ESPN College Hoops
System: X-Box
Publisher: Sega (ESPN Videogames)
Developer: Visual Concepts/Kush Games
Released: November 2003
Genre: Sports (Basketball)
Capabilities: Memory Unit, X-Box Live Online Multiplayer, Communicator Headset, Content Download, Online Scoreboards

Review  Written: June 7, 2004

ESPN College Hoops is the second college basketball game from Sega and company. While last years game brought us the same exciting gameplay from Sega’s NBA line of games, it was combined with an exciting college atmosphere. The 2K4 edition enhances the college pageantry to give it that authentic NCAA feel, and adds in several other new features like the IsoMotion control introduced in ESPN NBA earlier in the year, an enhanced Legacy mode, and the Slam Session mini-games. In the end, it comes up as a legitimate threat against EA’s March Madness franchise.

College Hoops controls a lot like last year’s game in some aspects, but now practically every button on the Xbox controller is utilized. The back button now has a vital function on offense and defense. When you have the ball, a quick press of the back button can be used to call a timeout, this handy option saves the hassle of going through the pause menus to call a timeout in last year’s title. On the defensive side of things the back button is used to have your closest defender to the ball carrier commit an intentional foul in order to stop a fast break, or to send a low-rated free throw shooter to the line while in the penalty of an incredibly close game.

Speaking of free throws, Sega has included its brand spanking new free throw system from ESPN NBA this year. Instead of lining up the two arrows as we have always been doing it in every Sega hoops game since the inaugural NBA 2K on the Dreamcast, we now line up these two aiming brackets with the L & R triggers, and once they are perfectly centered to form an open circle in the middle you have to time a press of the X button so that a rapidly moving dot will stop close to dead center in that open circle of the aiming brackets. In my opinion, this is a much more challenging free throw system than before, and is even more challenging going against a friend as they can wiggle both of their thumbsticks while you’re at the line to vibrate your controller in an attempt of them to throw off your timing.

Besides the new free throw system, Sega also implemented the new IsoMotion contols from this year’s ESPN NBA. IsoMotion is Sega’s answer to EA’s ‘FreeStyle’ control scheme. Now we can do more than just crossover and spin moves, where a flick of the right control stick will have the ball carrier perform a fancy dribble in an attempt to deke out the defender and drive to the paint. Don’t get too carried away showing off though, as there are counters to the IsoMotion on defense too. Each direction of the right analog stick will have the defender perform a different variation of a quick steal attempt, and don’t forget if you’re on the defensive side of things, you can always press the white button to take a charge. I personally found the IsoMotion to work quite well; you just have to know when to use it. Timing it just right against an unaware defender will almost guarantee a drive to the paint, while showing off a bit too much will either result in losing control of the ball, or having it stolen away from you.

Now just because I’m mentioning these big features that Sega has included from ESPN NBA, don’t think that you are going to be playing the same game, but with college teams to choose from instead of professional ones. All the NCAA rules are in effect here, especially the vital ones that differentiate college ball from the NBA. The ones I’m talking about are the closer three point line, lesser amount of team fouls to go into the penalty, five fouls for a foul out instead of the six in the NBA, and more importantly of all, there is no defensive three second in the paint call. The computer AI also seems to put more of an emphasis on college ball where you’ll notice them playing a lot more zone defense, making you really work hard on your post game and your ability to get a dunk or lay up.

The Legacy mode introduced in last year’s game has gotten quite the overhaul. Right off the bat, you’ll notice the new email menus that Sega has introduced in their 2K4 titles this past year. These put a big focus on saving time from going through the plethora of menus to do simple transactions. For example, you might get an email from a high school player wanting an invitation to check out your campus. Instead of toggling through menus to go to the recruiting section and seeing if that player is worthy enough for you to invite to check out your school, you can now automatically jump right to the recruiting screen to get all the information on that particular player. Speaking of recruiting, Full season recruiting is another new feature to the Legacy mode this year where during your regular basketball season you can send one or two of your assistant coaches to scout players, attend their home games and report back to you. You can also attend their own home games and watch what happens to if you so desire. Ultimately, this will help you track your recruits better and help lock them in a scholarship to your college before the other teams pick them up in the off-season.

All the stat-tracking features are in the Legacy mode that you expect too, including Top 25 polls from the Coach’s, ESPN, and the Press. If your players perform too well for college levels, don’t be surprised to see them pack up their bags early and leave for the NBA. To top it all off, there is a trophy room where you can look back at all the trophies your team has garnered over the years.

If all those in-depth features sound a bit too much for you to handle, then there is a standalone Season mode where you can just do one season of play and help lead your team to the NCAA Final Four without all the fuss of worrying about recruiting and whatnot. Other regular modes returning to this year’s game is Exhibition mode where you can hop into a quick game and tweak all the settings and rules to your choosing. Practice mode is also back, and is a great way to perfect the new IsoMotion controls, and Tournament mode makes its return where a total of four players can compete in either a conference tournament of a complete NCAA tournament.

There are a few more new modes being introduced in ESPN College Hoops. One is the Rivalry mode where you can take one of the NCAA teams and pit it up against one of its most hated rivals; prime examples are Duke vs. USC and Army vs. Navy. Then there is the new Gym Rat mode, which is a lot like the Street mode in the Sega’s NBA titles, but the pickup game of basketball takes place in a Gym instead of an outdoor court. The main new mode of play introduced is ESPN Slam Session where you can compete in one of five dunk mini-games that range from who can complete the most dunks in the shortest amount of time to seeing which competitor that can pump up the crowd the most by doing the flashier dunk. This must be College Hoops’ answer to ESPN NBA’s 24/7 mode. While these dunk contests are a fun little diversion, they eventually grow old and repetitive after awhile, and aren’t as addicting and involved as the aforementioned 24/7 mode.

Graphically speaking, College Hoops is just a couple notches under the superb in-game visuals of ESPN NBA, but they still manage to hold their own. They’re about on par with play models in NBA 2K3 That still isn’t a bad thing, as you can make out all the details on players like arm bands, and tattoos. The instant replays still look as amazing as ever, and all the action moves at a fast, fluid, framerate. There are a seemingly limitless amount of animations for all the crossovers, dribbles, dunks, and lay-ups in the game. They look outstanding and will get you wondering if you can pull off some of these near-unbelievable dunks.

The menus and overlays are all ESPN-themed, and there presence in this franchise is double the amount as it was last year. Borrowing a page out of ESPN NFL, Visual Concepts has included dozens upon dozens of cut-scenes of the players, coaches, cheerleaders, mascots, and fans. The players, coaches, and mascots will celebrate with each other after a good play and often get in shouting contests with the refs after a bad call. The fans will cheer on the home team when they’re on a winning run or boo the heck out of them when they’re losing big time. They look fantastic and help a lot on completing the college pageantry in the game.

To really emphasize the ESPN presence this year, fellow ESPN commentators Mike Patrick and Jay Bilas provide the commentary. They actually do a pretty good job overall, as their comments don’t sound as robotic and generic as commentary tends to be in other basketball games. Within a few games I noticed they already started to repeat their comments, but that’s expected out of any sports title and their upbeat tempo complements well with the fast-paced gameplay. There are plenty of other things going on court that complete the college atmosphere, such as fight songs from the band and many different types of chants from the fans. Menu music is consisted of several Sports Center themes that eventually grow old and get very repetitive. Custom soundtracks options or even some licensed music would have helped here, but none of that is to be found.

The Campus Store is College Hoops’ version of an unlock system. First, you achieve points by completing challenges by completing one of many statistical challenges in the game, and then you use them to buy historical teams, pro-court arenas, alternate jerseys, mascot teams, and fantasy courts. You can also check up on your stats or listen to your custom soundtracks while in the Campus Store as well. While it is indeed a nice unlock system, it lacks the flash and the customization of the much cooler Crib feature in ESPN NFL. However, working hard to unlock all those items will take a great deal of time, and the ESPN Slam Session and Gym Rat modes are nice little diversions from the serious gameplay in Legacy mode. Xbox Live online multiplayer is again supported for up to eight players online, and is complete with all the extra goodies you expect like scoreboards, and downloadable roster updates.


Graphics: 8.4
Sound: 8.9
Gameplay: 9.2
Replay Value: 9.0

Overall: 8.8

This game has all that you can want out of a NCAA basketball title such as an in-depth Legacy mode, plenty of unlockable items, a bunch of mini-games, and online play! Sega has always been outperforming EA in the basketball department, and the same now goes for their college basketball games too. If you’re a big fan of college basketball, then you owe it to yourself to get ESPN College Hoops.

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