Wayback Wednesday: College Hoops 2K8 Retrospective

Wayback Wednesday: College Hoops 2K8 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 2K8 on PlayStation 3.

College Hoops 2K8 is a title that generally makes basketball gamers feel wistful, the same way football gamers look back at ESPN NFL 2K5. Both games marked the end of their respective series, and were very highly regarded. They have an enduring popularity, as gamers who enjoyed them when they were new are still able to dust them off and play them today, especially College Hoops 2K8 with all of its roster customisation. Indeed, gamers have continued to make new rosters for College Hoops 2K8 for many years afterwards, some of which are still available.

As I look back at College Hoops 2K8, it seems accurate to say that it’s many people’s favourite college basketball game. As with College Hoops 2K7, I’m coming from the position of someone who wasn’t able to play it when it was new, and also didn’t spend a lot of time with its NBA counterpart at the time either. I therefore don’t have any nostalgia for it, and while I am able to make comparisons to NBA 2K8, there isn’t quite the same novelty as there was when comparing NBA Live 08 and NCAA March Madness 08. Nevertheless, it’s unquestionably a significant title, and a great release that’s well worth remembering. Let’s take a look back…way back…

Before I get into all the ins and outs of College Hoops 2K8, however, I should note that it’s one of the more difficult games to affordably collect. As with most college basketball titles, there are fewer copies in circulation compared to NBA games. Throw in its popularity, and you can expect to pay several hundred dollars – US or Australian – to get your hands on a complete-in-box copy. That was far more than I was willing to spend, so I settled for a disc-only copy, which was around $100 AUD including postage from the US. Honestly, that felt like a bargain. If you’re a stickler for complete-in-box collecting, be warned that you’ll most likely be paying a lot!

North Carolina vs Duke (College Hoops 2K8)

If you’re asking whether it’s truly worth that much, it depends. For a game with a somewhat limited quantity of copies in circulation that’s particularly significant and appealing to a collector, I’m quite satisfied with the price I paid. I’ll personally forego complete-in-box to save money, as it’s the game I’m interested in. As far as overall quality, it is definitely worth owning and is absolutely playable today. With that said, I wouldn’t be inclined to pay much more than I did, and I wouldn’t advise breaking the bank for it. There are rarer collectibles, and while it can be considered a classic and I do agree that it’s a great game, it isn’t a flawless masterpiece as some gamers claim.

Indeed, as I said in Episode #367 of the NLSC Podcast, I’m not sure that it necessarily holds up better than NCAA Basketball 10. For those who are still reading and haven’t closed the tab or rushed to the comments section to call me an idiot and a hater, thank you, and please allow me to explain. The controls in NCAA Basketball 10 are a major factor here, as they borrowed the excellent mechanics featured in NBA Live 10. Like College Hoops 2K7, College Hoops 2K8 suffered from Visual Concepts’ clunky approach to dribbling controls. There was more polish to College Hoops 2K8 though, and it’s still quite accessible despite its outdated dribbling controls and mechanics.

Player movement in College Hoops 2K8 retained the same lightness that College Hoops 2K7 boasted. This freeness compared to the heavier movement in NCAA March Madness 08 undoubtedly added to its appeal, and it does hold up better today as a result. Once again though, the downside is that the foot planting wasn’t quite as good, with moments of sliding and snapping into place. The Sprint control was more effective, though it still could’ve been more explosive. Animations were definitely superior to those in EA’s offering, and the Shot Stick ensured greater control. There were some issues with clipping and warping, but that’s not uncommon for the era.

Oregon vs UCLA in College Hoops 2K8

The tilt motion controls for free throw shooting returned, and as with 2K7, I’d advise you to switch to the Shot Stick instead. As I noted before, if you’re using a third party controller, the tilt controls simply won’t work, in which case the Shot Stick setting is the only viable option. The tip-off mini-game, meanwhile, was replaced by the more traditional “jump at the right moment” mechanic. A “Halftime Adjustments” screen was also added to the halftime break, allowing strategic changes before resuming play. I’m a big fan of being able to make such adjustments and substitutions without manually pausing during breaks, so it’s a shame that that’s become more of a rarity.

While College Hoops 2K8 more than competently replicated the college game in terms of rules, pace, and strategy, it was admittedly light on gameplay mechanics that distinguished it from NBA 2K8. There was the new 6th Man Meter, which measured the level of excitement and energy in the crowd. It was similar to Intensity in NCAA March Madness 08, representing homecourt advantage with big plays building up excitement and in turn providing a boost to a team’s play. It wasn’t overpowering, which was good, but at the same time it could’ve been slightly more impactful. On the whole, it felt as though March Madness was being more innovative in that regard.

Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery were on the call again, though Tracy Wolfson replaced Bonnie Bernstein as the sideline reporter. Although the presentation still lacked official network branding, the presentation was clearly inspired by NCAA on CBS broadcasts, and to that end, remained impressively authentic. Unfortunately it retained the oversized heads from College Hoops 2K7, and while it had a brighter aesthetic than March Madness 08, I’d still give the nod to the visuals in EA’s game. There were fewer glitches such as disappearing jerseys and players sliding around in a stationary pose, so again, College Hoops 2K8 was definitely more polished than 2K7.

Connecticut vs Georgetown (College Hoops 2K8)

Overall, while I do enjoy College Hoops 2K8 from a gameplay standpoint, I’m not sure that it retains the title of undisputed best college basketball game to date. I do prefer the controls of NCAA Basketball 10 as they aged much better, and there was more depth to the mechanics that distinguished it from NBA Live 10. Nevertheless, while I’d suggest that some of the flaws in College Hoops 2K8 are often overlooked, it was and still is a great release. Naturally it shows its age in both its graphics and gameplay, but I believe most gamers would still find it very playable. I’m partial to NCAA Basketball 10, but I still have a very high opinion of College Hoops 2K8.

Although College Hoops 2K8 retained some of the frontend cutscenes, they were far less intrusive than in College Hoops 2K7. The opening/Quick Game cutscene with its pan from a hallway floor up to a TV thankfully didn’t play every time you backed out to the Quick Game screen from every single submenu. There was a repetitive cutscene of players running down the hallway at the start of a game, and while it wasn’t too long, I prefer EA’s approach of shooting around while the game loads. It’s certainly personal preference though, and the cutscenes weren’t poorly done. I do think 2K has made the right call by cutting down on unnecessary menu effects over the years.

Player and school customisation returned in the Creation Zone, along with the Chant Creator. A Play Creator was also added, and it was extremely comprehensive. A tutorial stepped you through the process of creating a custom play, from positioning players and determining their movement, to choosing when and where screens were set and who would finish the play. It was best utilised by gamers with an advanced knowledge of Xs and Os, and while I’m no guru in that regard, I can’t help but be very impressed by how deep yet relatively straightforward it was. Suffice to say, it was a far more useful feature than simply being able to rename plays as in March Madness.

All-American Training Challenge (College Hoops 2K8)

Records, rosters, and coach profiles could now be found in the Around the NCAA menu. The Campus Store was replaced by The Shrine, but it functioned much the same way, including a set of unlockables such as alternate jerseys that could be purchased using the points that were earned for completing in-game tasks. Coach Mode returned along with freestyle Practice, while a new Tutorial mode similar to the Training Camp modes found in later NBA 2K games was added. Interestingly, rather than running through all the drills one by one, we were able to select specific moves to learn and practice. VIP Profile points could also be earned through the Tutorial.

College Hoops 2K8 also invited gamers to sharpen their skills with the new All-American Training Challenge mode. It consisted of various basketball drills, each with target scores to earn bronze, silver, and gold medals. In addition to the solo challenges, it was possible to take on the CPU (specifically Class of 2007 players who were now in the NBA and thus able to be licensed, such as Mike Conley), or compete in local multiplayer drills. On top of developing stick skills and strategies, it was additional content that fleshed out the game beyond the usual modes of play. To be frank, it was far more useful than being able to play darts or air hockey in a lounge!

Speaking of those traditional modes, they could also be found in College Hoops 2K8. The 2K Sports College Hoops Classic – now called the Empire Classic – was still available to play as a standalone mode. Once again, Pontiac Tournament provided the ability to play the NCAA Tournament, or any of the conference tournaments. Legacy mode returned as the franchise experience in College Hoops 2K8, and once again, it featured Career and Open options, depending on whether you wanted to be a coach working their way up to a job at a prestigious school, or choose to control any of the schools right out of the gate. The same customisation options were also retained.

ABL in Legacy Mode (College Hoops 2K8)

For the most part, Legacy mode was very familiar. Coach attribute upgrades were still assigned and earned, and in Open mode, coaches could immediately level up to A+ across the board. Two assistant coaches helped out with game prep and recruiting. Recruits now played in the fictional American Basketball League, which included the ability to play games with prospects as part of scouting them. These games could also be simulated to save time, after which you were able to target players to recruit as normal once the college season had begun. The same recruiting tasks and points system were retained, with the goal being to take advantage of the coaches’ strengths.

The ability to create a recruit was also added, for those who wanted to expand upon the pool of already generated players. The coaching options were streamlined and the ability to practice plays was added, along with Bonus Drills which would later be utilised for player progression in the early iterations of My Player/MyCAREER in NBA 2K. Around the NCAA also included some new screens, such as Bracketology. Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg continued to host the season preview and weekly recap shows, and while they obviously had a finite number of lines, the show was still an impressively detailed presentation for a basketball game released back in 2007.

There may have been some disappointment that there wasn’t any further innovation in Legacy mode in College Hoops 2K8, and that would’ve been understandable. While it had some great new features that expanded recruiting and coaching, it’s otherwise essentially the same mode as in College Hoops 2K7. On the plus side, no depth had been lost, and thus it remained a comprehensive franchise experience. I’m in no way surprised that there are gamers who continue to play and create rosters for College Hoops 2K8 to this day, even though the servers have long been shut down and it’s no longer possible to utilise 2K Share. You can still have a lot of fun with the game.

Kansas vs Texas (College Hoops 2K8)

At the same time, it is unfortunate that College Hoops 2K8 was the final game in the series, as it meant that it missed out on the innovations and improved mechanics seen in later NBA 2K releases. Though it remains enjoyable today, the Isomotion controls are undoubtedly dated, and 2K would make strides with their physics and animations over the next few years. College Hoops 2K8 does deserve to be held in high regard, and I won’t say that anyone who ranks it as the best college basketball game of all-time is objectively wrong. There are some aspects of NCAA Basketball 10 that I believe hold up better though, particularly the more modern approach to controls.

I do feel that some of NCAA Basketball 10’s strengths are downplayed while flaws in College Hoops 2K8 are overlooked. If nothing else, I’d suggest that EA’s games went a little further in trying to implement mechanics that set them apart from NBA Live, whereas the College Hoops games are more like their NBA 2K counterparts. They still succeed in being great college basketball simulations though, and if you can find it at a reasonable price, College Hoops 2K8 is one to add to the collection. It may not be a flawless masterpiece as some gamers will claim, but at the very least it absolutely ranks up there among the best college basketball titles, and is well worth dusting off.

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