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The Friday Five: 5 Underrated Basketball Video Games

The Friday Five

Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! The Friday Five is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to NBA Live, NBA 2K, and other basketball video games, as well as the real NBA, and other areas of interest to our community. The feature is presented as either a list of five items, or in the form of a Top 5 countdown. This week’s Five is a list of five basketball video games that I’d consider to be somewhat underrated.

Underrated and overrated are tricky terms, often used very much subjectively. They suggest that the majority view is incorrect, which may certainly be the case, but can also indicate a strongly held minority view that isn’t without its own bias. Basically, whenever the matter of something being overrated or underrated is discussed, we need to ask “by whom?” After all, if the consensus is that someone or something is in fact underrated or overrated, then technically, they cease to be either. Indeed, that’s when someone or something that’s underrated can become overrated, and vice versa.

Discussions about semantics aside, it’s certainly possible to give too little credit and overlook, or to give too much credit and overhype. We’re looking at the former today, with a list of five underrated basketball video games. Now, that’s not to say that these titles haven’t received any acclaim at all, or that they’ve never been popular. However, either due to certain controversies or other games that were released in the same era, they’re not ranked or rated as highly as they perhaps should be; at least in my opinion. As always, keep in mind that this is intended to start the discussion, not stand as a definitive list. With that being said, let’s get to the Five!

1. NBA Jam (2010)

Larry Bird Boss Battle in NBA Jam (2010)

How do you ruin the reputation of a basketball video game? Well, associating it with the failure of NBA Elite 11 is one effective method. When EA Sports rebooted the NBA Jam series in 2010 with a release for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, they created a new arcade basketball game that was very faithful to the original classic. It included some new features such as boss battles, mini-games, and the Remix Tour, but all the classic high-flying action of the original was present. There were some drawbacks to such a faithful recreation as not everything about the original game had aged well, but this was addressed in the game’s exceptional sequel, On Fire Edition.

Unfortunately, its reputation was sullied by a promotional tie-in with NBA Elite 11. A stripped down version of NBA Jam was to be included in the cancelled game, with the rest of the title available to be unlocked via paid downloadable content. When NBA Elite 11 was cancelled, Jam became a standalone release on PS3 and 360, as it was on the Wii. This led to the suggestion that EA were trying to sell something that was originally going to be free, even though what was planned for Elite 11 was basically a demo. This confusion, combined with the inaccurate suggestion that its quality is an insult to the original games, makes the 2010 reboot of NBA Jam very underrated.

2. NBA Live 06 (PC)

Dwyane Wade with the Freestyle Superstars dunk in NBA Live 06

Throughout the late 90s, NBA Live was the best overall product when it came to sim-oriented basketball video games. Despite a couple of missteps around the turn of the millennium, it remained competitive with the new NBA 2K series through to about 2005. The turning point came with the launch of the Xbox 360. As I’ll discuss in more detail in a forthcoming retrospective, the Xbox 360 version of NBA Live 06 was a disappointment, lacking Dynasty Mode, full instant replay controls, and other staples of basketball video games. Frankly, it was a setback that the NBA Live series is still trying to recover from today, in terms of both gameplay and depth of game modes.

NBA Live 06 PC, on the other hand, is the last great all-around game in the series. It’s identical to the PS2 and Xbox releases, only with the added bonus of everything that our modding community was capable of. There were additions to Dynasty and a few gameplay issues were ironed out, and while it didn’t work out quite as well as hoped, it saw the introduction of Freestyle Superstars. FSS was one of the first major efforts to implement player differentiation and signature moves, though it could be disabled if you felt it was too overpowering. People speak highly of NBA Live 2004 and NBA Live 2005, and rightfully so, but NBA Live 06 PC is right up there in my book.

3. NBA Live 99 (PC)

Antoine Walker dunks in NBA Live 99

It’s something that I touched upon in my retrospective for our 20th Anniversary of NBA Live content, but NBA Live 99 is unfortunately rather underrated. We did play it and mod it a lot back in the day, and it’s always been considered one of the better basketball video games for its era, but it’s also somewhat overlooked. As I said in my retrospective, it was affected by the lockout of 1998-1999, which meant that it had to launch with final 1998 season rosters. There were also a few noteworthy bugs, some of which were addressed by patches that also updated the rosters for the 1999 season. Cover player Antoine Walker often polls as one of the least favourites among gamers.

The main reason that NBA Live 99 is one of the more underrated basketball video games is that it came between two other very significant releases. NBA Live 98 was a big jump forward, being the first true 3D game in the series and a step up in realism. NBA Live 2000 is considered one of the best games in the series, featuring the debut of Legends and Franchise mode. NBA Live 99 holds its own in terms of gameplay and graphics however, and it has a respectable forerunner to the Franchise experience. The console versions admittedly aren’t as deep and also missed out on the updates, but the PC version was great for its time, and a little underrated and overlooked today.

4. NBA Street Homecourt

Clifford "Stretch" Monroe in NBA Street Homecourt

While I’m a bigger fan of NBA Jam than NBA Street, I do still hold the Street series in very high regard. NBA Street Homecourt in particular is special to me, as I actually got a sneak peek at it during the NBA Live 07 community event that I attended back in 2006. Beyond that, it turned out to be a great game and a worthy successor to the first three titles on the previous generation. While I haven’t seen a lot of negativity directed towards the game, it doesn’t seem to be talked about as much as the first three titles in the series. The second game, Vol. 2, seems to be most popular. While I would agree that it’s a fantastic game, Homecourt doesn’t deserve to be so overshadowed.

Aside from the obvious graphical improvements that came with a new generation of hardware, Homecourt introduced a lengthy campaign mode that involved building up your custom player, and recruiting NBA players to be your teammates. Famous street courts with connections to NBA players were faithfully recreated to the finest detail, for maximum authenticity. There were new moves and combo systems, online play with leaderboards, and even some cool downloadable content. I wouldn’t say that it’s no contest, but it has a strong claim to being the best game in the NBA Street series. If nothing else, I feel it should be talked about more, and in the same breath as Vol. 2.

5. NBA 2K17

Paul George, the most recent basketball game cover player to change teams.

This may be the most controversial inclusion on the list, but I have my reasons. As noted here in the Forum, there are a lot of people who have declared NBA 2K17 to be the worst game in the NBA 2K series, and a disappointment as far as basketball video games are concerned. The game is certainly not without its problems, but I’d have to disagree with that view. Even if NBA 2K17 did hold that dubious distinction at one point, I’d suggest that issues with AI, skating, clipping, and microtransactions have led to NBA 2K18 surpassing it in that regard. Personally, I’d say that NBA 2K17 holds its own against several of the best titles in the NBA 2K series.

Honestly, I feel that NBA 2K17 was a very solid all around product. It’s a bit more responsive than its predecessor on the sticks, and the AI is good across the board. All of the modes are very deep and appealing. The shooting mechanics are intuitive, and worked great for free throws. It has the best MyCAREER story to date in terms of its narrative and characters. The online experience is reasonably balanced (though it did fluctuate with the tuning updates), and improving your player doesn’t feel like nearly as much of a grind. I had a lot of fun with NBA 2K17, and it’s become one of my all-time favourite basketball video games. NBA 2K18 just hasn’t had the same shine.

Obviously there have been a lot of basketball video games over the years, with varied opinions on each release, and several that could feasibly be called underrated. This particular list of five is simply my opinion, so which other basketball video games do you feel are underrated or overlooked? What are your feelings on the titles that I’ve discussed? Have your say in the comments below, and as always, feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum! That’s all for this week, so thanks for checking in, have a great weekend, and please join me again next Friday for another Five.

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