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NBA Hangtime Review

Publisher - Midway Home Entertainment
Developer - Midway Home Entertainment
Platform - N64
Type - Sports
Score - 7/10

I'm not a big sports sim fan. Fortunately, NBA Hangtime doesn't even pretend to be a basketball sim. NBA Hangtime gives you 2-on-2 basketball in the tradition of Double Dribble and NBA Jam. Realism gets ignored for the sake of incredible dunks, flaming balls, a variety of unusual players, fast-paced gameplay, and tons of fun. The game makes good use of its NBA license, giving you the choice of two players from any team. The ability of each player reflects their real life performance for a variety of skills including speed, shooting, stealing, and dunking. Once you get on the court, the player's abilities lose touch with reality, with any player capable of monster dunks and even full court shots, but better players have a greater chance of pulling moves off.

The game encourages teamwork and basic skills, rewarding a player who scores three times in a row with hot hands. As he dribbles, he will leave a trail of smoke, and any time he throws the ball anywhere near the basket, he is likely to be rewarded with a flaming basket. Naturally, this encourages the other team member to give him the ball whenever possible, and induces total panic in the opponents. The same benefit can be given to an entire team by pulling off multiple alley oops or double dunks. At that point, any time either player gets the ball it's as good as scoring. The effect of all this is to reward passing the ball, and this is reinforced by the coach's advice between quarters, which regularly tells you not to be a ball hog.

One weakness of gameplay is that you can't switch players. You choose who you want to play and who you want the computer to control, and then you have to work with that choice. Halftime allows you substitute players, but you can't take control of the computer on the fly. This can be very frustrating, but it also encourages good ball handling skills. While you don't have control over the computer, you can tell it to pass or shoot, and the computer regularly sets up plays and give you scoring opportunities.

I found the gameplay rather challenging, fighting to keep up with my opponents and frequently watching my leads evaporate at the end of the game. On the other hand, I don't have a lot of experience with any basketball games, and it might just be that I'm inept. The game has an adjustable difficulty setting which can solve that problem and also give good players a workout.

Finding some friends (and some additional controllers) is definitely a good idea. The game supports up to four players, and if you have just two, you can choose to play against each other or on the same team. Playing on the same team is a surprising amount of fun. I've found that generally games are more fun when you're playing against your friends, and playing on the same team is an option you want to try once and then ignore. NBA Hangtime lets you choose two players with complimentary abilities and then just go after the computer. Having one player whose sole goal in life is to beat up on the computer while the other player scores is both effective and entertaining.

One option you should definitely check out is creating your own player. You can set the ability level of your player, allowing you to choose a set of skills that matches your playing style. As you win games, you get more skill points that you can use to increase your strengths and correct your weaknesses. You also get to choose your player's uniform and head. This is too much fun to pass up. While there is a decent selection of normal heads, there is also an alien, several kids, women (they still have a male body, so this is a very weird effect), a chicken, a cow, and others. You also get to choose the name of you player that the announcer will use. These are suitably weird.

If you're a fan of secret codes, this is definitely a game for you. Like Mortal Kombat Trilogy, there are codes you can enter just as the game begins to control the behavior of the game. Characters have secret abilities that you can edit if you know the right codes, and you can select hidden characters by using secret codes. Naturally, Midway doesn't give you any codes with the game, so you'll have to experiment or check out the Internet or various gaming magazines to find what you need to know.

The controls are less than satisfying. You can use either the joystick or the pad to control your players, and while I stuck mostly with the joystick, the pad may appeal to people with more experience with conventional controls. I have played marathon sessions of most of the Nintendo 64 games, and I have always found the joystick to be very comfortable until now. After playing for several hours, my thumb was rather sore. This might be a reflection of my technique, or it might be the nature of the game.

The button controls seem to have come straight from the arcade game. Three buttons do everything, which works well for offense but requires button combinations for defense. There are 9 buttons on the controller, and it might make sense to use more than 3 sometimes. On top of that, the three default buttons are the A button and the C down and C right buttons, and you must be able to hit them in any combination. This requires an overhand position that works fine in an arcade but doesn't seem designed with the N64 in mind. Fortunately, the buttons are configurable, but after choosing a combination I liked and playing for a few hours, the combinations still weren't natural. On the upside, the controls are very responsive and let you pull off moves without planning them in detail ahead of time.

The game can also be difficult to get around. Once you've made a choice, you can't go back. This means that if you mistype your name and password, for example, you have no choice but to go forward, select a team, and start the game, just so you can quit and try again. They should take a lesson from any of the games that use the A button to go forward and the B button to go back.

The graphics are 2D, which gives the game the same flat look that Mortal Kombat Trilogy and Cruis'n USA also suffer from. On the other hand, the graphics look very good, with the players capable of a wide range of motion, the teams sitting on their benches, and a large and varied audience that responds to the game. There are some moves that could use a few more frames of animation to smooth out the motion, but I'd rather have the wide range of characters and variety of moves that the game provides.

The sound is decent. At halftime, you get treated to the NBA Hangtime rap, which demonstrates that carts can be made to hold a substantial amount of music, if not at CD quality. The crowd cheers and boos, and the announcer, while making similar comments to the announcer for Gretzky, is somehow less annoying. In all, the game is worth many hours of fun, but it has several flaws that detract from the experience. If you're looking for a sports sim, this definitely isn't it. However, there aren't any great basketball simulations for any system, and this is a very good arcade game.