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Basketball (Atari 2600) artwork

Basketball (Atari 2600) review


"The “Launch 20” for the Atari 2600 contained 5 sports titles (6 if you consider Flag Capture a sport). 25% of the initial release catalog was dedicated to sports gaming. That’s not a surprising number here in 2004. We can go back to the launches of the X-Box and Game Cube and see that sports game development was a highly discussed topic both pre and post-launch. In 1990, the then recently released Sega Genesis advertised heavily on its wide variety of (at the time) incredibly realistic sport..."



The “Launch 20” for the Atari 2600 contained 5 sports titles (6 if you consider Flag Capture a sport). 25% of the initial release catalog was dedicated to sports gaming. That’s not a surprising number here in 2004. We can go back to the launches of the X-Box and Game Cube and see that sports game development was a highly discussed topic both pre and post-launch. In 1990, the then recently released Sega Genesis advertised heavily on its wide variety of (at the time) incredibly realistic sports simulations. Going back to the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System, 4 of the 18 titles available in October 1985, or slightly over 22% of the launch catalog of the NES was dedicated to sports gaming. Credit must go to Atari for recognizing the market trend toward sports gaming. Indeed, the very first Atari product, the coin-op version of “Pong”, was a tennis simulation. So, it is no great surprise that we find a large percentage of the “Launch 20” dedicated to sports.

And so, we come to Basketball. I’m not sure whom to credit for this reasonable success. Alan Miller, the programmer of Basketball, who went on to program several great games for Activision (most notably, the brilliant Robot Tank and the best home hockey game until Blades of Steel, Activision’s Ice Hockey) deserves the credit for putting together a very good one-on-one basketball simulation. However, Atari’s decision to bring this game to market over their lackluster Football (which did eventually see release) was a gamble that paid off.

Atari’s Basketball is a one-on-one, full court competition. You have only two game options, play with a friend or play the CPU. A unique feature in Atari’s Basketball is that the better you play, the tougher the AI will become. While this feature adds considerable replay value, the CPU quickly becomes impossible to beat, and makes Basketball incredibly difficult to master.

The representation of the players in Basketball is fairly standard for a first-generation title. Of course, there are no curves, resulting in block figures, and of course, a square ball. The court is bare, with a muted yellow giving the impression of parquet flooring, and a vast empty black background, which I thought gave a nice impression of being inside an arena.

When it comes to sound, I have probably written this same paragraph in multiple forms at least once for every Atari 2600 title I have reviewed. The sound is no good. The sound in Atari 2600 games is NEVER any good (with a few exceptions). The best you can hope for is that the sound isn’t so bad that it actually detracts from the game play. That doesn’t happen here in Basketball. As a matter of fact, I thought the attempt at a “dribbling” sound was pretty decent. The only other sound you’ll hear is a beep when you score a basket.

It is easy to say that Basketball is lacking quite a bit when it comes to a good sports simulation. There is no three-point shot. There are no dunks, or lay-ups. You can only control the angle of incidence of your player’s shot; all shots are taken with the same amount of power. But, given the technical limitations that the Atari 2600 was faced with, and taking into consideration that this was a launch title, I think Alan Miller achieved quite a bit with what he had to work with.

When my friends and I break out the Atari 2600 for some old school action, we may be thinking of the classic multi-player titles like Warlords or Combat. However, what we end up spending the most time playing are the short, sweet and simple classics, and Basketball can easily be counted amongst them. While it may not be the prettiest belle at the ball, it’s the one who puts out in the back seat after you’ve taken NCAA 2005 home and settled for a kiss on the porch.

Rating: 6/10

ddsilver's avatar
Community review by ddsilver (November 01, 2004)

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