Reviews

NCAA Basketball 10

Jason Cook

Unless you went to a hoops power school or have a relative in the game, why are you playing NCAA 10 over NBA Live 2010?


NCAA Basketball 10

Publisher: EA Sports
Players: 1-4
Price: $59.99
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: 2009-11-18
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Ah, the sports video game. You are a seasonal rite of mediocrity. Yes, every so often you pleasantly surprise (this year’s Madden, last year’s NHL), but more often than not, you are a lesson in How to Make an Easy Buck.

But a sport so pure as college basketball -- where “unpaid” minors play for multi-million dollar salaried coaches and are barred from heading to the pros for at least one year -- must avoid this capitalist cash-grab by turning out a quality sports title, right?

No. But kind of.

NCAA Basketball 10 is a fun game to play. It is just that there isn’t much reason to play it.

The first thing that you’ll notice when you pick up NCAA 10 is that cover boy Blake Griffin (then of Oklahoma, now of the L.A. Clippers) is not in the game. Alas, he went to the pros after playing one season. This has long been a complaint with college sports games: their biggest stars are usually only on the cover after they become top picks. A seemingly minor grievance (seriously, who cares who is on the cover?), but when the turnover for players is so high, it’s tough to live the fantasy of playing as your favorite player or team. It’s just another cog in the fail wheel that is this game.

Why not throw NBA sure thing and college stud (also the reason I played as Kentucky and was interested in this game in the first place) John Wall on the cover? Even if EA didn’t know what team he’d play for, he’s the biggest star in college hoops right now, so throw some nondescript blue or white jersey on him. Or how about a venerable coach, like Coach K of Duke or Roy Williams of UNC? Those guys are more famous and recognizable than the revolving door of NBA minor leaguers anyway.

Cover art rant aside, NCAA 10 also has so few games modes that it’s pretty insulting to charge full price for a game with no player names (come on PG #7!), little replayability (after all, once your favorite PG #7 graduates, why would you want to play an even more faceless roster?), and absolutely nothing innovative at all? The “toughest places to play” feature -- where the screen shakes violently in certain stadiums -- is irritating and not even worth mentioning on the box. “Oooo look, they made it so I get motion sickness while playing against Kansas!”

Modes include: tournament (where you play in the famed 64-team March tourney or the pointless NIT tourney), legacy (where the minutiae available appeals only to serial killers and possibly failed high school hoops coaches, which may or may not be one and the same), and . . . nothing else. I just wanted to play a season as Kentucky with no frills like answering e-mail and recruiting players and creating a coach that looks nothing like me or John Calipari, and I couldn’t. Well I could by skipping all that dumb stuff and just getting to the games.

There isn’t even a practice or tutorial mode (excluding the actually fun loading screen where you just screw around) to teach me the ropes. So, while I read that there is a feature where I can change which side of the rim I lay the ball in, I can’t actually perform it with any consistency. And don’t tell me to read the manual -- I am convinced that it doesn’t exist, and I blame Gamefaqs.com.

The actual act of playing basketball in the game is fun and that may be enough for some. There is a litany of plays to run on the fly that I do not understand. There’s an alley-oop button, which will be pressed far more than is warranted. There are dunks and threes and pretty passes, all the things that make basketball basketball. It’s all very easy to pick up at least for sports game people. The game also has that slick EPSN presentation with all those replays and wipes and transitions that you will skip after you’ve seen them once. Dick Vitale may also be involved.

But one question remains: why the hell aren’t you playing an NBA game? If you like basketball, you’ll know more of the players (they actually have names!), the number of teams is not dizzying to the point of pointlessness, and there are more than two modes. Unless you went to a hoops power school or have a relative in the game, why are you playing NCAA 10 over NBA Live 2010? Really, e-mail and tell me why.

EA has done something right with its sports games, and it appears again here. Weekly updates, which change national team rankings, player injuries, rosters, and other things that are happening in the real world, keep things fresh and again make me question why NCAA 11 should be made.

In a sport filled with as much youthful joy as college basketball, everything about NCAA 10 feels so corporate. The nameless players melt together in a sea of thousands of colleges as robotic fans sway in a way no humans do as each game blends together the more that you play.

X is shoot. A is pass. But where is the “inject life into a soulless game” button?

4

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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