We’ve arrived at another Friday here at the NLSC, so here’s another edition of The Friday Five! For those of you who are checking out The Friday Five for the first time, this is feature that I post every Friday in which I discuss a variety of topics related to basketball video games, the real NBA and other areas of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or counting down a Top 5.
This week’s topic is Forgotten & Overlooked Basketball Games. I’m taking some liberties with those terms as these games aren’t necessarily that obscure and I’m sure that plenty of people do remember them, but they don’t seem to be talked about all that much and they’re games that I feel are worth reflecting upon. So, without any further ado, here are five basketball games that you may or may not remember, but hopefully will enjoy reading about.
1. World League Basketball
If you’re not living in a PAL region, you’ve probably never heard of this game. Basically, it was the PAL localisation of an NCAA basketball game by Sculptured Software, which featured Division 1 teams and followed the structure of the NCAA season and tournament. Since college players can’t legally appear in video games, while the teams were real, the players were all generic. Also, since college sports games can’t be sold internationally, it was rebranded World League Basketball in Europe and Australia, replacing the NCAA teams with fictional ones from around the world, competing in a worldwide tournament.
The game was quite advanced for its time and was the first 3D basketball game on a console. The gameplay was fun with some basic playcalling abilities, different dunks that could be performed on cue and the ability to save a game in progress. It was fun to create your own reality with this fictional league full of fictional players and although it didn’t crack last week’s list, it is actually one of my favourite basketball games, probably somewhere in my Top 20.
Another version of the game was also sold in Japan under the name Super Dunk Shot, containing knockoffs of the 27 NBA teams that were in the league at that time and hilariously renamed all of the players in a case of “I Can’t Believe It’s Not A Lawsuit”. Identical to NCAA Basketball and World League Basketball in most respects, it differed by allowing you to play through the not-NBA season of 82 games plus the Playoffs, featuring such squads as the 1992 champion “Chicago Bills” and their superstar duo of “Jordun” and “Pippin”, whose stats from the previous season seemed awfully familiar. Weird.
2. College Slam
From the people who brought you NBA Jam, it’s College Slam! In a nutshell, it was NBA Jam with college basketball teams and players. Well, college teams at any rate. As I mentioned before, college players can’t legally appear in video games, so the game had generic players named Shooting Guard, Power Forward and so on. Also, instead of “Monster Jam!”, Tim Kitzrow cried out “Mega Dunk!”. Yes, you could get away with a saying like that in the 90s without being ironic, and we’re not ashamed of it.
It was an interesting venture, but it was doomed to fall short of the success of the game that inspired it. Having generic players took away from the atmosphere and being an NCAA title, it couldn’t be sold internationally, which limited its exposure compared to NBA Jam. It had a couple of interesting wrinkles including the ability to call timeouts and different tournament modes, but it wasn’t enough to distract from the fact it was basically an NBA Jam clone – albeit from the creators of Jam – without any real players.
There also wasn’t much differentiation in player ratings either, so it was more about your personal preference/fanaticism as far as the team you picked, but I’m guessing that’s what they were aiming for.
3. NBA Full Court Press
The only fully licensed NBA game on this list, NBA Full Court Press by Microsoft was a mixed bag. It featured commentary by longtime Seattle SuperSonics announcer Kevin Calabro, slick presentation, a reasonably deep season mode, detailed ratings similar to NBA Live and some nice animations for 1996. For example, if you put up a shot from full court, players would actually fling a one handed Hail Mary rather than simply attempting an unreasonably long jumpshot. You could also choose to call a full or twenty second timeout, correctly replicating those rules at a time when other basketball games usually didn’t bother with that level of detail.
What wasn’t so great about it? Well, the gameplay was good for the era, but not stellar. Despite the ratings, every player could (and would) dunk. Because of licensing restrictions, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal did not appear in the game. While they could be added using Create-a-Player, the game had one of the worst approaches to roster management that I’ve ever seen. If a player happened to be on an All-Star team and you swapped them with another player in their original team’s lineup, that second player would also replace them on the All-Star roster. Just a bit sloppy.
Competing with both NBA Live 96 and NBA Live 97 – Full Court Press was kind of a game for both the 1995/1996 and 1996/1997 seasons – I would personally rate it below both games overall, but it certainly did do a few things better with full commentary, some nice presentation elements and a couple of aspects of gameplay as far as strategy and contextual animations were concerned. However, NBA Live was definitely king at that time.
4. Michael Jordan in Flight
I’ve previously mentioned this one in my 5 Best Basketball Video Game Intros. Aside from having a pretty cool intro, Michael Jordan in Flight was a decent three-on-three basketball game. The gameplay was acceptable, the graphics were quite good for their day and the tournament mode offered some replay value. Michael Jordan’s presence was obviously a huge selling point, but he was the only real player available, which hurt the game a little. Still, Michael Jordan playing some pick-up games with fictional players in a three-on-three tournament wasn’t a terrible concept, especially compared to games like Michael Jordan: Chaos in the WindyCity and Shaq Fu.
Looking back, the feature that stands out the most in my mind is the Instant Replay, which was fairly advanced for a game that came out in 1993 and included the ability to save replays and watch them again later. Being that it was a basketball game released in 1993, a lot of those saved replays ended up looking the same, but it was nevertheless a cool feature for Instant Replay to have and one that other basketball games didn’t add for quite some time.
5. Slam ‘N Jam
This was another game featuring a bunch of fictional, generic players in a fictional league. It had only two real players: Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, both of whom were retired at the time. It was a mix of simulation and arcade-style gameplay; five-on-five basketball with a generally realistic approach, but it was fast paced and high scoring with players jumping unrealistically high on dunks. Overall, its style of play and even the camera angle are quite reminiscent of NBA Give ‘n Go by Konami.
It was a decent game in its own right. Its hybrid sim/arcade gameplay was enjoyable enough, it had reasonably nice presentation that included occasional commentary and it was fun if you didn’t care about the lack of real NBA players (Magic and Kareem excluded) or some arcade elements. However, not being an NBA licensed game probably hurt its appeal at a time when NBA sims were beginning to get better and the NBA Live series was growing in popularity, so Slam ‘N Jam didn’t become a classic and I wouldn’t exactly call it a forgotten gem. It’s an interesting game though and certainly not a terrible one.
That’ll wrap things up for this week. Feel free to toss out the names of some more overlooked, forgotten or obscure basketball video games in the comments below and any memories you have of playing them, as well as take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for reading, please join me again next week for another Five!