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Ultimate Basketball (NES) artwork

Ultimate Basketball (NES) review

"With the explosion in accessible information and playable video game roms via the Internet, few video games remain truly obscure to this day. Chances are, if a game is worth playing for any reason, someone has played it and felt the need to inform others. Games formerly considered obscure due to short/limited production runs (Radiant Silvergun) or translation issues (Bahamut Lagoon) are soon exposed by diehard fans on the Internet who appreciate the value of the gameplay. "

With the explosion in accessible information and playable video game roms via the Internet, few video games remain truly obscure to this day. Chances are, if a game is worth playing for any reason, someone has played it and felt the need to inform others. Games formerly considered obscure due to short/limited production runs (Radiant Silvergun) or translation issues (Bahamut Lagoon) are soon exposed by diehard fans on the Internet who appreciate the value of the gameplay.

Frankly, this normally means that games remain obscure for reasons excluding quality of play. Transformers, a Nintendo game based on the animation series, suffers from hideous programming that immediately kills a player two seconds after starting a game. Games like Heroes of the Lance and Zero Wing have became popular only because they were obscure and shoddily-made to the point of being a joke. And of course, there are a slew of pornographic anime slideshows masquerading as games which will go unused well before their chips decompose.

Ultimate Basketball lies firmly grounded in the section of the obscure video game graveyard reserved for games with irreconcilable programming errors. In an era known for the creation of many ill-conceived sports games, Ultimate Basketball distinguishes itself by directly attempting to rip-off a more successful competitor with its own brand of awful and uncontrollable gameplay.

At first glance, Ultimate Basketball appears to be an update to the classic Konami basketball game, Double Dribble. After all, it features seven teams as opposed to four, and the characters and court backdrops are undeniable more detailed and colorful. Double Dribble was released around the Christmas of 1989, so maybe Ultimate Basketball, released in September of 1990, was the heir to the throne.

The producer of Ultimate Basketball, American Sammy, should immediately trip the portable B.S. detector in your head though. In case you are unfamiliar with their body of work, American Sammy has also produced high quality games like Football Fury (a horrible Super Nintendo clone of Tecmo Super Bowl) and Jimmy Houstonís Bass Tournament. A modern day equivalent would be WizardWorks, the makers of Deer Hunter. Both companies feel the need to produce games purchased by redneck trash and other societal degenerates at Wal-Marts across America for $9.95 a pop.

Much like the earlier Transformers example, glaring problems (plural, not singular Iíll have you note) are visible within five seconds of starting a basketball game in Ultimate Basketball. The jump ball, which is nearly impossible to win, ends up in the hands of the computer, and they have already brought the ball down the court and dunked it on you before you could pick out which of the 10 small gnats on the screen represented your player.

Sadly, from here the game only gets worse. The hardest part of Ultimate Basketball is one of the easiest aspects of actual basketball - passing the ball inbounds. Unless you have a clear lane of about two feet on the court (translating to about one inch on your television screen) when you make a pass, the computer will always steal it. Regardless of how fast your players are or how well they pass, the computer will run from behind your pass to catch up to the ball while it is still in mid-air to steal it. In real life, such a mind-boggling display of speed and a flagrant disregard for physics may occur once a game at the NBA level, yet such an event is a common occurrence in Ultimate Basketball. Simply getting the ball past half court is a moral victory.

Unfortunately, the rules of roundball mandate that you actually score a few times, preferably more than your opponent. Since passing is a pipe dream, you must rely heavily on dribbling to advance the ball up the court, but this is also flawed because far too many charges are called. Leaning against an opponent is grounds for a foul, but attempting to dribble or pass around them results in a steal.

Is the computer forced to play with the same limitations? Of course not. Computer controlled characters have no problem moving through players as if they were Casper the Friendly Ghost. Also, when passed by the computer, the basketball also flaunts the idea of reality, passing directly through players.

The only balancing mechanism for the computerís rampant success on offense and defense are other programming flaws in the game. The most noticeable is a horrible animation used for blocking shots. As long as you jump and are within a few player lengths of a shooter, a visual display pops up with a sliding meter on it. Hit B as the slider passes through the middle of a bar and the shot is stuffed, resulting in a traveling violation on the offensive player.

However, this leads to more faulty logic and ridiculous basketball situations. You can be well-behind a player when you attempt a block, but you will always be coming from the side in the graphical display. The same caveat applies even if you just squat under the basket and deal with players driving head-on to the hoop. Sure, it is an effective counter to the computerís offensive prowess, but why play a basketball game if the copy does not even resemble the original?

The other mechanism that can be used to artificially keep a team in the game is the loopy shot success calculation. Ever wanted to replicate the Lebron James commercial where he continually makes 90 foot jumpers? Well, Ultimate Basketball might be right up your alley! Dunks and lay-ups can be swatted into next week by simply pressing a button, but full court shots are effective more than half the time.

As long as youíre whitey, that is. Although the graphics are an improvement on Double Dribble (in particular, the annoying graphical flicker seen in many early Nintendo games is completely absent), you have to wonder if a little racism went into Ultimate Basketball. Every white guy in the game can shoot the 3 and pass, while every black guy is an incredible dunker and a fiend on the defensive end. When youíre playing Ultimate Basketball, you canít shake the feeling that Jeb and Bubba programmed it after watching Hoosiers far too many times.

Ultimate Basketball does offer a few different modes of play, but honestly, does it matter when the core product is so inferior? Let the record show that you can setup an exhibition game with a time of five to 20 minutes and a difficulty level ranging from hard to impossible. You can also play a tournament game, which for unknown reasons is automatically locked at five minutes and an insane difficult level. Hell, you could even ignore the preceding sentences about time - the clock in Ultimate Basketball is obviously way too fast, as about one second of real time is equal to three in game time.

When you can not even properly grasp the programming concept of a clock, it is clearly time to just give up. Unlike other games who have escaped the obscurity graveyard, Ultimate Basketball has absolutely no chance of being ďrediscoveredĒ as a quality game. It has been rightfully judged by consumers as inferior to other games of its time period, or any era for that matter. The only opportunity for Ultimate Basketball to escape its sentence to the dustbin of obscurity is if it is used as a case study of what not to do at Digipen. Only play Ultimate Basketball if you have a masochistic urge involving early Nintendo basketball games.

sgreenwell's avatar
Community review by sgreenwell (April 29, 2005)

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