Wayback Wednesday: College Hoops 2K7 Retrospective

This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at College Hoops 2K7 on PlayStation 3.

Finally getting my hands on the college games from Visual Concepts has been just as rewarding as adding EA Sports’ NCAA titles to my collection, but playing them has been a slightly different experience. While there’s still the novelty of finally getting to play games that I wasn’t able to import for so long, I don’t have the same history with NBA 2K7 as I do with NBA Live 07. If nothing else, it isn’t as jarring to see NCAA branding in a menu that I associate with an NBA game that I’m far more familiar with, and played more extensively when it was new.

I do own NBA 2K7 though and have spent time with it, so I am aware of what 2K’s basketball games were like at the time, and thus can make comparisons with College Hoops 2K7. Needless to say, it’s interesting to compare the College Hoops games to its contemporaries in the March Madness series as well, especially since the latter utilised technology from a very rough era in NBA Live’s history, and 2K has usually taken a different approach to certain core features and mechanics. With that being said, let’s take a look back…way back…

A key difference between College Hoops 2K7 and EA’s NCAA games that I noticed right away was being prompted to generate names or use player numbers upon firing up the game for the first time. EA’s games provided a roster of players using numbers as names, with an auto-generate option for names in the roster management menu. The newly generated roster in College Hoops 2K7 didn’t auto-save as in EA’s games, so if you didn’t want to be prompted to generate the roster every time, you needed to manually save it. Resetting the roster brought up the name/number generation options again. It’s a bit weird when you’re used to the other way, but it’s just as functional.

UCLA vs Arizona in College Hoops 2K7

The main menu/Quick Game screen was aiming for immersion and excitement as you found yourself sitting at a coach’s desk, which shook at the sound of a raucous college crowd as the camera panned down to a notebook that served as the team selection interface. It was very similar to NBA 2K7’s menu, which zoomed through the streets of a city and ended up at two skyscrapers with the team logos being projected onto their sides. It was a cool effect in both games, but it played every time you returned to the main menu, which got old after a little while. There was also a short cutscene with the coach after entering a Quick Game, and that was likewise rather repetitive.

Commentary was provided by Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery, and although there wasn’t any NCAA on CBS branding, it brought authenticity to the presentation. Bonnie Bernstein was also present as the sideline reporter, and Verne and Bill throw it to a virtual Greg Gumbel in the studio post-game. Greg was also joined by Clark Kellogg in Legacy mode, where they hosted season previews and weekly recaps. The commentary could be somewhat dry in places, but it was a limitation of the era more than anything else. Although the visuals are clearly dated now, they were extremely impressive for 2006, replicating a CBS broadcast under the 2K Sports branding.

My familiarity with the 2K style of controls and gameplay over the past decade has made it easier to go back and play older titles from Visual Concepts, allowing me to have a greater appreciation for College Hoops 2K7 than I perhaps would have when it was released. Comparing it to NCAA March Madness 08, it was definitely lighter on the sticks, albeit with less impressive foot planting. It had its own quirks with player movement as players would sometimes float, slide, and snap into place. It did have superior animations compared to EA’s game, though there were issues with players clipping through the bottom of the hoop on dunks. It is a 2006 release, after all.

North Carolina vs Duke in College Hoops 2K7

Of course, when it comes to dribbling mechanics, EA’s college games left College Hoops 2K7 in the dust, just as NBA Live traditionally had better dribbling controls than NBA 2K. Between the buttons and the Aggressive modifier (which also served as Sprint), there was some measure of control over the moves, but as with NBA 2K titles of that vintage, I’m left wishing I had right stick dribbling controls. Driving felt clunky without the explosiveness of Freestyle and Quick Strike Ballhandling, and it didn’t help that the CPU seemed to be a couple of steps quicker and adept at sticking to their man like glue. It’s dated, but at the same time, I’ve found it fairly enjoyable.

The jump ball mini-game present in NBA 2K6 and NBA 2K7 was also utilised in College Hoops 2K7. Rather than pressing the jump button or moving the right analog stick at a precise moment, the goal was to mash the shoot button to move an indicator towards your side of the meter. It’s actually not a bad mechanic, and arguably more precise than the traditional method that most games use. While dribbling controls left something to be desired, the early version of the Shot Stick provided greater control over dunks and other shots in the paint. Again, being more familiar with 2K’s controls these days, I’m able to appreciate its depth more than I would have back in 2006.

I highly recommend using the Shot Stick for free throws. The motion-based method of tilting the controller back and then forward to simulate a shooting motion was, in my opinion, awful (it’s also not possible with third party controllers). A lot of games were experimenting with similar concepts around this time, with the down-up right stick method in NBA Live and NCAA March Madness being another example. There was merit in trying to evolve beyond the T-Meter and similar mechanics, but most of the attempts felt clunky and imprecise. The tilt free throw shooting in College Hoops 2K and NBA 2K during that era was no exception, and arguably the worst of them all.

Florida vs Kentucky in College Hoops 2K7

Another minor criticism I have of College Hoops 2K7 is that there wasn’t much to differentiate it from NBA 2K7 from a mechanical standpoint. EA’s college games did a little more to try to stand apart from NBA Live with the Intensity mechanics, Game Tempo, and an emphasis on the motion offenses that were a staple of the NCAA style of play at the time. College Hoops 2K7 didn’t really innovate in that sense, but it still played a good game of college basketball. The pace was right, there were more full court presses, and it obviously used college rules. It was more of a re-skinned NBA game compared to EA’s titles, but nevertheless holds up better than some of them.

From a visual standpoint, College Hoops 2K7 was more than acceptable for the time, but its fictional faces weren’t on par with March Madness. One of the main problems in that regard was the big heads, which were not in proportion with the body models. As much as I dislike the word “cartoonish” due to its snarky vagueness and general overuse, it wouldn’t be out of place describing the size of the heads in College Hoops 2K7. There were also weird glitches with the tops of jerseys disappearing and players sliding across the floor in a stationary pose, on top of the aforementioned clipping up and through the rim on dunks under the basket. It’s the way it goes with older tech.

In addition to exhibition play, College Hoops 2K7 featured a variety of game modes. Practice was available as usual, and a Rivalry mode allowed you to quickly set up exhibition games against a team’s perennial rivals. Given the number of teams that are included in college basketball games, a mode like that is a good idea. There was also the Pontiac Tournament mode, which not only encompassed the NCAA Tournament, but could also be used to play conference tournaments, or a custom tournament. The College Hoops Classic represented the event now known as the Empire Classic (then a 16-team tournament involving Division I schools), which benefits charitable causes.

Selecting Team in Legacy (College Hoops 2K7)

Coach Mode was also present for gamers who preferred to assume the role of coach and direct the action from the sidelines. The flagship mode of College Hoops 2K7 was Legacy, its franchise mode and equivalent of Dynasty in March Madness. There were two different options for Legacy: Career and Open. Career placed you in the shoes of a customisable coach, with a limited number of lower profile schools to choose from. Here your goal was to establish yourself as winning coach and earn opportunities to assume control of a high profile school. The Open option offered a traditional franchise experience, in which you could choose any school you wanted.

Similar to Dynasty in March Madness, Legacy mode could be customised with various options such as whether or not players left early or could transfer, toggling injuries on and off, and custom conferences and schedules. Up to four users could take part in a Legacy game as well, whereas Dynasty was a single player mode. Whether you selected the Career or Open option, your head coach was assigned attributes in the areas of Offense, Defense, Teaching, Scouting, Charisma, and Discipline. A real coach such as Roy Williams naturally had much higher default attributes compared to the “Career” coach, who had to be upgraded over time.

After assigning attribute upgrades (incidentally, Roy Williams could immediately be maxed out with A+ in every category with his six initial upgrade points), you needed to select two assistant coaches that were also rated in the aforementioned categories. With your staff set and any customisations to the conferences and schedule in place, you were taken to the Calendar screen which displayed upcoming events and games. Events included a season kickoff scrimmage, a cut-off date for finalising your roster, and of course, scheduled games. Roster management options included changing lineups, cutting players, meeting with them to deliver a pep talk, and renaming them.

Recruiting in College Hoops 2K7

Recruiting players in College Hoop 2K7’s Legacy mode was a similar process to Dynasty in March Madness. Specific players could be targeted, allowing you to better keep track of the prospects you were most interested in, as well as the players that were most interested in coming to your chosen school. There were different recruiting tasks including phoning and emailing recruits, visiting them at home, and scouting their games. Each task cost a number of Recruit Points, and could be assigned to either the head coach or their assistants. The Charisma and Scouting ratings came into play here, determining the ability to properly scout and successfully recruit players.

Scouting reports, feedback from the athletic director, and helpful tips could be found in the Emails screen. Although it reminded me of the PDA in NBA Live’s Dynasty mode, I’d suggest that it was far more effective and far less intrusive. The Coach’s Meeting allowed you to toggle the amount of scouting and area of focus for training each week. Overall, the depth of the coaching and recruiting system, as well as the presence of preseason tournaments and the studio shows with Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg, made Legacy a comprehensive franchise mode. It could be overwhelming at first, especially if you’re more accustomed to the NBA, but its depth was awesome.

Another noteworthy feature in College Hoops 2K7 was the Campus Store, located in the Extras menu. This was where you could unlock items such as custom basketballs, trophies, and extra jerseys. Items were unlocked by the points that you accumulated on your VIP Profile by performing in-game tasks such as making a certain number of dunks, achieving a double-double with a player, and so on. It was reminiscent of the Task List in older NBA Live titles, while the Campus Store specifically reminded me of the NBA Store and Hall of Fame in NBA Live 2005. On top of the Unlockables and records screens, there were darts and air hockey mini-games, which were fun.

Create School in College Hoops 2K7

I should also mention that the creation tools in College Hoops 2K7 were great. In addition to the usual Create Player and the ability to modify existing players, it was also possible to both edit and create new schools. There was even a Chant Creator, in which you could string together words, letters, and sound effects to create your own custom crowd chants. They couldn’t be assigned to specific teams, but we were able to select if a chant was for the home team, against the away team, used during the introductions, or applicable to all scenarios. As far as flavour content is concerned, it was pretty nifty, and you could use it to make some hilariously ridiculous chants.

While College Hoops 2K8 is often regarded as the pinnacle of college basketball games, College Hoops 2K7 also deserves a lot of credit. It had solid gameplay and comprehensive modes, with some fun extra features. Comparing it to NCAA March Madness 08 – the earliest EA college title I own – it had superior player movement and animations, though the dribbling controls in particular were clunky. In that regard, it’s not unlike its NBA counterpart, but it remains accessible and playable today, albeit often at a high price on the second-hand market. If you can track down an affordable copy though, it’s as worthy an addition to your collection as its celebrated successor.

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