Before discussing the gameplay, there are a few things about NCAA Basketball Final Four 97 that need to be dealt with up front. To get this game on store shelves in time to reap the benefits of the annual hysteria known as March Madness, Mindscape decided to forego the inclusion of the actual teams in this year's Tournament. Of the 64 teams they chose, only 37 actually made it this year. Furthermore, you won't recognize the names of these college players, because, unlike the NBA, there is no players association for the NCAA. Mindscape would have had to get permission from individual players to use their names in the game. However, the ability to change the player names and attributes has been included and an effort was made to create players who match a team's real roster by number, ability, and class. But if you want to play the real players, you're going to have to name them yourself.
Final Four 97 allows you to play a 30 game season or jump right into the Tournament. Any game can be instantly simulated if you like, or you can take over the playing and/or coaching yourself. The best characteristic of Final Four 97 is how easy it is to exit the game and get to the coaching and options screens - an onscreen flash and you're there, painlessly. You can assign offensive and defensive plays to four function buttons to be used during the game. When a play is changed, the players move into position nicely. Once the point guard takes the ball at the top of the key, the players begin to move accordingly, setting picks and moving into position. Although Final Four 97 is no clinic for proper offensive execution, plays are run fairly well; however, there is still too much standing around by many of the computer-controlled players and plays are often changed automatically by the computer - and you have no way to stop it.
Player graphics and animations are fluid and sharp but limited in their selection, making them a bit boring after a few full twenty-minute games. The play-by-play announcing is so limited that it might as well be nonexistent. In fact, the sound library consists of a folder for every team that contains two wave files, one saying the school's nickname and the other the school's name. Although those two wave files are seamlessly integrated into the speech, the lack of variety is noticeable.
In terms of realism and gameplay, Final Four 97 shoots an air ball. Even at the senior difficulty level, it doesn't take much to beat just about any computer opponent. The main reason for this is poor defense. If the computer plays any kind of pressure defense, it takes little more than a couple of passes to get the ball upcourt for an easy dunk. Stealing is not difficult, and you can go in for the easy layup or knock the ball out of an opponent's hands so many times that he gets called for a ten second violation. Most players' reaction time is way too slow. Because fouls are rarely called, you can just keep smacking that steal button - and you'll almost never hear a whistle.
Final Four 97 is plagued with a few other minor problems, like unrealistic rims (the ball will roll around slowly two or three times), no free-throw gauge, no computer-controlled shot (it depends on your button release), and no real coaching-only option. You don't have to move a controller to a team before a game, but then you can't even call plays during the game. You can call time-outs and make substitutions and decide which four plays the team will randomly choose on offense and defense, but you can't specify which one during the game.
If it's college basketball you want instead of the NBA, this one beats out Acclaim's NCAA Basketball in many ways. But EA Sports and NBA Live still take these college versions to school for an all around good basketball experience on your PC.