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Super Basketball (Arcade) artwork

Super Basketball (Arcade) review

"Few early video games had a story, but Super Basketball musters half of one: win a series of increasingly improbable sixty-second comebacks against a junior high team (78-70) up to the world champions (114-70.) It's more keep-away or Capture the Flag, and that's probably kept it fresh while more realistic early attempts at basketball have gone flat. It's even better now with emulation, which bypasses the annoying controls so you can enjoy the absurdity. "

Few early video games had a story, but Super Basketball musters half of one: win a series of increasingly improbable sixty-second comebacks against a junior high team (78-70) up to the world champions (114-70.) It's more keep-away or Capture the Flag, and that's probably kept it fresh while more realistic early attempts at basketball have gone flat. It's even better now with emulation, which bypasses the annoying controls so you can enjoy the absurdity.

You're always on offense, inbounding beneath your own basket, but you gain five seconds per made basket--with a bonus for dunks and three-pointers--so there's always hope. Of course, later opponents defend better. In SB, this means running into the dribbler to draw a charge. Goaltending is often recorded as a rebound or blocked shot, and sometimes the game lets an enemy in the lane block your three-pointer. These failures, along with turnovers, cost five seconds if over ten seconds are left. Missed shots also hang in the air before you're eventually out-jumped for rebounds, so quick layups and short jumpers are the way to go.

That gets you extra points, but the melodrama's more engaging. The gym's "WIN A GAME" banner, with no crowd but lots of cheering, made my first Engrish experience. Teammates blubber over missed free throws (sometimes you actually get a call--I'm not sure how,) and the game-winning shooter taking his shirt off and jumping (no actual vertical, just legs bending at the knees) in time to the announcer's repeated "BRAVO. BRAVO. BRAVO. BRAVO." Then there's the weird teddy bear kangaroo dribbling a ball in the break between games, with the "YOU ARE GREAT" marquee. SB's easy enough so even indifferent players will see all this. They will probably even find out, from desperation, that the first half-court shot in each contest goes in automatically, though sometimes it rolls around the rim several times first. Opponents wear two-tone uniforms, at least half-pastel, with short shorts. Early ones may even get knocked over by an errant pass. All this with sound effects--besides the ref actually verbalizing, just bursts of noise, but they feel right.

That's fun, but so's the actual strategy. The computer throws several defensive sets at yours: three midcourt players and one at the top of the key. If you fail on one possession, the computer stays with what works. I've lost almost my whole minute before breaking down a defense, while realizing the moves that worked against College won't quite work against Japan's national team. Worse, later teams crumple into a nasty zone where they crowd the basket and goaltend your wide-open three-pointers. There are a few sweet spots, though, along the baseline, though the defenders close them down well, too. It's tricky enough that you always have to offer a variation or be ready to make that next pass. It's possible to go from lost to winning and back several times in a game, and quickly, too, as you score several four-second baskets in a row, then get stuck, and so forth. While your regular score based on passing, dribbling, baskets and time left when you win may get you in the GRAND CHAMP BEST FIVE, it's more involving to calculate if you're on pace to win your current game.

All this is wonderful as long as you don't break a wrist or finger in the process. SB had three buttons, and one requires constant attention on an arcade machine. For shooting--release at the top of your jump. Passing is chest-to-chest to the flashing guy, usually the one you're roughly dribbling towards. Though you'll miss him if you move after passing, and sometimes a new teammate, guarded by a defender, flashes at the last moment. Dribbling? Four bounces a second. Thankfully, there's a turbo feature in MAME so you don't have to keep pushing the damn button to avoid double dribbles. You can even cheat at the between-round speed free throw contest this way.

I enjoyed SB before knowing about the wretched controls, though, and it's a delightfully surreal mash-up of the best parts of basketball. A six-point last-minute comeback in a movie script is a cliche, but SB makes something clearly impossible in real life believable and entertaining without even needing Gus Johnson. I often wonder what the developers left out by accident in this game, but either way, they did a lot right.


aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (October 15, 2010)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 15, 2010:

Schultz, you have a way of making games sound dreamy. I like that the bulk of your review is partially gameplay breakdown, partially your experience with playing the game. Good review, I enjoyed it!
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aschultz posted October 16, 2010:

Glad you enjoyed the review! There aren't many games you can laugh at for clear mistakes and still just enjoy. Super Basketball is one.

But be sure to have turbo/autofire working, though. And, of course, the MAME cheats are handy if you just want to play the world champions. Maybe I should add that there are no continues.
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Leroux posted October 16, 2010:

Haha. This is the first basketball game I've heard of with a dribble button. I can't imagine what they were thinking.

The premise of this game sounds cool though. I'm gonna have to check it out. Nice review.
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zigfried posted October 16, 2010:

I really liked this review, too. When I first opened the review, I thought I was opening a review for the 2600 basketball game. The screenshots puzzled me for a few seconds.

That "jumping without vertical movement" sounds (and looks!) really weird. Cool detail to bring up.

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Leroux posted October 17, 2010:

Given that I worked long hours (for the third straight week...) leading up to the software freeze at work, and yesterday was spent tailgating Halladay/Lincecum and spending way too much for standing room only seats (damn Cody Ross), and the fact someone on staff already made the focus window...

... SUPER BASKETBALL is this week's impromptu Sunday Cabaret! I'd be hard-pressed to write a better review this week. Awesome work by ASchultz bailing me out.

You'll still see X-MEN very soon. I promise. I'm actually trying to find an arcade with the double-wide monitor for accuracy.
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aschultz posted October 18, 2010:

Wow, thanks Leroux and Zigfried! I was worried this review might be derivative of the 10 yard fight review I did. I'm glad I can be a stopgap for a week (a review a week to HG standards is tough even when you know not many people will see it,) and I'm glad you had fun with the game. Hope everyone who plays it enjoys it.

Accessing HG after a busy weekend and seeing the screenshots and wondering what happened was amusing--but much appreciated.

One thing I couldn't/didn't fit in the review is that the crying players seem cribbed from Konami's more popular Track and Field, which is also a good oldie game. At least, if you use the trak-ball control.

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