This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at the presence of NBA Live 95 in the PlayStation 2 version of NBA Live 06.
Generally speaking, sim-oriented sports titles aren’t what most people think of, or indeed reach for, when it comes to retro gaming. They don’t always age well, mostly because they appeal to a demographic that wants to see more and more realism, as well as play with current season rosters. As such, they’re not as popular among retro gamers, to play or collect. That being said, there is a contingent of basketball gamers who do enjoy playing and modding older titles, so it’s certainly not unheard of. Finding a way to keep playing old favourites, or at least fire them up every once in a while, is something that people in our community do have an interest in.
When it came to the PlayStation 2 version of NBA Live 06, EA Sports made that a little easier by including an emulated version of NBA Live 95. It was a rather unusual example of bonus content, so let’s take a look back…way back…
By the time NBA Live 06 was released, the series was obviously a well-established brand. While it had experienced a couple of ups and downs since the turn of the millennium, at that time it was in the midst of a fairly strong run, and was still the best-selling sim-oriented basketball series each year. There was also some nostalgia for the early classics that gamers had grown up with, especially NBA Live 95, which had been a big step forward in the genre. In order to provide gamers with a little extra content and appeal to that nostalgia, EA Sports included an emulated version of NBA Live 95 for SEGA Genesis in the PlayStation 2 version of NBA Live 06.
The catch here is that it was only available in the NTSC release. If you had the PAL version or were playing on PC, you were out of luck. If you were in North America or any of the other NTSC regions though, you’d find an option in the main menu titled EA Sports Retro. The EA Sports Retro menu offered up a highlight video comprised of real NBA clips dating from 1995 to around 2000. The reel was backed by Stat Quo’s “Like Dat“, which appeared on NBA Live 06’s soundtrack, and snippets from the in-game commentary by Marv Albert were dubbed over the plays. The other menu option, of course, was to launch NBA Live 95.
As you might expect, it was a rather stripped down version of the game. For a start, it was the SEGA Genesis version and thus lacked a steal button, the same as the PC release of NBA Live 95. As I mentioned in my retrospective, this meant that steals were performed automatically when you were close to a player with the ball. Season and Playoffs mode were also unavailable, so all you could do was play an exhibition game. All of the settings were available though, including rules, difficulty, and quarter length. You could play with any of the 27 NBA teams, the East and West All-Stars, and the custom teams.
What you couldn’t do, however, was play with any of the original players. That’s because they were no longer licensed to appear in new games, which was technically the case even though it was in the form of emulating an old release. As a result, all players needed to be given fictional names and likenesses, which the developers clearly had fun with by making up punny monikers such as “Justin Tyme”. Interestingly, players who were in NBA Live 95 and still active in 2006, such as Shaquille O’Neal, also had to become fictionalised. For the record, Shaq’s new name was “Colossal Dwayne”.
Incidentally, this is why remakes of classic NBA games – whether they’re sim-oriented or arcade titles – generally aren’t feasible. While the NBA 2K series has done some amazing things with its historical content, there have obviously been some limitations. The rosters aren’t complete, and significant players have been missing from certain squads, even as recently as NBA 2K17. Remaking and rereleasing a game from the late 90s with complete and accurate rosters – or even one from the past decade or so – is highly unlikely to happen. There would need to be a lot of generic players, and that would severely limit a remake’s appeal and marketability.
That’s kind of how it was with the emulated version of NBA Live 95 in NBA Live 06 PS2. Without the actual players from that era, the nostalgic appeal was limited to the old gameplay, graphics, music, and team branding. There was appeal in that of course, but the experience was a little lacking without authentic rosters. Even without the ability to play through a Season or Playoffs, simply being able to play a full length exhibition game with the original rosters would have been a richer experience. That obviously wasn’t going to be feasible due to the aforementioned licensing issues, so EA Sports did what they could to get the content into the game.
With that in mind, they were able to provide a small taste of NBA Live 95. At the very least, it was a novelty; a bit of extra content to celebrate the origins of the series as much as they could, considering that their hands were tied as far as licensing all the necessary players. The emulation runs well and aside from the lack of real players, it’s more or less the NBA Live 95 experience. The Super Nintendo version would’ve been preferable as it actually featured a steal button, but it’s likely that technical or legal issues made the Genesis version more viable. On top of that, it’s not a feature that gamers were going to sink a lot of hours into, so it didn’t matter all that much.
Even as basketball games move forward and focus on the players of today, appealing to nostalgia clearly isn’t a bad idea. The historical content in NBA 2K has proven that, and including a playable version of NBA Live 95 in NBA Live 06 – albeit only in the NTSC PS2 release – was a nice gesture at the time. Of course, it’s fair to say that the limitations imposed on that emulation make it difficult to truly scratch the retro gaming itch. If authenticity is what you’re after, dig up the original copies and hardware, learn more about DOSBox and virtual machines, and step back in time with the old games that remain some of your all-time favourites.