The Nintendo has been out for two years, and finally hoops fans have a basketball game to play. Most of the available sports games on the NES have been poorly designed and, let’s be frank, are real snoozers. Launch titles made by Nintendo, such as Baseball and 10-Yard Fight, I consider to be among the worst on the system. Nintendo has surely realized this and have quit stocking those launch games. Luckily, Konami, a company that has impressed gamers left and right with amazing games like Gradius, Track & Field, and Castlevania, are the creators of Double Dribble. I was excited to see how they handled the design of a team sports game.
There is no NBA license or real basketball players, but you are able to choose from four fictional teams: Chicago, L.A., Boston, and New York. There are 5, 10, 20, or 30-minute halves (the game clock moves much faster than real time). There are also three modes of difficulty to pick. Most importantly, you can choose to play the computer or play against a friend. Head to head is where the game really delivers the fun. I can envision groups of friends getting together and hosting tournaments over the winter in the heart of basketball season. I know I plan on doing just that!
Double Dribble is a 5-on-5 realistic basketball game. The fundamentals and mechanics of basketball are all present: passing, shooting, dribbling, rebounding, and defense. There are even violations like fouls, backcourt, and 5-second calls. The gameplay itself takes some getting used to and the controls can sometimes be frustrating. Pressing A passes and steals, B is for shooting and jumping for a rebound or to block a shot. Early on I found myself being called for fouls all the time, both on offense and defense. When defending, it is hard to take control of a desired player. Figuring out how to handle 5 players needs some refinement, but I hardly expect perfection from the first basketball title out there. Making baskets is also tough. It is easier to go inside for an easy dunk than shooting. However, I still seemed to miss about 50% of these. Not good when dunking should be an almost guaranteed 2 points.
This Game Pak’s presentation will really make an impact on players. It features voice audio that states the name of the game when you begin, and also announces terms like ‘jump ball’ and ‘foul.’ When you begin a game the National Anthem plays as thousands of fans flood into a basketball arena (complete with a Konami blimp flying overhead). There is also an elaborate halftime show that plays at the midway point.
The most memorable features are the cinematic dunks. When you are going in for one, the game cuts away to a close-up animation of your player slamming it home. There are even three different styles of dunks. The game sounds and looks light years ahead of anything else in the sports arena from Nintendo. The in-game graphics are detailed and colorful, however anyone who has played the arcade version of this may be slightly disappointed since the NES can’t keep up with the more powerful coin-ops. The sound during the game may drive many crazy, since there is no music played, only the constant and annoying sound of the ball dribbling. This is not what I’d expect at all from Konami, who has in the past delivered some of the best music on the system. Sadly, this is one of those titles that you may want to mute the TV and listen to some music on the radio.
When playing against the computer, it seems to have an unfair advantage. If you get ahead, they steal the ball more frequently and make shots more often. I had a difficult time competing with the computer, even on the easiest mode. There is no game management and substitutions are all done automatically. There are also no in-game statistics, differences between your players’ skills or design, or even names or numbers for them. This was a letdown for me. I’d really like a fun basketball game, mixed with more strategy, and some character to the individual teams and players. The game can get boring playing the computer, but if you have friends or family members itching to join in, this one can be quite the experience, and the shining point of Double Dribble.
Aaron got his NES in 1991 and has loved and collected video games ever since. In addition to gaming, he enjoys Stephen King novels, Twins Baseball, and his cats.