Wayback Wednesday: NCAA Basketball Retrospective

Wayback Wednesday: NCAA Basketball 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 NCAA Basketball for the Super Nintendo.

With Baylor’s victory and another March Madness in the books, I’m taking a look back at one final college basketball game. It’s a game that I’ve covered twice before in Wayback Wednesday, albeit under two different titles: World League Basketball, and Super Dunk Shot. As I mentioned in those features, this 1992 release developed by Sculptured Software changed its name and content according to the region it was released in. To that end, depending on whether you’re in North America, a PAL region, or Japan, you’ll be nostalgic for a different version of the same game.

Since Australia is a PAL region, the version of the game that I grew up with was World League Basketball. Now that I’ve picked up a Universal Adapter for my Super Nintendo, I’ve been able to collect Super Dunk Shot and NCAA Basketball, and play them on my PAL hardware. Obviously it’s a very familiar experience in terms of gameplay, but the different teams and format make it a real novelty to play the other versions. On top of that, NCAA Basketball holds up as one of the best college hoops titles of its era. Let’s take a look back…way back…

Because I grew up with World League Basketball, for many years I was unaware of NCAA Basketball. I’m sure the fact that the game I was familiar with originated as a college basketball title wasn’t a secret, but in an age before the World Wide Web made such information readily accessible, it was easier to remain ignorant of what was happening in other regions. To that point, I wasn’t familiar with the name Sega Genesis until my family got connected to the Internet. On top of being a Nintendo fanboy in the 90s, I was only familiar with the console’s name in PAL regions: the Mega Drive. If the magazines I was reading didn’t mention it, I didn’t know about it.

LSU Tigers in NCAA Basketball

Even when I got online and started looking up my favourite basketball video games back in the day, the connection between World League Basketball, Super Dunk Shot, and NCAA Basketball, wasn’t immediately apparent. It didn’t help that there was another game called World League Basketball that came out on PC; one that I also now own, and will be getting to in due course. In any case, eventually a resource (possibly the Wikipedia entry; it’s been a while) allowed me to make the connection, while also reminding me that Super Dunk Shot had been featured in a magazine that I’d once read. Somehow, I’d failed to notice it was a version of the game I owned.

As I’ve noted in my previous articles, NCAA titles – basketball or otherwise – couldn’t be released outside of North America due to an inability to secure the international licensing rights. Thanks to Universal Adapters and region-free consoles such as the PlayStation 3 facilitating imports, gamers outside of North America could still enjoy NCAA basketball games. Not everyone had such an adapter or a PS3 however, and those titles couldn’t be officially sold outside the United States and Canada anyway. As such, EA Sports and Visual Concepts simply didn’t concern themselves with a market they couldn’t legally reach with their various licensed NCAA games.

This was standard practice for anyone who made a college sports game, but back in 1992, Sculptured Software decided on a creative way to release their basketball game worldwide. Since it was full of fictional players anyway, the game would simply be rebranded as a fictional global basketball league in World League Basketball, with schools being replaced by various cities from around the world. Super Dunk Shot became a knock-off NBA game with hilariously renamed players and teams, such as “Jordun” and the Chicago Bills. As much as I loved World League Basketball and would’ve appreciated NCAA Basketball, Super Dunk Shot would’ve been a blast.

North Carolina vs Duke (NCAA Basketball)

NCAA Basketball, meanwhile, featured Division I teams from five conferences: the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East Conference (specifically its predecessor that lasted from 1979 to 2013), the Southeastern Conference, and the Big Eight and the Southwest Conferences (which have since merged to form the Big 12). Season mode reflects the length of the NCAA regular season, culminating in the championship tournament affectionately known as March Madness. World League Basketball essentially retained the college season format, while Super Dunk Shot adopted the NBA’s 82-game schedule and postseason, befitting its gimmick as an NBA bootleg.

Given that it’s a game released in 1992, NCAA Basketball naturally doesn’t feature any multiseason play, recruiting, or any other franchise mode features, nor does it include any invitational tournaments. Like other basketball games of its era, a single season mode was as deep as it was going to get, but that was nothing to turn our noses up at. Thanks to battery backup, there were four slots to save season progress in. In fact, NCAA Basketball even allowed games in progress to be saved and resumed later; a feature that many modern games don’t offer. World League Basketball had five save slots, but Super Dunk Shot relied on a password system to save and restore.

When it came to gameplay however, NCAA Basketball and its alternate versions were not like most other hoops titles of their era. It was the first basketball game to utilise the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 technology for a 3D perspective. As such, the graphics aside, it resembles a modern hoops title far more closely than its peers, with a camera that panned and rotated to follow the ball. It also included playcalling, voice clips on blocks, steals, and fouls, and advanced dunk controls. Pressing Shoot near the rim performed a two-handed dunk, but by holding the D-Pad up, down, left, or right at the same time, you could perform one-handed, reverse, hangtime, and turnaround dunks.

Hangtime Dunk in NCAA Basketball

It was a level of depth that not even EA Sports’ NBA Playoffs series could match, though EA’s games obviously had the benefit of NBA licensing and signature moves. Needless to say, NCAA Basketball is dated and therefore may not be very accessible to younger gamers whose first foray onto the virtual hardwood was with far more advanced titles. Because it was ahead of its time though, it’s still very playable; more so than many of its sim-oriented contemporaries. The main drawbacks are a lack of a sprint control – though it plays surprisingly well without one – and the primitive 3D graphics, in which the lively but invisible crowd were represented by a sea of blue.

That lack of any environmental details, as well as the fact that the players are all rather generic-looking, unfortunately masks just how advanced NCAA Basketball was for a game released in 1992, and on a 16-bit console no less. Again, it was the first basketball game to utilise a 3D perspective, and its gameplay had a smoothness that most other titles lacked. On top of the aforementioned playcalling and dunk controls, the game had decent AI, making for a fun game of virtual basketball. Icons above the players’ heads not only indicated where your pass was being directed, but also how open each player was, and thus how likely a pass was to be intercepted by a defender.

Playing NCAA Basketball so many years after World League Basketball yielded few surprises. It’s the same game, only the version I grew up with had to remove the NCAA teams and branding. 44 schools were represented in the game, with at least eight teams in each conference. Interestingly, World League Basketball expanded to 60 teams in six conferences, while Super Dunk Shot had 28 teams in four divisions (27 based on real teams, with a fictional All-Star squad in the Midwest Division). Coincidentally, the North Carolina Tar Heels – my favourite college team – were replaced by the Chicago Breeze, my team of choice in World League Basketball.

Free Throw Shooting in NCAA Basketball

The players themselves differed in abilities, though there were no visible ratings. Instead, you had to look at their previous season stats – particularly their shooting percentages – to get a basic idea of their skills. Every player in the game can dunk, and although this makes paint play rather generic, it means that the advanced dunk controls don’t go to waste with players who are unable to throw it down. In addition to making substitutions during timeouts, there are some basic coaching options, e.g. crash the boards or get back on defense, and whether or not to run fast breaks. You can also choose whether you want to automatically or manually switch control on D.

Although the basic gameplay and options were identical, there were a few differences between the three versions of the game beyond their included teams and the season schedule. They were mostly rule-related, with NCAA Basketball defaulting to a 45-second shot clock and playing two halves. World League Basketball’s default rules were set to 30 seconds, as was the case in Super Dunk Shot, though the latter featured quarters instead. All three games awarded three free throws when fouled on a three-point attempt. Ironically, although Super Dunk Shot was a knock-off NBA game, the NBA didn’t actually award three free throws for fouls on three-pointers until 1994.

Speaking of free throws, when a team accumulated seven team fouls in a half or a quarter, the fouled player went to the line for a one-and-one situation. If a team accumulated ten or more team fouls, the penalty for all personal fouls increased to two shots. Free throw shooting mechanics were simple, involving an arrow passing back and forth over the basket, with the object being to stop it when it was directly above the rim. The speed of the arrow was determined by a player’s free throw ability, which as noted above was indicated by their previous season stats. Most games back then used a similar free throw mechanic, until the T-Meter became commonplace.

Two-Handed Dunk in NCAA Basketball

Finally, it was possible to lose a game by forfeit. Whereas in real life there are rules to account for situations where a player fouls out with no available substitutes, if one of your players fouls out and everyone else on the bench has already been disqualified, it results in an automatic forfeit in all three games. As far as season play is concerned, such games are recorded as a 0-2 loss for the forfeiting team. In my experience, it’s an extremely rare scenario to encounter – as it should be – to the point where the only time it’s occurred for me is when I went out of my way to make it happen. It makes for one ugly game of basketball to say the least, so take my word for it!

I realise it’s rather unusual to cover what is largely the same game in three separate Wayback Wednesday features. However, I believe that the game known as NCAA Basketball, World League Basketball, and Super Dunk Shot, is somewhat overlooked. It was an extremely innovative title, with a handful of features that wouldn’t become standard in other games until years later (and indeed, a few that we don’t see today). While it may be difficult to appreciate the graphics and technological advancements it demonstrated back in 1992, its gameplay holds up respectably well. Younger gamers may understandably struggle with its primitive aesthetic, but it’s still fun to revisit.

It’s funny to think that one of the most innovative basketball games in the early days of the genre wasn’t an NBA title, but an NCAA release (and its alternate versions with fictional teams). As for NCAA Basketball, I’m glad that I’ve not only been able to learn the history of the game I knew as World League Basketball, but to also get my hands on both the original release and Super Dunk Shot. Whichever game you owned, I have no doubt that you would’ve had a ton of fun with it. College Hoops 2K8 and NCAA Basketball 10 may be the pinnacle of college basketball games, but they – and hoops games in general – owe a great deal to Sculptured Software’s 1992 classic.

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