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NBA 2K10
Grade: A-
Publisher: 2K Sports (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/11/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs usual, 2K Sports delivers exciting hardwood action with a sensible balance of arcade and realism. The graphics are sensational, and unlike EA's efforts, it feels like 2K Sports is actually pushing the hardware. The arenas look dazzling with their bustling spectators, enthusiastic bench players, emphatic coaches, photographers, cheerleaders, and colorful reflections on the court. The detail in the player models is remarkable, and as proof you can look no further than Denver's Chris "Birdman" Andersen with his fluorescent tattoos and crazy haircut. Players even display facial expressions! It's rather amusing and sometimes unintentionally hilarious when a player stands at the foul line and contorts his face. Even the coaches look like the real thing, although sometimes their eyes look more like eggshells. Occasionally you'll spot a fan who looks like a zombie, and I don't know if that was intentional or not. The mascots are utterly hilarious, especially when they're performing wacky dance routines during foul shots. Each game opens with a flashy introduction, and the game maintains a television-style presentation throughout, with professional play-by-play, dramatic camera angles, and that familiar NBA-on-TNT theme music. I like how the broadcaster introduces most teams as "fearsome" or "uptempo", yet the best adjective they can come up for the Knicks is "capable". The animation on the court is amazing, with an incredible number of low-post moves and plenty of razzle-dazzle. The controls make it easy to stick defenders, although executing steals and blocks is challenging. The pick-and-roll controls are sweet, and careless passes are usually deflected. The foul shooting is too simplistic, but it's cool how the defender can cause the screen to shake to distract the shooter. NBA 2K10's minor flaws include occasional frame-rate stutters and confusing "throw in" controls. Be sure to disable the replays which tend to disrupt the flow of the game. The players on the "classic teams" - like Larry Bird - look nothing like their real-life counterparts. Finally, I can't comprehend how such a polished, full-featured basketball game could possibly have such an ass-backward menu interface! That sucks, but at its core NBA 2K10 manages to be both true-to-life and fun - with eye candy to spare. Note: I've been advised that the on-line aspect of NBA 2K10 is lacking in many regards. Subtract a letter grade if you intend to play on-line. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA 2K11
Grade: B-
Publisher: 2K Sports (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/12/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAt first glance, NBA 2K11 looks like a loving tribute to Michael Jordan. It seems well deserved, until you remember that the bum refused to appear in most of the basketball games of his time! Still, I love the addition of the classic teams from the NBA's "golden years", giving you the ability to relive legendary match-ups like Jordan versus Magic in the 1991 NBA Finals. The new "Jordan challenges" let you attempt to duplicate Mike's most spectacular feats such as scoring 47 points and earning 7 steals - in a half. Once you dig into the game, you'll discover that NBA 2K11's gameplay has been revamped with an emphasis on realism. It's a lot harder, and the overloaded control scheme will baffle novices and experienced players alike. A serious time investment is required to learn it, but that makes it all the more satisfying when you execute a drop-step in the paint or a smooth give-and-go play. Going head-to-head with a friend is great fun, but playing the CPU can be frustrating. On the default skill level your shots rarely fall and driving the lane is a rare occurrence. The passing controls frankly suck, lacking both in responsiveness and accuracy. In the real NBA players apply "touch" to their passes, but everything here is slow and lazy, leading to frequent turnovers. To level the playing field you'll want to turn down the difficulty or tinker with the ubiquitous "slider" options. 2K should have spent more time tuning this game. The presentation boasts flashy, television-quality graphics, but they sometimes disrupt the pace of the game. And why in the [expletive] are some of the older player photos missing? The two-man commentary is pretty amazing. In addition to accurately describing the action, they seamlessly inject personal stories about the players. Interesting stuff! Just be sure to turn down that grating crowd noise so you can hear these guys. As usual, 2K's menu system is a freakin' nightmare, and what's up with the instruction manual? It's only four lousy pages, with the first directing you to a URL to "download the complete manual". Are you telling me 2K is charging $60 for a game and not even bothering to include a complete manual? It's inexcusable, especially considering this is the most complicated basketball game ever made. NBA 2K11 is an ambitious basketball game that will keep die-hards satisfied for months, but its difficulty, complexity, and uneven production values will leave some gamers cold. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA 2K12
Grade: B-
Publisher: Take-Two Interactive (2011)
Reviewed: 2011/12/29
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor the second straight year Michael Jordan graces the cover of an NBA 2K game. Is this due to the lack of star power in the league, or a sign of stagnation in the NBA 2K series? The back of the box boasts of "custom player shoes" and "realistic court floors". That's fine, but I think the basic gameplay still has plenty of room for improvement. The TV-style openings are flashy but I'd rather see the actual commentators previewing the game - like a real telecast. Once the action starts there's plenty of razzle-dazzle and the players reflect the abilities of their real-life counterparts. The pacing is good and close games can be very intense. The complex controls offer dozens of moves (hesitation, hop-step, up-and-under) to keep hardcore fans busy, but these can be a major turnoff to novices. I noticed that the turbo meter drains faster this year, which is probably for the best. Instead of relying on that you're better off using the left bumper to set picks on offense or initiate double-teams on defense. Icons appear underneath the players, but I have no idea what most of them mean (a decent instruction manual would have come in handy). The action is fluid but the controls could be tighter. The passes are lazy and there's a delay when going up for a block or rebound. CPU-controlled teammates never even attempt to pull down a rebound. The foul shot system requires you to know the shooting motion of the particular player, and they vary dramatically (Shawn Marion has no wind up at all). Some neat features include buzzer-beater shot reviews and actual footage used to show the outside of the arena. The commentators can be extremely insightful but are often just plain wrong. I found the menu interface to be confusing to navigate. The classic teams have been moved to a separate "NBA's Greatest" mode that lets you relive legendary match-ups of yesteryear. It's fun to travel back in time, but I dislike how the commentators talk about the players in past tense. When I hear them say "Penny Hardaway would have been great had he not injured his knee", it really takes you out of the moment. NBA 2K12 has a slammin' soundtrack which features Kurtis Blow's classic "Basketball". Last year I admonished 2K for its lack of a manual. This year's "leaflet" lists the controls in full color, but including a URL to "download the full manual" is bush league. NBA 2K12 is a decent basketball game, but not much has changed since last year. Like Madden, I think some competition may be required to push this franchise forward. Note: If you plan to play this on-line, knock the grade down by two letters. The account registration requirement sucks and 2K's bad servers regularly boot you off. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA 2K13
Grade: A-
Publisher: 2K Sports (2012)
Reviewed: 2013/1/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNBA 2K has long been the premiere basketball franchise, but 2K Sports had been getting lazy in recent years. Adding Michael Jordan and classic teams gave the series a temporary boost, but NBA 2K's gameplay was stuck in neutral. This year's edition represents a major retooling, including a revamped control scheme. The right stick is still used to shoot, but only when you hold in the left trigger. Otherwise it's used for ball for handling, so you can perform crossovers, hesitations, and spin moves. This "dual-stick" configuration is one of the few things I liked about EA's basketball games (when they were still making them). It's satisfying to juke a player out of his shoes, drive the lane, and perform an acrobatic lay-up. The realism in this game is unprecedented. You'll see behind-the-back passes, bank-shots, missed dunks, and tie-ups. The player is no longer "one with the ball", so when you come rambling down the court the ball can get away from you. Careless passes are usually intercepted, and the game actively tries to prevent you from throwing bad passes. The action is fast and smooth but I wish my player wouldn't slow down when running a fast break. Multiplayer action is fun, but the circles under the players all look the same color, which is confusing. Also, there's no way to view user-based statistics. NBA 2K13 looks like a million bucks. The sparkling arenas include cheerleaders, mascots, photographers, coaches, and even that guy who mops the floor. The player models are dead-on, right down to that bald spot on Manu Ginobili's head. You'll even witness pre-game rituals from the likes of Lebron James and Jeremy Lin. The television presentation is flashy (maybe too much) and the announcers are never at a loss for words. The heavily censored rap music is very good and includes the classic track "Paid in Full" (by Eric B. and Rakim). 2K's menu interface system is a nightmare, but complaining about that is like beating a dead horse. The instruction manual is more like a reference, but hey, it's better than a URL. The important thing is that NBA 2K13 is fully loaded under the hood. 2K put some serious effort into this baby, and it shows. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA 2K7
Grade: B+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/11/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAfter playing EA's NBA Live 07, the visual splendor of NBA 2K7 is almost a shock to the system. The fluid player animation is amazing, and the courts look absolutely gorgeous with neon lights reflecting off of the shiny hardwood floors. Unlike Live, each contest has a professional televised look, and the entire arena is teeming with activity. Players cheer from the bench, spectators walk through the aisles, and coaches patrol the sidelines. Shapely cheerleaders and goofy mascots stream onto the court during timeouts. There's even a guy to mop up the sweat! Unlike EA, 2K Sports understands that the details really do matter. Players clap when they're fouled, dive after loose balls, and drip sweat on the foul line. It's remarkable how the players mirror their real-life counterparts. Ben Wallace's Afro looks amazing, and Steve Nash is constantly brushing his hair out of his eyes. Skin glistens with sweat, but the faces are far less impressive. They all appear to be wearing Richard Hamilton's clear plastic facemask, and Yao Ming looks like a freakin' monster! The flashy presentation is detrimental at times, like when that big Gatorade logo appears on the screen and blocks your view (usually at the worst possible moment). The default camera view is quite good, providing the tightest possible angle while giving you full view of the count. 2K3 demands skill and technique, and unlike Live 07, there are no easy or cheap shots. If you're tossing careless passes or driving through crowded lanes, expect a lot of loose balls. The basic controls are similar to Live 07, except the crossovers are performed with the left joystick (instead of the right), and there's only one shoot button (thankfully). 2K7's foul shooting is a bit simplistic but at least it's not frustrating (like EA's). Calling plays is a breeze, and there's a handy "call for pick" button. Kevin Harlin and Kevin Smith provide competent but understated play-by-play, and there's an elaborate half-time show. It's clear that 2K Sports is truly making an effort to harness the power of the new generation of systems. Playing this game will make you grateful EA hasn't secured the exclusive rights to the NBA (yet). NBA 2K7 is the clear choice for b-ball fans this year. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA 2K8
Grade: B
Publisher: 2K Sports (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/11/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotDespite being upstaged this year by EA's excellent NBA Live 08, NBA 2K8 still does a nice job of walking the line between fast-paced arcade action and realistic simulation. You can expect a lot of banging under the boards, along with thunderous slam dunks that will have your friends hooting and hollering. It's cool how players tip-toe along the sidelines, writhe on the floor after an injury, and dive for loose balls. The transition game is strong in 2K8, and penetrating to the bucket is much easier than it is in NBA Live. Instead of aggressive moves being called as offensive fouls (which happens a lot in Live 08) the ball tends to get knocked loose instead. The right thumbstick is your "shot stick", but using a stick to shoot never made much sense to me. It's incredibly hard to steal the ball in NBA 2K8, and with CPU players so strong on the boards, playing defense can be frustrating. The simple foul-shooting system is almost identical to the one in Live 08, except there are more annoying pauses. NBA 2K8's skimpy instruction manual makes me suspect 2K Sports is getting lazy. How do you perform an alley-oop? How does the new "get open" button work exactly? Information like that should be in the manual instead of the worthless fluff they have in there. Holding in the right bumper causes the player icons to appear, but could they possibly be any smaller? And why is the replay system so [expletive] complicated? When a computer scientist with multiple degrees can't figure it out, something is wrong. In terms of graphics, NBA 2K8 features slick floor reflections and naturally flowing uniforms, but player faces look plastic compared to Live 08. The fans in 2K8 are more angular but also far more enthusiastic, and can even be seen leaving their seats. Other neat bells and whistles including cheerleaders, mascots, and vendors in the stands. Kevin Harlan and Kenny Smith provide a solid two-man commentary, but the half-time show is pretty lame. The end of each game offers some brief but informative highlights, including "player of the game" and a diagram of "hot zones". The fact that your season is saved automatically once you quit your game is a welcome feature that's been needed for a long time. NBA 2K8 also features an inspired soundtrack, including the old-school classic "Sucker MC's" by Run-DMC. It's largely a matter of taste between this and NBA Live 08, but based on my experiences with friends, Live gets the nod. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA 2K9
Grade: A-
Publisher: 2K Sports (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/11/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNBA 2K9 is a jaw-dropping effort, delivering unprecedented realism on the court and a fantastic television-style presentation. If someone casually walked past this game, they'd probably think they were watching an actual telecast on TNT. The player models look uncanny, and it's amazing how sweat forms on their skin and gradually soaks into their uniforms. The arenas look spectacular, with dancing mascots, referees who actually make calls (watch them), and a diverse crowd of spectators. The excellent audio boasts the NBA's familiar orchestrated music, and the two-man commentating team is exceptional. The action is nearly flawless on the court as players perform to their abilities and execute amazing signature moves. They hit the deck hard when dunked upon, and pump their fists when fouled. I love how the ball gets realistically deflected, and bounces around the rim unpredictably. The basic controls are simple enough for the average Joe, yet the number of advanced moves is staggering. The television style is so convincing that when the screen fades to black between quarters you expect to see a commercial! NBA 2K9 is nicely tuned and balanced "out of the box", but if you need to adjust anything, dozens of "sliders" are available. Another excellent feature is the full-screen graphic showing exactly which players are being substituted. It would be nice if they used that during real NBA telecasts! The half-time and post-game shows offer decent analysis, but some highlights would be nice, and why are we staring at an empty anchor desk? NBA 2K9 is nearly flawless on the court, but its clunky user interface can be infuriating. You'll routinely struggle to find options and close menus, and just setting up a new season took me forever! The lack of player introductions is glaring, and those distracting Cheryl Miller reports should be axed, along with the analog foul shooting. It's not perfect, but NBA 2K9 is still one of the most exciting and competitive hoops games I've played in a long time. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA Jam
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/12/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThis fast-paced, two-on-two basketball title is a sight to behold. Players sprint up the court, execute ankle-breaking crossovers, and soar 20 feet in the air before performing rim-rattling slam-dunks. On defense players swat away jumpshots with ease and shove their opponents to the ground. Realistic, no. Fun, yes! When a player scores three straight baskets he becomes "on fire", allowing him to perform even more spectacular moves. The players have recognizable digitized faces, and they look pretty funny! I was curious to see how this Xbox 360 version compares with the Wii edition, and while both are enjoyable, I prefer the Wii. The graphics are only slightly sharper on the 360, and the control scheme is less intuitive. The tutorial encourages the players to use the dual analog sticks. Why does EA always feel the need to do that?! In theory, pushing up to jump and pulling back to slam the ball down is a great idea, but in practice it's awkward and unresponsive. I much prefer the imprecise motion controls of the Wii! The tutorial encourages you to move the right stick sideways to steal and push up to block. As you might guess, you'll often jump when you mean to steal and vice versa. Oh well, at least you can fall back on the buttons. Otherwise this plays the same as the Wii game except it's easier to strip the ball - especially when a player is going up for a dunk. Fans of the first NBA Jam (SNES, 1993) will miss the old "tag mode", but otherwise this is surprisingly faithful to the original. This new NBA Jam is a great alternative for hoops fans befuddled by NBA 2K11, or simply in the mood for some instant gratification. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA Live 07
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/11/18
Rating: Everyone

screenshotJudging from the scathing reviews this game's been receiving, the backlash against EA must be in full swing. I wouldn't call NBA Live 07 a bad game, but it certainly suffers in comparison to 2K Sport's NBA 2K7. Live 07 seems promising enough at first with a high-tech intro and head-bopping music. I was really surprised how you can practice your moves with T-Mac while the game is loading. Finally, they've come up with a good use for those excruciatingly long EA loading screens! Next you're treated to a flashy player introduction sequence with lifelike player models with realistic faces. After that things head downhill. This tip off system is the first one I've experienced where players have difficulty making contact with the ball! The referee sometimes needs to toss the ball up several times, and it's actually quite comical. The gameplay is okay but its engine seems firmly entrenched in the previous generation. The camera seems a bit jumpy, and fast breaks tend to unfold in slow motion. At the other extreme, when players attack the rim, they move like lightening while barreling through defenders. The default camera angle (from the far end of the court) seems too far away from the basket, and even after fiddling with the options, I never found a view I was really comfortable with. The controls haven't changed much from previous editions of the game. I like using the right stick to execute crossovers, but having three shoot buttons (jump shot, layout, dunk) is ridiculous! You'll routinely find yourself accidentally hitting the lay-up button at the three point line, resulting in some of the longest fighter-rolls ever. Live's awkward foul shooting mechanism makes me nostalgic for the old days of the "T" meter, which EA employed in the early 90's. Live 07 lacks polish as well. Brain-dead players will attempt jump shots from behind the backboard, and the directional controls for calling plays are clumsy and unintuitive. Static statistical screens are displayed between periods, and the arena is so dull that the players might as well be playing in an abandoned warehouse. For a series that's over 12 years old, the lack the bells and whistles is hard to justify. Yes, on-line users can watch real NBA highlights, but I didn't buy this game to watch ESPN. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr offer insightful commentary, and it's especially funny when they critique your button pressing. There's some fun to be had with NBA Live 07, but most gamers will prefer NBA 2K7. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NBA Live 08
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/11/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIn years past NBA Live has been bogged down by sloppy programming and sparse features, but this year the franchise has improved considerably. Live's graphics are hands-down better NBA 2K8, especially with regard to player faces. Live plays better too. Without having to adjust any options, the game flows like a real basketball game, with a proportionate number of fouls, dunks, steals, and blocks. You can even block from behind. I love being able to perform cross-over dribbles with the right thumbstick, and holding in the left trigger to guard makes playing defense a lot easier. Having two buttons to shoot (dunk and jump shot) is confusing at first, but it gives you the option of driving the hoop or popping a short jumper. Live 08 features outstanding low-post play, with players that pivot, fake, and hop with amazing grace. The simple foul shooting system (pull back and push up on the right stick) is not the best I've seen, but it's satisfactory. Performing alley-oops by tapping the right bumper requires good timing and is a lot of fun. Holding in the left bumper brings up your player icons, but it takes a full second for them to appear, which is unacceptable. Making adjustments between quarters is pretty easy thanks to handy sliders that pop up, letting you apply pressure on defense and crash the boards on offense. Live's graphics are smooth and lifelike, with players that react appropriately and even congratulate each other after the game. The crowd is tame but looks realistic enough, and it's cool how you get occasional glimpses of players on the bench. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr deliver television-quality play-by-play, and they are simply the best in the business. There's no half-time show (boo), but there is a nice "highlight reel" at the end of the game. The saving process is inordinately complex, and many of the game's options are not explained well - if at all. Hey EA - that's what the instruction manual is for - use it! But even so, I have to credit EA for delivering the best-looking and best-controlling basketball game of the season. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NBA Live 09
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/11/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAlthough it lacks the glitz and excitement of NBA 2K9, NBA 09 is certainly respectable and some gamers might even prefer it. The graphics are a step down, but not by much. The player models don't look quite as sharp, but it's cool how they appear to talk to one another. The camera is further away from the action, but I like Live's more "spread out" style of play. Compared to 2K9, it's easier to jar the ball loose on defense and attack the hoop on offense. It's possible to elude a defender and drive the lane with a single touch of a button, although some might regard that as cheap. The controls could use some work. I found the passing to be so imprecise that you almost have to use the icon passing controls. Likewise your player occasionally seems to move on his own accord. There are two shoot buttons (lay-up and jumper), but thankfully the game is smart enough to assume you want a jumper around the perimeter. The simple new foul shooting mechanism is a huge improvement over the old analog model, taking me back to my old 16-bit days. Pressing the B button causes a meter to move across the top of the backboard, and you'll want to release it in the green area to nail your shot. One highly touted new feature is the "dynamic DNA", which updates player stats and behavior daily (if your 360 is on-line), based on their real life performances. Personally, I think EA should have invested more time in the presentation aspects of NBA Live 09, which lag far behind NBA 2K9. Despite having Marv Albert in the booth, the two-man commentating comes off as flat, and the music is as inappropriate as it is lame. There's no half-time or post-game show, just a stats screen. Oh well, at least the cheerleaders are hot. NBA Live 09 suffers in comparisons to NBA 2K9, but the action on the court is fun enough to make it a viable alternative. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NCAA Basketball 09
Grade: D
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/3/7
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAs they've done with the NFL, the greedy executives at EA have purchased the exclusive rights to NCAA college basketball, eliminating all competition and screwing gamers over in the process. At first, NCAA Basketball 09 doesn't seem too bad. Unlike their previous games, there are coaches, cheerleaders, and referees overseeing the action. The players huddle with the coach during timeouts and celebrate after a win. The control scheme incorporates some nice shortcuts, like holding the left trigger to run a pick-and-roll, or holding B to initiate a double team. The simple free-throw mechanism is nice, and the well-tuned gameplay has an appropriate amount of steals, fouls, loose balls, and instant replays. The more I played the game however, the more I noticed fundamental flaws that gradually chipped away at that positive first impression. First off, EA didn't do their homework when it comes to the players. Maryland's squad bears little resemblance to their real-life counterparts, and even some of their numbers are wrong! It's especially infuriating when you select your favorite "classic" team and you can't even recognize the players! Adding insult to injury, Maryland coach Gary Williams looks like Steve Martin - a very pissed off Steve Martin. The colored circles under selected players now double as fatigue meters, and these multi-colored rings are confusing as hell during multi-player contests. There's a lot of unnatural looking passes, and too many awkward shots go in while too many easy shots miss. Players hesitate when receiving passes, so fast breaks are practically non-existent. Most irritating of all, when a foul is called, the game doesn't bother to inform you about what happened. You'll have to sit through a 10-second cut-away of the crowd before you can determine if it was a charge or blocking foul! The marching band kicks in at inappropriate times, and Dick Vitalle's outbursts tend to run a few seconds behind the action ("Awesome baby!") The AI is poor. CPU-controlled teams routinely run out of bounds, and show absolutely no sense urgency when they're losing and the clock is winding down. I don't mind the idea of coaches yelling stuff in the corner of the screen, but these "coach overlays" aren't very realistic. Gary Williams would never say, "Good shot but we need to crash the boards" without tossing in a few F-bombs ("Get out there you [expletive] [expletive] and crash the mother [expletive] boards!") The half-time show is minimal and there's precious little eye candy, save for the two oiled-up cheerleaders. I like being able to shoot around during the load process, but the save system sucks. If there's an auto-save, why in the hell do I have to wade through endless menus just to save my Dynasty mode? And when you do finally save, there's no confirmation! These are tough times for college basketball fans. With EA securing the exclusive license to NCAA b-ball, it looks like we'll all have to get used to substandard efforts like this. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NCAA Basketball 10
Grade: D+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/2/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotOn the surface this looks like a decent college basketball title, but the more you play it, the more issues you find. When I first fired up NCAA 10, I wasn't very enthused to see the same outdoor shoot-around area that served as last year's load screen. Visually the game is unimpressive. The player models are rough, and the limited number of player types ensures you'll see plenty of clones (of varying skin tones). I found it hard to discern the players on my Maryland squad, and coach Gary Williams doesn't look right at all. On the court there are some nifty animations, including spin-around baseline drives and players who sacrifice their bodies to keep a ball in-bounds. NCAA 10 is very defensive-minded, so you'll need to work for each shot. If you force dribble penetration you'll usually lose the ball, and even inside passing can be a risky proposition. The controls are simplistic compared to NBA 2K10. I like using the right stick for special dribble moves, but these are rarely effective. The left trigger brings up player icons, but not until you've held it in for a second. Likewise, hitting the left bumper brings up quick plays but isn't responsive enough. Passes tend to be slow lobs, effectively killing most fast-break opportunities. Even when a player has a clear path to the hoop, the slightest contact will bring him to a dead standstill. I don't care for games that let you drive to the hoop at will, but there's got to be a middle ground. NCAA 10's foul-shooting meter is awfully simplistic, and I wish EA would bring back the T-meter from their 16-bit glory days. NCAA 10 has a lot of odd glitches, including penalties that are called but are never explained. When playing coop with a friend, the player at the foul line doesn't have a circle to indicate which player is shooting. The new "hostile arena" feature causes the screen to shake violently during crucial moments, but it's equally distracting for the home team! But the most unwanted new feature is that "warm up the bus" crowd chant. As if that wasn't annoying enough to listen to, it includes a sponsor logo that obstructs a chunk of the screen (thanks a lot State Farm! You suck!!). Some games are telecast by ESPN and others by CBS Sports, and both feature their own distinctive music and graphics. The commentary team includes the enthusiastic Dick Vitalle, the insightful Brad Nessler, and the less-insightful-but-definitely-hot Erin Andrews on the sidelines. Cheerleaders entertain during timeouts and mascots will crack you up with their goofy antics. NCAA 10's menu system is as unwieldy as ever, and I couldn't even figure out how to adjust the replay frequency. The load and save system is particularly onerous. NCAA Basketball 10 is a passable title, but considering EA has a complete monopoly on the sport, you'd hope they'd take it a little more seriously. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NCAA Football 07
Grade: D+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/8/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFor sports fans concerned that EA would slack off once they secured the exclusive rights to NCAA football, you were right. Instead of elevating their critically acclaimed college football series to the next level, EA really fumbled this 07 edition. The basic gameplay is fine, but there are too many irritating details, and EA unwisely decided to "fix" a few things that didn't need fixing! Let's start with the play-calling screen, which now arranges the plays in a very unintuitive vertical configuration, making it hard to differentiate between pass and run plays! The excellent three-press kick meter that was honed to perfection over the years has been unceremoniously dumped in favor of EA's "analog swing" mechanism. The new control scheme takes some getting used, thanks to odd button assignments like A for juke and Y for stiff-arm. There are numerous graphical glitches, including players that go down without being touched and passes that leave the quarterback's hand at the wrong angle. The "coach's challenge" is berserk - you never know when it will work. Upon calling a time-out, there's no feedback at all, leading you to wonder if it even registered! Last year game magazines raved about how much better EA's football games look on the 360, but I'm not so impressed. If not for the gleaming sweat on players' arms (visible only in close-ups), this might be mistaken for a PS2 game. Admittedly, there are some nifty new animations, like players who hop over down linemen, and receivers who fight off tacklers for extra yardage. There are also impressive shots of the stadiums, although the coaches, sign-holding fans, and cheerleaders are nowhere to be found. EA is famous for adding superfluous, unwanted "features", and this year is no exception thanks to the new "jump snap" (waste of a button!) and "momentum meter" (worthless!). And why is this game titled "07"? How many college football games are scheduled after New Year's day? Two? On a positive note, the game does have a wonderfully insightful two-man commentator team. Because it's football, I will play NCAA 07, but this is still a disappointment. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NCAA Football 08
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/9/11
Rating: Everyone

screenshotLast year's NCAA football game was a weak effort, but this year Electronic Arts has tightened up the gameplay substantially and dispensed with some of the more superfluous features. The animation is noticeably faster and smoother, although the graphical detail is about the same. The core engine is the same as Madden, so both games offer the same caliber of realistic football action. The controls now favor a more traditional scheme, using A to stiff-arm, X to dive, B to spin, and Y to hurdle. I really like how players automatically execute "up and over" dives at the goal line. The play-calling interface is much easier to navigate and read this year, although it still doesn't make optimal use of the screen real estate. Before snapping the ball I usually like to review the pass routes, and this year that requires holding the right trigger while pushing the right thumbstick up, which is kind of a pain. One unintentionally hilarious aspect of the game occurs a player gets hurt on the field and all the other players totally ignore him! The game boasts about its "real-time" weather conditions, but when it's raining that apparently translates into fumbling the ball on every other play. Gone is that annoying "momentum meter" from last year, and this year it's easier to tell when a team calls a timeout. As usual, NCAA Football's spirited two-man commentary is fantastic. There's a "quick save" option on the main menu, but it's anything but quick as you're forced to wade through a series of unnecessary prompts. NCAA 08 nails the action on the field but fails to properly convey the pageantry of the college game. You never see any coaches or cheerleaders - only the mascots going nuts on the sidelines. There's no pre-game, half-time, or post-game shows. At the conclusion of each contest the players just stand around like a bunch of idiots. The game tends to stutter between plays and there are minor glitches here and there. This year's edition seems to focus on collecting trophies and highlight reels, but who cares about that stuff? Another unwanted new feature is "snapshots" taken during big plays, which usually turn out looking like pictures my wife would take - not good! In many ways this game is two steps forward and two steps back. EA got a little lazy with NCAA 08, but at least they got the basics right. Its solid gameplay should satisfy most college pigskin fans, but all in all NCAA 08 seems awfully vanilla. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NCAA Football 09
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/9/9
Rating: Everyone

screenshotAlthough generally fun and easy to play, NCAA Football 09 is guilty of too many rookie mistakes for such an established franchise. The graphics haven't noticeably changed since last year, although the grass does look more natural. The new "breakaway engine" adds steam to the running game as ball carriers work harder to grind out extra yardage. You'll see them shed tacklers, reach with the ball, and sometimes even throw a would-be tackler to the ground. It's also exciting to see players pick off tipped passes. One welcome new feature is the on-screen "cheat sheets" which remind you how to call audibles, hot routes, etc. I'm glad to see cheerleaders, especially the guys carrying the flags spelling out the team name. At real Maryland games, the crowd will cheer "TERPS! TERPS! TERPS!" as these guys run in front of the stands, and then "SPRET! SPRET! SPRET!" as they head down the opposite sideline. Also interesting is how you can run up to the mascot after scoring a touchdown to trigger a hilarious celebration. Now for the bad news. Like Madden, pass plays are not easily differentiated from running plays. You can't easily determine the what yard line the ball is on, making it hard to decide if you're in field goal range. You can't "corner" your punts. If a missed field goal hits the crossbar, a bizarre glitch awards the ball back to the kicking team - at their own 20! The customization screens are riddled with bugs. The number of interceptions returned for touchdowns is alarming, as is the frequency of injuries to quarterbacks and runningbacks. NCAA 09 also drops the ball with regard to conveying the fanfare and pageantry of the college game. There are no team introductions, no coaches(!), and no half-time show. Like Madden, EA took a "do it yourself" approach to half-time and post-game highlights. Plays are sometimes challenged and overturned automatically, which can be confusing as hell. The instant replay feature might be useable if the control panel didn't cover half the screen! The same redneck referee calls every game. Although the play-by-play team provides rich commentary, you'll often hear them say inappropriate things. For example, after one opening drive I heard, "the defense barely had time to catch their breath and they're already back out here!" Whenever Lee Corso chimes in for any reason, he's just irritating ("Just get out there and make a play!"). I give NCAA Football 09 credit for providing a solid game on the field, but if the devil is in the details, NCAA 09 is seriously lacking. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NCAA Football 10
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/9/5
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWith NCAA Football 10, this long-running college football series continues to tread water. With a monopoly (clearly illegal) in their back pocket, EA doesn't have much incentive to improve, and it shows. NCAA Football 10 is certainly playable, but it's a real underachiever. Most of its upgrades cater to on-line gamers and although there's a new "create your own school" feature, there's no good reason why EA could not have included all of the teams in the first place. Erin Andrews narrates the "Road to Glory" career mode, and why her inclusion is regarded as a big deal, I have no idea. The game does incorporate some new features, just not very well. There's a band on the field before the game (nice), but they typically just spell out the words "GO GO GO" (huh?). If there's a band, why is there no half-time show?? The cheerleaders look okay, but do we really need to see one tossed into the air after every single play? I do like how the lighting changes as the sun sets, bathing the field in shadows and colors. On the field the action is pretty solid. Runningbacks break tackles easier, and receivers make some acrobatic catches. Playing defense is tough though. It's hard to tackle the quarterback even when you're right in his face, and defenders seem to slow down slightly before they dive - resulting in a clean miss most of the time. After broken plays, defenders tend to pick up the ball and start running (as they do in real football), but this animation is beaten to death. The ability to strip the football with the left button is risky but habit-forming. The kicking system is extremely shallow and is in need of an overhaul. Sometimes when previewing a play before the snap, the icons remain on the screen for too long, obstructing your view as the play begins. As usual, EA disrupts the flow of the game with unwanted features like "guess the play" and "photo op" (those photos always suck by the way). The announcing can be very inaccurate at times, and it seems as if key players (namely the quarterback or runningback) get hurt every game. And did you know there was only one referee in the entire NCAA!? Now that's just lazy, EA. And where in the hell are the coaches? There's no head coaches!? Are you [expletive] kidding me? This game takes as many steps backward as forward. NCAA Football 10 basically just retains the status quo - exactly what we've come to expect from EA. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NCAA Football 11
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/9/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotNCAA Football 11 delivers the best all-around football action you'll play this year. The ESPN license ensures you'll experience the same distinctive music and visual effects that put most of us in the mind of autumn. Nifty pre-game touches include players warming up and a band marching on the field. The player models are well-defined and don more accessories than last year including leg braces and Under Armour shoes. The action on the field is fluid and realistic. I love how runningbacks bounce off linemen and defenders try to rip the ball out of their hands. The user interface is polished, and there are less annoying cut-aways than in recent years. The weather options are nice, and the ambient rain sounds are especially soothing. NCAA 11 looks great on the surface, but the devil is in the details. First off, where are the [expletive] coaches? This omission is so glaring it's almost worth a letter grade. Occasionally a player will line up way offside but no penalty will be called. Sometimes during play-action the QB will keep running backward - all the way out of the end zone! In one instance a runningback was seriously hurt and carted off the field, only to be seen jumping around and celebrating during the very next camera shot! Although unintentionally hilarious, glitches like this make you wonder what the play testers were doing. There's little in the way of pageantry, with rarely-seen cheerleaders and no half time show! The coach's challenge mechanism is a joke. One new feature I do like is the handy "auto-save" function, which eliminates the tedium of managing your files. The commentators sound great as usual, offering varied and interesting observations. NCAA 11 gets the job done, but you get the feeling that EA's NCAA monopoly is resulting in a watered-down experience. Even so, this compares favorably to this year's Madden. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NCAA Football 12
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2011)
Reviewed: 2011/8/31
Rating: Everyone

screenshotDespite my well-documented disdain for EA's dubious business practices, my unwavering love of football forces me to buy and play these games year after year. NCAA Football 12 probably deserves an average grade by default (no competition right?), but I can't deny this is a full-featured title that could occupy a pigskin enthusiast for months on end. There are dozens of play modes that cater to everyone from beginners (one button mode) to experts (dynasty mode) to those douche-bags who play online and call you a "little [expletive]" when they lose. The rich controls and extensive playbooks offer a lot of possibilities. A game this complex deserves a thick, well-organized manual, but due to EA's new policy you don't get one (speaking of douche bags). Oh, you say there's a manual built into the game? That skimpy thing doesn't even contain the basic running moves. Gamers who buy this yearly will figure it out, but arranging an on-line match with a friend is a nightmarish exercise in frustration. Once you get started, the game plays well. The player animation is on par with last year's Madden (predictably) and I'm seeing a lot of moves I haven't before. Coaches are back on the sidelines after inexplicably taking a year off. The commentators are solid, and the sound of the band really gets you in the spirit of the season. The play selection interface is terrific and the games move along with no lulls in the action. I like how the play "arrows" appear automatically before you hike the ball, and a handy "even up" feature lets you easily match up any two teams. The stadiums and weather conditions look fantastic, and I love how you can use "real time" weather. I even enjoyed the "Road to Glory" mode which starts you out playing high school ball. There's a lot to like, but plenty of sloppiness as well. Defenders can't catch a ball to save their lives, and the kicking game absolutely sucks. The challenge system is broken (as it is every year), and there are sporadic glitches like the clock moving after an incomplete pass. Your quarterback gets totally hammered whenever you run play-action. You can't adjust the game times during the season, which makes no sense considering those aren't scheduled ahead of time. There are a few cut-scenes before the game, but no half time or post-game shows. During one instant replay my friend Scott pointed out that the ball's spiral rotation changed direction three times in mid-air. That's right, EA has literally rewritten the laws of physics, yet they can't do a [expletive] half-time show. I find myself playing NCAA Football 12, but less because I love the game and more because I just love football. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NCAA Football 13
Grade: D
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/8/13
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYear after year, EA seems to put less effort into this franchise, effectively running its exclusive NCAA license into the ground. NCAA Football 13's core gameplay is mostly unchanged from last year, but a lot more bugs have been added. There are freeze-ups and terrible instant replays to contend with. Sometimes you'll pull the trigger to preview your receivers and the camera won't snap back, forcing you to execute the play from an extreme distance. There are times when the game won't even let you select a play on the screen. Occasionally the pass icons will show a question mark instead of a letter (what the heck?). When you lateral the ball to nobody, it's inexplicably ruled a dead ball. My friends could not believe their eyes when they saw a replay with the ball being carried by an invisible runner. There's no half time show and most of the "highlights" are still pictures (lame!). One new feature is the ability to choose from about a million uniform combinations. That's fine, but why can't I adjust the time and weather in the dynasty mode? Speaking of which, the dynasty mode has become so bloated and time-consuming that you'll be wishing for a stripped-down season mode. NCAA 13 does offer some nifty new animations like defenders that jar the ball loose and runningbacks who spin out of tackles. Sometimes the quarterback will even slip while fading back. The band music is spirited, the commentators are good, and the "studio highlights" enhance the television presentation. The on-line mode is a crap-shoot. After painstakingly entering my "online pass" code (grumble), downloading updates (argh), and skipping through the marketing garbage (gah!), I was disconnected while trying to play against a friend. NCAA 13's controls are complicated but there's no instruction manual and it's a pain to navigate the menus. I'm sure this cost-cutting measure was meant to save the environment and not just pay for the CEO's new yacht. Maybe that should be EA's new slogan: "Saving the planet by making bad video games." © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NCAA Football 14
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2013)
Reviewed: 2013/9/3
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIn light of the current litigation over the use of player likenesses in NCAA games, some are saying this could be the last college football video game ever. So it figures that NCAA Football 14 is the strongest entry in years. All your favorite modes are here, enjoyed on-line or off. I'm happy to report that the season mode has been resurrected for those who have no interest in messing with recruiting, contracts, and the other administrative garbage that bogs down the dynasty mode. Neutral sites are included for the first time - so my Maryland Terrapins can play the University of West Virginia at the Raven's stadium this year. The training mode is well executed and great for practicing option plays. NCAA 14's presentation is polished but unspectacular. The ESPN graphics and familiar music are spot-on, but the studio updates are lame and you never actually see the commentators. On the field the action is finely tuned. There are so many new animations that I seem to notice a cool new move every game. On defense helpful arrows are displayed on the screen before the snap so you know exactly where your player is supposed to cover. I like how players fight for passes and jaw at each other after plays. I did notice that the framerate stutters badly as the ball carrier is being brought to the ground - as if the game is trying hard to figure out if a fumble should occur or not. Injuries occur periodically, but the game doesn't keep you properly apprised of the status of hurt players. The pageantry of college football shines through with ever-present band music and a PA announcer who resonates throughout the stadium. You have to appreciate the dedication of fans that paint their chests with the word W-I-N. Most of NCAA Football 14's problems are detail-oriented. Depending on your team, the uniforms might be a year (or two) out of date. You can download uniform updates, but the interface for doing so is a mess. During a season you inexplicably can't adjust the time of day or weather conditions. The pre-game shows appear to show highlights of the game about to be played, and that's just weird. Despite these minor quibbles NCAA Football 14 is a rock solid title with a heck of a lot of play value. If this really is the end of the franchise, at least it will go out on a high note. © Copyright 2013 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


NCAA March Madness 07
Grade: D-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/3/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotElectronic Arts, if you intend to be a contender in the NCAA basketball video game market, you at least have to make an effort! The rampant glitches, herky-jerky animation, and blatant omissions of March Madness 07 make it seem like a half-hearted effort at best. In contrast to the smooth, polished College Hoops 2K7, the players here look like they're running under a strobe light, and their lack of speed seriously undermines the term "fast break". EA really should have overhauled their outdated basketball engine, but that would have been hard, so instead they added a bunch of superfluous features like the ability to upgrade arenas or interact with the crowd. All that matters is the action on the court, and March Madness is awkward, sloppy, and unbalanced. The rosters are fairly up to date, but the players look like senior citizens and their uniforms are awfully stiff. I'm a huge Maryland Terrapins fan, but I had no idea who the players on my team were supposed to represent. The only things that look good in March Madness are the amazing wooden floors and shapely cheerleaders. Even the arenas seem dull and uninteresting. The controls could use some work as well. You can't call for a pick, and it's confusing how two buttons are used to shoot the ball (expect a lot of lay-up attempts from the 3-point line). You can drive the lane pretty much at will, and it's far too easy to draw a foul in the process. The players do display a lot of emotion, but it's often inappropriate for the situation. The foul shooting mechanism is simple enough, but much less fun that the "T-meter" EA originally patented in the mid-90s. In terms of audio, it's always great to hear the excited commentary of Dick Vitalle, but the play-by-play guy is pretty repetitive. March Madness 07 is a raggedy game, but what will infuriate fans most is the game's complete lack of coaches. How do you expect to recreate the feel of real NCAA basketball with no coaches on the sidelines?! It's especially glaring when a timeout is called and the players simply "huddle up". I wasn't expecting EA's first college basketball for the 360 to be perfect, but this is madness!! © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NHL 07
Grade: C+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt's not a "pick up and play" title like NHL 2K7 (2K Sports), but EA's NHL 07 offers a deeper, more realistic brand of hockey. If you're patient enough to master the new "skill stick" controls, you'll get a lot of satisfaction out of this. 07's graphics won't blow you away (the rink looks somewhat dull), but the action feels like a real NHL game. The innovative new control scheme allows you to use both thumbsticks to control your body and hockey stick at the same time. It's not particularly intuitive, but once you master it, you can pull off back-hands, behind-the-back shots, and one-timers with ease. On defense the right thumbstick is used to deliver body checks, and that works great. Unlike NHL 2K7, it's easier to maintain control of the puck on offense, and you can unleash some truly devastating slap shots. There's no turbo button (it's really not needed), so the right trigger is used to pass the puck instead. If that's too confusing, rest assured that the "classic controls" are still available in case you need to fall back on them. One big negative about NHL 07 is how easy it is to lose track of the puck. Those small triangles that are meant to indicate control and possession just don't cut it. Passing and switching between defenders is less responsive than 2K7, and be sure to turn off the fighting, which is a complete waste of time. 07 does boast excellent, professional commentary and animated loading screens that nicely explain the new controls. Hockey games have become somewhat stagnant over the past few years, so I'm glad EA took some chances with NHL 07. Those looking for instant gratification may gravitate towards NHL 2K7, but purists who give NHL 07 a chance will appreciate the depth and realism it has to offer. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


NHL 09
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2009)
Reviewed: 2008/12/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotDo you want to be a hardcore hockey gamer like the VGC? Well, I'll tell you how. First, you turn off those annoying off-sides and icing penalties. During the game, whenever your goalie gets the puck, you must immediately kick it out! Yes, you might give away a scoring chance, but it's worth the risk to avoid those time-consuming face-offs! Last but not least, you need to showboat like a complete bastard when you score on a friend (laughing like a hyena is optional but highly recommended). NHL 09 delivers what is arguably the best all-around hockey game this year, with deep gameplay, non-stop action, and impressive realism. The default overhead camera angle doesn't reveal much eye candy, but it does provide an optimal view. Much has been made of the new "NHL 94 controls" option, but it's a bust. Using only two buttons is great, but holding in the shot button after a pass does not initiate a one-timer shot (as it does in the real NHL 94). It's a glaring oversight, but fortunately NHL 09's default scheme will do just fine. I love how the dual sticks are pretty much all you need on both offense and defense. The only button you need to worry about is the right trigger, which switches players on defense and passes on offense. For once, I wish that trigger were a regular button (like the one on the PS3 controller), because constantly squeezing it can be tiresome. One-timers are the bread and butter of my game, but far too many times I watched my guy whiff at a scoring opportunity. This game is unforgiving, but purists will appreciate the richness of the controls and skill this game demands. NHL 09's presentation is understated compared to NHL 2K9, but it does feature a nice intro and broadcast-quality commentary. It's a close call between this and NHL 2K9, but over the long haul NHL 09 probably delivers a more satisfying brand of hockey action. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


NHL 10
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/11/28
Rating: Everyone

screenshotWith NHL 10, Electronic Arts has succeeded in creating the most realistic hockey experience, but is it the most fun? NHL 10's graphics are polished but unspectacular, lacking the TV-style presentation of NHL 2K10 (2K Sports). As in years past, the two thumbsticks control the bulk of the action, and it's a very comfortable configuration. There's a learning curve involved, but there's also the potential to handle the puck and shoot with pinpoint accuracy. I love administering body checks with the right stick, but using the right bumper for poke checks is awkward. Passing is very unforgiving, so rarely could I thread-the-needle for one-timers. The scoring is realistic, so don't expect any easy goals. One new feature is your ability to pin opponents against the boards via the Y button. While it's certainly something that occurs all the time in real hockey, it's also one of the more tedious aspects of the sport, and it slows down the action. Also new is how you can scuffle with opposing players using the Y button after the whistle blows. Harassing your opponent seems fun at first, but it does extend the length of the game. If things become too heated, you're treated to some first-person fighting action. That's right, you are looking directly at your opponent as you dish out punches using the right stick. It's pretty cool the first few times you try it, but once the novelty wears off, it's something you'll tend to avoid. NHL 10 has a few strange quirks, like how you can't view the clock during instant replays, and how home fans cheer when the visiting team scores. NHL 10 will appeal to purists, but its emphasis on realism may deter those looking for some simple, hard-hitting action. For those people I'd recommend NHL 2K10 instead. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


NHL 11
Grade: B+
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2010)
Reviewed: 2011/1/4
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThere's no 2K Sports hockey for the Xbox 360 this year, but that's okay because NHL 11 delivers a realistic brand of hockey that rewards good stick handling and patience with the puck. Of course luck plays a major role as well, especially when there's a loose puck around goal. NHL 11's graphics are very sharp and the introductions feature dazzling lighting effects. An eclectic mix of uptempo music really helps to get you psyched up as well. NHL 11 is fun, but those who prefer arcade over realism may be a little disappointed. Passing is difficult, so you'll rarely "thread the needle" with a centering pass. On defense the body checks are less-than-devastating, but poking the puck away with the right bumper is surprisingly effective. The contests tend to be exciting, and during one-goal games the tension can be overwhelming. Warning beeps signal when a period is about to end, but they start way too early! The play-by-play commentators do a commendable job of keeping up with the action, shouting things like "here they come on a 3-on-1 chance!" just as it's happening. So what's new this year? Well, defenders can pin their opponent against the boards, and the pinned player can kick out the puck. It's possible for sticks to be broken, and this feature is a little overused as you see a broken stick on the ice every time you turn around. The user-controlled celebrations are a nice touch as each button maps to a different animation. My biggest annoyance with NHL 11 is how your goalie can't always kick out the puck after a stop. Nothing kills the fun like a tedious, time-consuming face-off, and any hockey lover will tell you that it's worth the risk of giving up a goal just to avoid that painful lull in the action. I also had a little issue with the dual-stick shooting controls. They're fine when you're headed up the screen, but when you're facing downward they feel extremely counter-intuitive. Overall NHL 11 is a solid new edition that won't win over the casual crowd but should certainly meet with the approval of die-hard hockey fans. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


NHL 12
Grade: C-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/3/17
Rating: Everyone

screenshotIt would be tough for someone who just walked into the room to tell if I was playing NHL 12... or NHL 11... or NHL 10 for that matter! The changes in this latest edition are incremental at best, and annoying at worst! The action on the ice is fair but unspectacular. I feel like too many goals are chalked up to luck, and not enough to skill. Too many puck deflections make it tough to thread-the-needle and execute one-timers. The controls are simple enough (sticks and triggers), but I'm really, really missing that turbo button. It's fun to harass your opponent by kicking him or grabbing his helmet, but when the gloves come off, the fights are a colossal bore. Besides the outdoor rink (which I like), NHL 12's biggest change is its convoluted menu system. There's a heck of a lot of crap to sift through, and I noticed that most play modes require you to go on-line for no particularly good reason. Oh wait - that's right - EA needs you to spend more money! During intermissions you have to wade through all kinds of garbage just to find the team statistics - which really should be displayed by default. When playing a season, the save system is onerous. Would an auto-save be too much to ask for? It's the 90's for Pete's sake! Oh wait... The inclusion of "Don't Bring Me Down" by E.L.O. in the soundtrack nearly convinced me to bump up the grade by a letter... but... I don't think so. The on-disk manual is skimpy as hell, and considering it requires no natural resources to produce, I'll have to chalk that up to pure laziness on EA's part. My friend Steve and I teamed up to play this game on-line against other unsuspecting chumps, and that was easily the most fun I've had with this game. Overall NHL 12 is just more of the same, and even die-hard hockey fans may have a hard time justifying this "upgrade". © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.
1 to 4 players 


NHL 14
Grade: C
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2013)
Reviewed: 2014/2/20
Rating: Everyone

screenshotThere's nothing bad about NHL 14 but nothing great about it either. In other words, it's the standard lukewarm effort we've come to expect from EA. This year marks the 20th anniversary of what may be the greatest hockey game of all time: NHL 94 for the Sega Genesis. To celebrate the occasion this game includes an NHL 94 mode and control option. It's just enough to remind you how fun EA hockey games used to be. There's little speed or excitement in the default "simulation" setting, so be sure to switch to "high impact". The dual-stick controls have worn out their welcome in my book. Pressing in on the left stick to "hustle" is uncomfortable, and trying to shoot while facing the lower goal (in two-player mode) is awkward. The NHL 94 controls help but one-timers are really hard to execute. One nice new feature is the "one-touch" deke that makes it easy to fake out defenders on the open ice. I like how players kick the puck with their feet when tied up on the boards, and it's considerate of the CPU goalie to give up the puck instead of always holding it for a face-off. It's not particularly hard to score in NHL 14, so don't let your guard down even as the last few seconds tick down. The Winter Classic contests are a fine addition, but they could have used more stadium shots to remind you you're playing outdoors. The sophisticated new fighting system is pretty cool. I like how the helmets fly off and you can hear the smack of punches landing. One thing that's sorely lacking in NHL 14 is hard checking. These hits have no impact. Even when I shattered the plexiglass during one play, it hardly looked like a devastating hit. The commentators are competent but why can't we see them during the intermissions? Instead you're presented with a poorly-designed statistics page that's hard to sift through. The special "NHL 94 mode" reprises the classic music, controls, and sounds effects, but lacks those pixelated players we love. On the whole NHL 14 serves its purpose, but it makes me want to play NHL 94 instead. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
1 or 2 players 


NHL 2K10
Grade: B+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/11/28
Rating: Everyone

screenshotOn paper it may look inferior to EA's NHL 10, but in practice NHL 2K10 is a heck of a lot of fun! I get the impression that 2K got tired of competing with EA to be the most realistic game, and instead set their sights on being the most fun. Guess what - it's working! NHL 2K10 is faster and its games tend to be high scoring affairs. Expect a lot of rebounds off the goalie, leading to exciting barrages of offensive displays. It's quite easy to score on one-on-one breakaways as well. The default controls use a conventional button scheme that's simple to grasp. Passing is effortless, and you can unleash wicked shots with the press of a button. The manual describes the right stick as the "pro stick", but since it's never explained what that means, I couldn't tell you if it's comparable to EA's scheme. Alex Ovechkin is the game's new cover boy, but I couldn't seem to get the newly-incorporated "Ovi dekes" to work. NHL 2K10 doesn't take itself very seriously, and sometimes it can be downright wacky! There's an Asian referee (!) who looks hilarious. Between periods you have the option of playing a "drive the zamboni" mini-game. As the commentator remarks, "Bizarre isn't it? What will they think of next?" NHL 2K10 is flasher than EA's game, with more vibrant graphics, crisper sound effects, and more interesting commentary. The reflections of the video monitors on the ice surface are impressive, and I love the ominous organ music that plays when the visiting team scores. NHL 2K10 does have a few issues worthy of mention. For one thing, although each player has a turbo meter, the increase in speed is barely perceivable. It drains so slowly that you basically end up holding in the right trigger in for the entire game (like NBA Jam). Having the poke check mapped to the right bumper is problematic for this reason. As with other 2K Sports titles, the menu interface is absolutely horrendous, and trying to use the replay system is a nightmare. When will 2K realize that using the right stick to bring up a menu makes no sense!? Friends of mine who closely follow the sport of hockey swear by NHL 10, but I think more casual players (like myself) will favor NHL 2K10. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NHL 2K7
Grade: C+
Publisher: 2K Sports (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI've been an avid video game hockey fan since my dad bought me Ice Hockey (Activision 1982) for my Atari 2600 as a kid. Hockey games have certainly progressed in terms of graphics, but their gameplay hasn't improved appreciably (if at all) since the 16-bit days. NHK 2K7 is a decent but unremarkable title with arcade flair. You can expect flashy graphics, smooth action, torrid pacing, and familiar controls. There are few stoppages in play due to minimal penalties and goalies that opt to "kick out" the puck instead of holding it for a face-off. The body checks are jarring, and the passing controls are exceptional. The right-trigger "speed burst" is fairly useless however, since you tend to hold it in for the entire time. Maintaining possession of the puck is tough, and there's little technique involved in shots on goal. This lack of shooting technique is especially problematic during overtime shoot-out situations, which tend to go on forever. NHL 2K7 has a real "up-and-down" style of play, like a basketball game with nothing but fast breaks. While certainly exciting, it can become tiresome and monotonous after a while, so you'll want to keep your contests short. In terms of graphics, 2K7's shiny rinks and realistic players look terrific, but the visuals have clearly reached a point of diminishing return. Up close, the players' skin and stubble looks amazing, but their freaky, wide eyes make them look absolutely psychotic. Since the camera is pulled way back during play, most of the minute details are inconsequential. 2K7's commentary keeps up with the action, but you'll hear odd lines like "that's the Dodge play of the game" (in the first period?), and "remember, he's not trying to hurt his opponent" (why the hell not?). 2K Sports is known for its robust option menus, but lately they seem to be getting out of hand. I found it necessary to adjust many basic options (like goalie control and shot aiming) from the start, and you can get lost paging through them all. Upon finishing a game in season mode, you're prompted to save your profile, but not your season. Instead, it reminds you to save your season from another menu that you need to hunt for! All in all, NHL 2K7 will definitely appeal to a mainstream audience, but real hockey fans looking for more substance should investigate EA's NHL 07 first. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


NHL 2K9
Grade: B-
Publisher: 2K Sports (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/11/21
Rating: Everyone

screenshotFrom the BOOM of body checks against the boards, to the THWAP of wide shots hitting glass, to the deafening roar of the crowd, NHL 2K9 holds the distinction of being this year's loudest hockey game. During one contest I heard a crash so loud I thought the entire arena was collapsing! NHL 2K9 has a certain "extreme" quality in its flashy graphics, jarring audio, and arcade-style gameplay. Its low, tilted camera angle makes you feel close to the action. That shiny surface looks very inviting, and I love how players spray ice with their skates. The controls are simple enough at their core, but the advanced controls span several pages of the manual. Turbo is initiated with the right trigger, but its effect is negligible, so what's the point? There's plenty of scoring in NHL 2K9, and I love how I can execute my world-famous one-timers at will. On defense, it's easy to administer devastating body checks, which cause the entire screen to jolt for dramatic effect (sweet). The fighting action is terrific, and during intermissions you even have the option of playing a "drive the zamboni" mini-game! There's a lot to like about NHL 2K9, but it's not perfect. On the team selection screen, teams are rated using bars instead of numbers, making it hard to find an even match-up. In the heat of the action it can be hard to locate the puck, especially with so many meters, names, and icons cluttering up the ice. The collision detection lapses at times, which was evident when I watched a puck pass clear through a goalie's mitt during a slow-motion replay. Despite its flaws, NHL 2K9 still packs enough punch to keep your adrenaline flowing. It delivers more instant gratification than NHL 09, but serious hockey fans may tire of its frenetic, up-and-down pace. Still, between both games, you really can't go wrong. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

1 to 4 players 


Namco Museum Virtual Arcade
Grade: B
Publisher: Namco (2008)
Reviewed: 2009/2/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotGame publishers tend to botch arcade compilations in some imaginative ways, but in this one the classics emerge pretty much intact. The 34 titles span Namco's history (from 1980) and are divided into 9 Xbox Live games and 25 "museum" titles. You won't find much you haven't seen on the many previous editions of Namco Museum. If you don't own any of those however, this is a pretty sweet deal! The Live games represent the heavy hitters like Dig Dug, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Xevious. I was really impressed by Pac-Man Championship Edition, which reinvigorates the venerable formula with dynamic mazes and a pulsating soundtrack. Another flashy new title is Galaga Legions, offering non-stop action and eye candy on the magnitude of Geometry Wars. It's neat how you can position two "satellite" cannons anywhere on the screen, but man, this does not feel like Galaga at all. Mr. Driller Online is a clever hybrid of Tetris and Dig Dug featuring some sweet chain reactions. You'll need to be on-line to share your scores, but all of these games do save your personal scores locally, thank goodness. On the "museum" side you'll find some old favorites (Galaxian, Pole Position, Rolling Thunder), but mostly forgettable titles like Bosconian, Dragon Spirit, and Pac-Mania. The three "arranged" titles give Galaga, Pac-Man, and Dig Dug a shot in the arm with flashy graphics and more sophisticated gameplay (power-ups and bosses). I like how they preserve the spirit of these oldies, but they are not nearly as addictive as the originals. So what else is new? Well, Galaga '88 is the arcade version of the critically acclaimed Galaga '90 (Turbografx 16), and it's slightly different but just as fun. I had previously only played Dig Dug 2 on the NES, so it's nice to own the arcade version (even though its gameplay is hard to grasp). Other previously unavailable games include King & Balloon (is that king creepy or what?), Pac & Pal (and ill-advised twist on Super Pac-Man), Motos (yuck), and Sky Kid Deluxe (pass!). The configuration options are modest, but the new stage select options are nice. My main beef with Namco Virtual Arcade is that it's one-player only! Also, the historical material from the original museum disks is nowhere to be found. It's a flawed package, but the timeless gameplay of these classic games cannot be denied. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Need For Speed Carbon
Grade: B-
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2006)
Reviewed: 2007/1/28
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI really enjoyed Need For Speed Most Wanted on my 360, and since Carbon has been called "Most Wanted at night", I was totally psyched about it (I prefer night driving). Carbon is set in a fictional town with beautiful lighted skyscrapers and death-defying canyon roads. While clean and detailed, the city struck me as being very artificial, which limited the whole "joy riding" aspect for me. The background story is conveyed through "computer-enhanced" characters that look like live actors enveloped in an unnatural glow. Predictably, the story revolves around an obligatory hot babe who you're trying to win over. The game lets you cruise around freely looking for challenges, or access them directly using the "world map". I prefer the world map option, because running from cops gets really old after while. The challenges offer plenty of variety, including circuit races, sprints, speed traps, and drift challenges. The racing action is fun, and a new feature lets you employ a "wingman" to help you during races. Depending on his skill, he can block other cars for you, provide drafting opportunities (speed bursts), or even scout out shortcuts. I didn't use these guys too much, but they can come in handy. You might think the non-racing drifting-for-points stages sound weak, but I found them strangely compelling. I like how Carbon opens up new areas as you progress, but the overly-difficult "boss" encounters nearly ruin the game. These are actually composed of several races, and losing any one forces you to start the whole ordeal over. Still, I like how you can view your rival's facial expressions in the little window that appears in the corner of the screen. The game auto-saves your progress, but since it never explicitly tells you it's saving, you always get that nervous feeling before shutting the game off. I also need to admonish EA for their flimsy, skimpy instruction manual. Perhaps EA was trying to save two cents per game so their CEO could buy another yacht, but when you charge $60 for a game, cutting corners like that is unforgivable. In fact, this is one game that clearly could have benefited from a decent instruction book, considering all symbols that appear on the screen. Need For Speed Carbon is a good looking game that provides some high-speed thrills, but it left me feeling less than satisfied. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Need For Speed: Most Wanted
Grade: B
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/4/1
Rating: Teen (mild violence)


screenshotThis urban-themed racer allows you to wreck scenery and avoid police while participating in no-holds-barred street races. It's very satisfying to smash through fences, barriers, construction sites, and phone booths as you whiz past rival racers and avoid converging police cars. The oncoming traffic and amazing sense of speed gives the game a certain Burnout (GameCube, 2002) flavor. The action takes place in the fictitious city of Rockport, with scenery emphasizing realism over flash, incorporating run-down industrial areas and rendering everything in dull brown hues. The trees look amazing, as do the changing weather conditions. During thunderstorms, rain glistens on the streets and beads on your windshield as thunder booms in the background. While Most Wanted doesn't deliver the polished visuals or instant gratification of Ridge Racer 6 or Project Gotham 3, it may have the edge in long-term play value. The engaging career mode lets you to challenge 15 progressively difficult rivals, each requiring you to complete a number of preliminary races and challenges. You can cruise around town to locate the next event, or initiate each directly from your "safe house" menu. The races are exhilarating at times, although the field is mainly limited to four cars. When a cop first appears on the scene, the screen suddenly freezes and zooms to his position - a very effective cinematic technique. The ensuing chases are fun, although they make you feel like one of those criminal lowlifes you see on reality television shows. I love how you hear the cops communicating back and forth about you on their radios. Escaping police is time consuming but not particularly difficult, and these encounters tend to wear thin after a while. You begin with a modest vehicle, but can upgrade and trade up as the game progresses. Defeating rivals unlocks new cars and locations, as well as mystery bonus items including cash, "get out of jail" cards, and special upgrades. Need For Speed's controls have a loose feel, but that's consistent with the reckless style of the game. It can be hard to avoid oncoming traffic, but if you do wreck head-on, you only need to hit the handy "reset" button to be instantly put back on the road. Most Wanted's soundtrack has an appropriate hip-hop vibe which I found to be better than average. Cut scenes feature actors with a processed "glow" that helps them better blend into the computer-generated background scenery. Naturally, a super-hot chick plays the lead role. One annoying aspect of the game is its email and voicemail functions. It's bad enough to deal with these in real life - I don't want them in my games. Fortunately, you can pretty much ignore the messages as they accumulate in your inbox. A two-player split-screen mode is included, but sadly, you can't play the role of the police. Need For Speed: Most Wanted definitely hits the mark when it comes to streetwise, chaotic racing contests. It may lack the pristine visuals and crisp control of other 360 racers, but Most Wanted's wild brand of lawless action will keep you coming back for more. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

1 or 2 players 


Need For Speed: The Run
Grade: A
Publisher: Electronic Arts (2012)
Reviewed: 2012/9/1
Rating: Teen (language, mild suggestive themes, violence)

screenshotI have a theory why Need For Speed: The Run is so underrated. EA has cranked out so many Need For Speed titles that gamers are just numb to the franchise. It's a shame, because The Run is the most exhilarating racer I've ever played! It combines the satisfaction of a realistic simulation with the instant gratification of an arcade game. You play a guy wanted by the mob, the police, and everybody else and their mother it seems. You'll race clear across the country from San Francisco to New York, but your journey is broken down into short, bite-sized chunks. The premise allows for all sorts of diverse scenery including dusty deserts, snowy mountains, national parks, and bustling cities. Plus you get varied track conditions, time of day, and weather. In terms of graphics, The Run looks spectacular. The natural scenery is extremely easy on the eyes, and the snowy Aspen track is a veritable winter wonderland. The fact that I clutch the controller so tight while playing the game is a testament to its intensity. The sense of speed is phenomenal, and the collisions are devastating! While jockeying with other vehicles you'll constantly need to make split-second decisions. Toss in oncoming traffic, harrowing cliffs, and kamikaze cops, and the action kicks into overdrive!! The cops are pretty cheap and the load times are substantial, but it's a small price to pay for such a kick-ass driving experience. You get to race against an avalanche for Pete's sake! I love the forgiving "limited reset" system which encourages reckless behavior. Be sure to save a bit of turbo for the final stretch, because you often need that extra boost to edge out an opponent at the finish line. Need For Speed: The Run is so good I can barely believe it. It's fun to make a little progress each night, but be forewarned you may find yourself up till 2AM. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 


Ninja Blade
Grade: D
Publisher: From Software (2009)
Reviewed: 2011/4/24
Rating: Mature (blood, violence)

screenshotNinja Blade is a fantastic-looking, over-the-top ninja title that many critics loved. The scale of this game is immense, as a parasitic infection is sweeping the globe and creating huge rampaging monsters. Set in a city at night, towering skyscrapers make for one heck of a playground. Nighttime is the right time, but I couldn't help but notice that those pairs of lights on the highways below have no cars behind them. Your ninja is armed with several swords and throwing stars imbued with powers like wind and fire. Ninja Blade borrows a lot of elements from other action games. You'll run across walls like Prince of Persia, dart between targets like Ninja Gaiden, tap buttons in "quick-action" sequences like God of War, and use "ninja vision" to slow the action like Max Payne. The deformed mutants you battle reminded me of Guts Rage: Sword of the Berzerk (Dreamcast). The platform jumping action is okay, but sometimes the game prevents you from falling off ledges, and other times it won't. The fighting action is fairly satisfying as you unleash devastating attack combinations that send mutants flying. Heavy use of quick-action sequences keep you on your toes but make the action feel very scripted. If you miss a button prompt, the game simply rewinds a few seconds and lets you replay the sequence with no penalty. You'll also have the opportunity to man a cannon on several occasions, but the aiming controls absolutely suck. Some of the predicaments you find yourself in are unintentionally comical, like when you're surfing a missile or riding a motorcycle over trucks falling from the sky. I can suspend disbelief with no problem, but the non-stop boss encounters pushed me over the edge. Bosses can be exciting in moderation, but when it's just one after the next, it gets tiresome. Each is time-consuming to defeat, even when you're on to their patterns. Worse yet, the game will periodically send a pesky swarm of bats your way just to annoy you. But the single worse aspect of Ninja Blade is how you can only save your progress between missions. This is unacceptable when you consider a single mission can potentially last hours. It's a shame that only the most dedicated gamers with a lot of time on their hands will fully behold the spectacle that is Ninja Blade. © Copyright 2011 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 



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