Sony’s recent basketball titles have been largely ignored by hoops fans, partially because of the consistent excellence of 2K’s games and the increasing quality of EA’s NBA Live series. Sadly, it’s also partially because Sony’s games haven’t been very good. This year’s offering for the PSP, NBA 10 The Inside, seems to recognize its on-court weakness, and supplements its inferior gameplay with a huge array of game modes and mini-games. Believe it or not, for the most part, it works.
Eschewing the simulation style that EA and 2K strive for, The Inside favors a faster-paced game that’s light on strategy, instead focusing on run-and-gun full court basketball. The controls and core gameplay remain unchanged from last year’s effort, which should be viewed as a negative considering its lack of responsiveness and over-the-top animations. These problems persist in this year’s iteration, leading to far too many juke and spin moves that send ball handlers hurtling wildly out of bounds. Most animations, in fact, take far too long to complete, leading to a less than fluid experience. Ball physics issues are preset, as well; short passes can frequently break the game’s physics system, sending the ball rocketing into the rafters for no particular reason.
Player AI is generally satisfactory, except lat in games when computer opponents will take advantage of the game’s significant catch-up AI. If a computer opponent is down late in a game, they will usually start nailing difficult 3-pointers and well-defended field goals with alarming regularity. Likewise, the computer will abuse the intentional foul, bringing games to a grinding halt. Computer exploits like these are extremely frustrating, especially in a game that isn’t really a simulation.
NBA 10 The Inside’s shortcomings on the court are somewhat mitigated by the sheer number of game modes the game offers. For example, as a single player playing standard NBA basketball, there’s a one-off Quick Play Mode, a standard Exhibition Mode, an exhibition Ladder mode, pitting players against a series of challengers in exhibition games, Franchise Mode, Playoff Mode, Practice Mode, and an All-Star Weekend that includes the All-Star Game, the 3-Point Shootout, and the All-Star Skills Challenge.
Digging a little deeper, players will find a ton of street ball games, like Fast Break, Elimination, Give & Go, HORSE, an updated and extremely addicting version of the Conquest Mode found introduced last year, and yes, even Dodgeball. The standout here is Conquest Mode, which tasks players with conquering a Risk-like map of the NBA in games of 5-on-5 street ball. Defending against teams allows you to take one of their players, and a successful attack lets you take the whole team and their spot on the map. With a relatively full-featured training system, and a surprising amount of strategic depth, this is easily the game’s best mode. Sadly, online play supports Ad-Hoc mode only, meaning you’ll need a nearby friend with a PSP and a copy of the game to utilize it.
Off the court, NBA 10 The Inside offers plenty of distractions that are perfectly suited to the handheld console. NBA-themed versions of skee ball, bowling, Snood, Arkanoid, and pinball, among others, make appearances, and while none of them are terribly innovative, they’re all functional and surprisingly fun and challenging diversions that are just about perfect for quick play sessions.
The controls aren’t the only aspect of the game to receive virtually no upgrade; visually, this game is almost identical to its predecessor. Character models are just okay, and animations, while usually smooth and fluid, suffer from being far too long and uninterruptible. To its credit, the game runs at a rock-solid 60 frames per second, and never experiences any slowdown. Overall, though, it’s just an average looking PSP game. NBA 10 the Inside’s audio presentation is similarly unremarkable, with satisfactory court sounds and an announcing team that neither shines nor annoys.
Somehow, despite its inferior on-court gameplay, NBA 10 the Inside manages to present a worthwhile package. It’s strange to think that a game with lackluster core game mechanics can make up for it with its variety of gameplay modes, most of which rely on those same core mechanics, but that’s exactly the case here. The hoops action isn’t great, but somehow, by throwing enough of it at us, Sony has made it much more palatable, and the mini-games, while seemingly ill-befitting a basketball game, are quick and fun enough to make the game worth a look. Hardcore hoops fans might balk at the loose gameplay, and look to EA or 2K for their portable hoops fix, but lets face it; they shouldn’t be bothering with handheld versions anyway. For everyone else, NBA 10 The Inside represents a surprising amount of fun, despite its obvious shortcomings.