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 basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
All genres of video games have their bad releases. Basketball games, be they arcade or simulation oriented, are definitely not exempt from that. However, just as some bad films or television shows are guilty pleasures, so too are certain subpar video games. This week, I’m taking a look at some basketball games that are far from classics, yet are still interesting and even enjoyable in their own way.
I’d like to stress that while I’m calling these games “bad” due to their various shortcomings or the fact that they’re inferior imitations of better basketball titles, most of them do have some redeeming factors, which is what makes them entertaining. These are certainly subjective opinions, so you may not share my view on all of the games and indeed some of them have received positive reviews here and there. With that said, this is my list of five basketball games that are bad, yet still entertaining.
1. Barkley Shut Up and Jam!
NBA Jam was incredibly popular in the 90s and for good reason. It appealed to basketball fanatics and casual gamers alike, due to its fast-paced, over the top take on hoops and easy-to-master style of gameplay. Jam was a lot of fun and wildly successful, so naturally it had its fair share of imitators, not counting the inferior sequels that Acclaim made after snatching the NBA Jam name away from Midway. Barkley Shut Up and Jam! was one such imitator, starring The Round Mound of the Rebound himself, Charles Barkley.
Now, other long-time basketball gamers may vehemently disagree with me on this one and in all fairness, I wouldn’t call it a flat out terrible game. It’s definitely not on par with NBA Jam though, lacking its vibrant graphics and the smoothness of its controls and gameplay. Like Michael Jordan In Flight, Shut Up and Jam! went for a pickup game atmosphere, featuring Sir Charles and a selection of fictional players. It’s a novel approach, but not as appealing as a fully licensed NBA game. It’s playable, a passable effort that could perhaps be considered an interesting and viable alternative to NBA Jam if you feel like something slightly different, but Barkley Shut Up and Jam! ultimately pales in comparison with the king of arcade basketball games.
Speaking of NBA Jam clones…
2. Looney Tunes B-Ball
…here’s another one.
I’ve read that Looney Tunes B-Ball has received positive scores from gamers and like Barkley Shut Up and Jam!, I’d call it a serviceable arcade basketball game that follows the NBA Jam formula. As the name would suggest, it features classic Looney Tunes characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd, who presumably foresaw the need to work on their game before starring in Space Jam the following year. It also takes the playground pickup game approach, as you put together squads by picking from the selection of Warner Bros. favourites, then hoop it up on a street court.
To its credit, the game does some creative things and embraces the Looney Tunes spirit. The graphics are quite good for the era and the animations for each of the characters are very reminiscent of the original cartoons, indeed making it one of the few basketball games that I’d willingly describe as cartoony. There are special moves based on the slapstick that the Looney Tunes are famous for and amusing touches like Wile E. Coyote jumping through the hoop on certain dunks. It doesn’t feel as stiff as Shut Up and Jam!, but its gameplay is still inferior to NBA Jam (especially at the defensive end) and it arguably lacks the same all-ages appeal. Nevertheless, points for creativity.
3. International Basketball 2009
Along with number four on the list, I picked this one up not that long ago for a few bucks when it was on sale on GamersGate, just to see what it was all about. In a nutshell, it’s a five-on-five basketball game featuring a host of international teams filled with fictional players, offering both exhibition and season play.
For the time it was released, it’s probably fair to call it a bad game. In terms of the graphics and animations, it’s about on par with late PlayStation/early PlayStation 2 basketball games. The controls are unresponsive at times, leading to the gameplay being a bit stiff and awkward. Gameplay from the NBA Live 99/NBA Live 2000 era probably holds up better today. On top of that, English is definitely not the first language of the commentator, with some badly translated basketball slang and lines like “he moves in to slam it” sounding more like “he moves into sandwich”.
The thing is, it’s oddly fun. It’s playable at the very least and the commentator is honestly kind of entertaining. You can edit the players, free throw shooting is performed using a T-Meter-like method – thumbs up for that – and while the ball physics are quite weird at times, they’re probably one of the more impressive (or at least innovative) aspects of the game. In the free shootaround in practice mode, the game tracks your two point and three point percentage, a nice little touch that I actually wouldn’t mind seeing in NBA Live and NBA 2K. Considering how recently it was released, you’d have to consider it a disappointment, but if you lower your expectations and just have some fun messing around with it, it has its moments. Definitely wait for a price drop, however.
From the creators of International Basketball 2009 comes Incredibasketball, which is pretty much the same game with an arcade twist. As such, most of what I said above also applies to this game in terms of the animations and controls, though the arcade elements do change up the gameplay a bit. Different powerups randomly appear on the court, such as jetpacks that allow you to dunk from a long way out and giant hands that make it easier to block shots and swipe the ball.
The graphics in Incredibasketball also have a cel-shaded appearance similar to the Legends Showcase downloadable content for NBA 2K12, so this is another basketball game that I actually feel comfortable describing as cartoonish. I would have to say that it does work well for the game’s atmosphere. Generally speaking, I don’t think that five-on-five gameplay works that well for arcade oriented basketball games compared to two-on-two and three-on-three, but there’s still a fair amount of “sim” elements in Incredibasketball – fouls and free throws, for example – making it an interesting hybrid of the styles. Like International Basketball 2009, it’s very flawed and behind the times in many respects, but still fun in its own right.
5. Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball
Yes, you read that correctly. Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball is by far the strangest game on this list. Set in the year 2030, former Bad Boy Piston Bill Laimbeer has become the commissioner of a futuristic, extreme basketball league that has thrown out all of the rules, except for out of bounds and backcourt violations. Players must wear armour as they hit and tackle each other, wield weapons and avoid bombs that randomly appear on the court. It’s definitely Bill Laimbeer’s style of basketball.
It’s also easily the worst game on this list. The gameplay is slow paced and clunky, while utilising just one of the four face buttons on the Super Nintendo controller. Pressing B plus a direction passes the ball, while pressing B by itself attempts a shot. The shots themselves look very awkward with the overhead camera angle and you shouldn’t expect very high scoring affairs. The concept alone is kind of entertaining though and with more fluid gameplay, it’s probably something that could actually work even now, either as a Flash game or perhaps an Xbox Live Arcade title. At the time though, it was definitely not worth retail price. It’s a dud, but a dud that is interesting to play for a few minutes and could probably spawn a better remake today.
That’s going to wrap things up for now. What are some of the bad basketball games – be they major or obscure releases – that you’ve had fun with over the years? Would you care to defend any of the games that I’ve called bad in my list? Let me know in the comments below and feel free to take the discussion to the NLSC Forum. Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.