Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This 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.
Generally speaking, when it comes to subpar basketball video games, we don’t have too many good things to say about them. However, even the worst basketball video games can sometimes boast really good features. Those features may not be enough to save the game from bad reviews and the scorn of basketball gamers, but they’re still worthy of recognition. Indeed, it’s frustrating to see such appealing features, and not be able to enjoy them because the rest of the product isn’t up to scratch.
Perhaps even more frustrating, however, is when those great features in bad games are never really followed up on, and end up being absent in future releases. In this week’s Friday Five, I’m taking a look at five of the best features in five of the most notably subpar basketball video games that I’ve played. Let’s begin.
1. BIG Moments in NBA Live 14
Even though I could see the potential in NBA Live 14, and there were some good ideas, for the most part they just weren’t executed well. As such, it wasn’t exactly the strong comeback that EA Sports were hoping for. It certainly doesn’t crack my list of all-time favourite NBA Live titles – or favourite basketball video games, period – but I did actually play it a fair bit, and managed to get some enjoyment out of it. The main reason for that? The brand new addition to the LIVE Season experience in NBA Live 14: BIG Moments.
I’ve talked about BIG Moments before, but for those of you who may have missed those articles and haven’t been following the NBA Live series too closely as of late, BIG Moments allow you to replay memorable moments and performances from the current season. Throughout the year, new BIG Moments are pushed through shortly after they happen in real life, with the goal being to match (or exceed) the performance, such as scoring a certain number of points in the allotted time, or hitting a gamewinning shot. It’s a great concept, and a lot of fun to pick up and play in between full length games. I’m glad it’s a mode that they’ve decided to keep around.
2. Free Throw Shooting in NBA Elite 11
While NBA Live continues to rebuild and recover after a series of missteps, and still has a reputation to restore, EA made a very good decision after the cancellation of NBA Elite 11: dropping the Elite moniker altogether. It just didn’t roll off the tongue well, and really, there was no need for a re-brand. Of course, the problems with the game went far beyond the title, but it was a good move to ditch it for a name that had, if nothing else, some nostalgic value, and a presence in the minds of basketball gamers. More importantly, though, they moved away from some ideas that really weren’t going to work out well for a basketball game.
In particular, the right stick shooting controls – an idea taken from the NHL series – just weren’t suited for basketball video games. That said, there were some elements that were salvageable. I actually like the concept for free throw shooting, and wouldn’t mind seeing NBA Live explore it again in the future. There are a few decent ideas in NBA Elite 11 including the bounce-back games in Become Legendary, and the EA Sports Basketball League, but the right stick free throw shooting with full control over aiming is the one that appeals the most to me. In lieu of my beloved T-Meter, I’d like to see that method of free throw shooting brought back somehow.
3. Be a Pro in NBA Live 09 (PS2)
Ah, NBA Live 09 on PlayStation 2…the game you missed out on if you played basketball video games solely on the PC. Of course, you didn’t miss out on much, and if your rig could run NBA 2K9, I’d suggest that you probably didn’t miss out at all. In many ways, NBA Live 09 was a minor update over the PC/PS2 version of NBA Live 08: new animations, more FIBA teams, and of course, 2009 season rosters. However, it did have a couple of interesting additions in the form of an expanded practice mode featuring the ability to practice plays, and most notably, the beginnings of a single player career mode in Be a Pro.
Interestingly, Be a Pro in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version of NBA Live 09 was far more basic. On 360 and PS3, it was merely a single game challenge, in which you were graded on your performance. On PS2 however, it was a bare bones, but nevertheless full length, single player career mode that could be played with either a real NBA player, or a custom player of your own creation. It pales in comparison to what NBA 2K has done with MyCAREER, or even what NBA Live has done so far with Rising Star, but it was a respectable first try at a career mode that a lot of people may not be aware of, and unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut in NBA Live 10.
4. Powerups in Incredibasketball
I’ve mentioned Incredibasketball before, listing it in a Friday Five that discussed five basketball video games that were bad, but still entertaining. I stand by that assessment, which also applies to International Basketball 2009 for the PC, another hoops title from the same developer. Released in 2009, their stiff and cumbersome controls, and unimpressive visuals, would’ve felt dated ten years earlier. As for the rosters, they’re comprised of national teams filled with fictional players. The games aren’t completely unplayable though, and they do bring a few good ideas to the table, particularly Incredibasketball.
Whereas International Basketball 2009 took a sim-oriented approach, Incredibasketball mixed in some arcade elements in the form of powerups. These included rocket packs that allowed players to perform super dunks, giant hands that made it easier to block shots, and the ability to put a lid on the hoop, making it impossible for your opponent to score. It was actually a fun idea that could’ve worked out very well in a more polished arcade basketball title. It makes the game kind of interesting to play despite its myriad of flaws, and it stands as proof that even the worst basketball video games can have some interesting concepts, and good ideas.
5. X-Factors in NBA Live 07 (PC, PS2, Xbox)
Basketball video games with subpar gameplay can still feature good ideas for gameplay mechanics. A perfect example of that would be X-Factors in the PC, PS2, and Xbox versions of NBA Live 07. As I’ve said before, while the Freestyle Superstars concept has since been outmoded, at the time it was a step towards player differentiation. On top of introducing two tiers of FSS abilities – Superstar and Star – NBA Live 07 also brought us X-Factors: lynchpin players, or “glue guys” who weren’t necessarily All-Stars, but often came through for their teams when they were in need of a lift. Basically, the kind of player we’d commonly refer to as an “x-factor”.
X-Factor players had ratings that were close to qualifying for Star level Freestyle Superstar abilities, but did not have an FSS moveset by default. However, by staying in the rhythm of the game and performing well, their X-Factor status can be activated. This allows them to temporarily gain the Star level FSS moveset that they’re closest to qualifying for, so that they can be even more effective. As with the general concept of Freestyle Superstars – as well as X-Factor’s equivalent in the Xbox 360 version, In The Zone – it was a good idea that had merit, but it’s something that’s been done better since with Badges in the recent NBA 2K games. Nevertheless, it was a good feature in a game that most of us found otherwise disappointing.
What stands out to you as some of the best features in subpar basketball video games, or basketball video games that you didn’t much care for? Let me know 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.