than LeBron James. While the frame-rate is fluid and the courts feature specular lighting and reflective surfaces, player and ball handling animations can be gangly or overly stiff, and you’ll continually see the same moves ad nauseum. Understandably, the PSP has its technical limitations, but as the saying goes, variety is the spice of life.
Player models are eerie and mannequin-like at best, varying in degree of resemblance to their real-life counterparts, but not in their robotic zombie-eyed pallor. Some background textures are so blurry as to be nearly indiscernible as to what they’re trying to represent. Most people who play The Inside can probably make out the Official NBA logo on the sidelines, even if it is a nebulous blurry mess, but this sort of treatment is not going to win the game any awards for its presentation. Static cardboard cutout crowds are so 1998; didn’t NBA 2K for the Dreamcast do away with that crap?
Sound design just isn’t as bumpin’ as you would expect from a prime-time NBA title. Licensed music can go either way when it comes to enhancing a game’s authenticity and ambiance, but there is none to be had here at all. The original tracks which are present will likely do little to pump you up or stoke your competitive fires. Sound effects are authentic enough, but not extraordinary. On-the-court commentary isn’t the worst you’ll ever hear, but it typically lacks energy and, like the player animations, tends to repeat a little too frequently.
[image2]A.I. serves a pivotal role in deciding whether or not games like this can go the distance in keeping a player’s interest throughout the season. Unfortunately, both defensive and offensive A.I. are often overly inept. Developers take notice: There might be something wrong with your game design when you’re playing as the Western Conference All-Stars against the Washington Wizards, and your computer-controlled teammates on the offensive stand around passively being guarded like sheep with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Players have some ability to call plays on the fly, but oftentimes these efforts go unheeded and unrewarded. As a rule, defense will stick to your players like flies to shit, except for inexplicable circumstances where gigantic holes open up that allow your ball-handler to rush halfway across the court without resistance. The game isn’t rendered unplayable by these problems, but things certainly feel a bit more “on-rails” than they should.
All of the aforementioned issues strike a serious blow to the gameplay. Real NBA matches are like an intricate improvised dance with spontaneous motion occurring in a give-and-take symphony of fluid competitive action and reaction. If watching real NBA basketball (or just playing a better basketball video game) is like sitting in on a jam-sesh with Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, and Miles Davis, then The Inside is like the average high school jazz band. Everyone is having fun for the most part, but the repetoire of available licks is stale. The core gameplay here really doesn’t feel so much more advanced than 1993’s NBA Jam (not that there is anything wrong with NBA Jam), but serious B-Ball fanatics will probably feel frustrated by the superficiality. The Inside seems like it’s never quite sure whether it wants to be a simulation with arcade elements, or vice-versa, and this identity crisis is debilitating.
On the positive side, the developers attempted to appeal to on-the-go gamers by packing the UMD with a plethora of novelty “carnival” events and a variety of party games for added incentive. From the venerable H.O.R.S.E., to the superfluous but not altogether unwelcome NBA-themed pinball, dodgeball, and Breakout-esque games, there is a fair amount to do and see. Most significant of these unorthodox game-types are a series of scrimmage-based “strategy games” of sorts where teams engage in turn-based battles for supremacy and territorial dominance. Minigame-moguls and obsessive-compulsive completionists will be rewarded for their tireless valour with “carnival tickets”, which can be traded for a variety of unlockables to use on and off the court.
[image3]These are mostly harmless diversions, and considering The Inside’s lack of depth on the hardwood, they provide a decent impetus for extended gaming sessions. Franchise and exhibition modes are present, but are not really presented in a way that will be unfamiliar or unusually compelling to anyone who has spent countless hours over the years playing virtual basketball. Network play is not really an option, being ad-hoc only, so unless you’ve got some PSP-owning friends, don’t expect to enact your hoop dreams outside of the small screen.
It’s obvious that SCE San Diego had to make a decision early on as to whether it would make a convincing effort in developing a worthwhile portable NBA simulation. NBA 10: The Inside is not that game. Instead what we’re presented with is a patchwork, yet not entirely unworkable mishmash of NBA clichés, as spliced with a series of fun but ultimately insubstantial mini-games and fan-service bonuses. Diehard NBA fans will not be entirely disappointed by what this game offers, and could probably do worse as far as portable ballin’ goes. But anyone looking for serious depth, or a true simulation of the sport should look elsewhere. (How about to the PS3 or Xbox360?)
Next year, SCE San Diego should try and rise above its current streak of relative mediocrity by breaking ground with a new niche. I don’t think there has ever been a noteworthy title based on the indigenous Mesomerican game of Tlachtli, and it might be kinda interesting to see what happens when gamers are competing in a ball sport where the losing team members are decapitated. What sorts of mini-games could SCE San Diego come up with in a sport which ends with mass human sacrifice and rolling heads? Think Racquetball + Basketball + Soccer + God of War... See, you're feeling better already.