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Kobe Bryant In NBA Courtside Review

Publisher - Nintendo
Developer - Left Field
Platform - N64
Type - Sports
Score - 7/10

The first basketball game for the Nintendo 64 was NBA Hangtime which, while it was fun, was definitely not a sim. The first basketball sim, NBA In the Zone, which was released over a year later, was a definite disappointment. Nintendo has finally come to the rescue of basketball fans with Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside. While not a flawless game, NBA Courtside gives gamers somewhere to turn that won't leave them disappointed.

From the launch of the Nintendo 64, it has been part of Nintendo's strategy to have a more active presence in the sports game market than they had with previous consoles. Things haven't exactly gone according to plan, and despite some strong third party sports titles, Nintendo's first in-house title has been slow to appear. While Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside is late, it indicates promise for Nintendo's sports titles to come.

As sports simulations have become more detailed, developers have struggled with the problem of providing enough detailed realism for fans while making the game simple enough for more casual gamers. NBA Courtside responds to this problem admirably. While the game gives the player a substantial degree of control, both over the player being controlled and over the team's strategies and plays, at the default difficulty the only buttons the player has to keep track of are pass and shoot.

Many sports games expect the player to have a knowledge of the sport's strategies and moves before the gamer sits down to begin playing, and this can put a casual sports fan at a serious disadvantage. NBA Courtside does not require anything beyond a casual knowledge, and it's easy to start playing and winning games without an in-depth knowledge of the sport. Before die hard basketball fans write it off, I should say that NBA Courtside goes far beyond the other basketball games on the system in providing realism and detail. Beyond that, the controls are simple enough that within a few games, even novices will find themselves experimenting with fakes, spins, and other moves.

One way that NBA Courtside impresses is the way it captures the rhythms and feel of a real basketball game. Manuevering the ball around the court, fakes, and charges toward the basket as the team tries to find a way to score all feel very authentic in a way that few games capture. One limitation of the game is that it moves a little slowly. While the rhythms are what they should be, increasing the pacing of the game would definitely not be a bad thing.

The sense of the realism of the play is definitely enhanced by the control. Players are generally aware of the location of other players and respond correctly to them. The game leaves the gamer to similarly control the player, but gives the tools necessary to do it. On offense, putting your back to the defender or spinning to keep the ball away from the defender is as easy as a button press, and defense controls include automatically facing the ball carrier to prevent access to the basket and transferring control to the most useful person in any situation. Taking advantage of these controls only increases the sense of realism. There are certain cases when the realism breaks down, for example after a basket is scored and the team is running back up court, the players can get tangled up in each other in unnatural ways, but this generally does not detract from the gameplay.

NBA Courtside has the gameplay features players expect from sims, including player creation, team management, and season gameplay. One nifty feature is that this doesn't require a memory pak. You can do more with a memory pak than without (including taking your team to a friend's house), but for people who feel put upon by having to buy a new pak for each new game, NBA Courtside lets you create a player or play a season straight out of the box.

NBA Courtside measures up well in the graphics department. The players look good and can be easily identified, and the animation is smooth, with few problems with unnatural transitions between animations. The players are capable of a wide range of moves, including a satisfying range of dunks. The camera angles are generally appealing, but the game has a tendency to go to an over the basket view for dunks which can make it difficult to judge what's going on, especially when the dunk is blocked.

The sound is on the high side of average for sports games. The crowd sounds good and responds well to the game, the announcing is satisfactory, and the sound effects are good, but they don't sound as integrated as they could be. The sound of the ball bouncing in particular sounds like it's on an empty court rather than in a stadium full of screaming fans.

The control is generally excellent and adds to the involvement with the game, with a few exceptions. The feel of the shoot button is different than other games, and until you get the hang of it you may find yourself faking frequently when you intend to take shots. And the free throw mechanic is just weird. Both of these can be overcome, and I could even see them becoming more common in other games, but it takes a while to get used to and slows down the process of breaking down the barrier that the controls present between the gamer and the game. The players in NBA Courtside could also afford to be more aware of each other and the court boundaries. Accidentally running off the court without the player even trying to save the ball definitely detracts from the gameplay.

Every new sports game has Rumble Pak support, and every time the Rumble Pak fails to add to the game. NBA Courtside is no exception.

Nintendo has been slow with its sports games, but Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside is certainly nothing to be ashamed of as a launch title for the Nintendo Sports line, and is a good indicator of things to come. While it isn't a perfect game, mostly NBA Courtside needs another layer of polish to be applied to every aspect of the game, and it doesn't have any glaring shortcomings. NBA Courtside is the obvious choice for basketball fans on the Nintendo 64.