NCAA Basketball 10

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

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?

RATING 4 / 10