Shaquille O'Neal comes to the free-throw line to shoot two. We all know how that usually turns out...
Left Field probably knew during the development of this game that it was going to be let go by Nintendo after its release. That didn’t seem to deter the development studio, though, as it came up with a solid basketball title, while far from perfect, still has enough going for it to make it Left’s fitting farewell from Nintendo.
After you’re treated to an annoyingly long opening sequence (one that you can’t skip), you’re served up the menu. All the stuff you’d expect is on there, like a Quick Game to jump right into the real thing, or an Arcade Game for a slightly different brand of basketball. Of course, you can go the full 82-game season in Season Play (with full stat-tracking!), but you have the option to do a half- or quarter-schedule as well. You can also do a little All-Star stuff by playing the NBA All-Star game or testing out your skills in the 3-point contest. Then, there’s the wonderful create-a-player feature, which you need to use to believe.
After you choose your mode, you’ll be able to pick your teams and hit the court. Once you do, it’ll hit you right away: This game looks gorgeous. A nice, shiny floor that reflects everything realistically, extremely well-detailed arenas, and the player’s faces look as close to real as you’re going to get in a basketball game. Even the crowd, which is still made up of 2D sprites, look good. With all the detail you see in the game, it’s amazing that the framerate doesn’t budge from 60 fps, even with all 12 bodies running around the screen (two referees, too, and it appears their faces are true-to-life as well).
After you get over the prettiness of the environment, some of the better aspects of the control stick out. C-Stick passing is the best thing ever created. Ever. This feature allows you to point the C-Stick in the general direction of the player you want to pass to, and presto, it’s there. It makes the optional passing method, B+Stick, seem awkward, especially if you’re moving down court and need to make a quick pass. The nifty control features include not one, not two, but THREE options to choose which player you want to control on defense. X selects the closest man to the ball, Y the closest to the hoop (great for rebounding), and the C-Stick lets you pick the man in the direction that you pointed (C-Down lets you pick the player closest to the screen, for instance). This is a bit confusing at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll be glad it’s in there.
The other cool feature that Courtside can call its own is the momentum meter. Every time you make a big play, your side of the meter goes up (or their side goes down, depending on where it was to begin with). If you’re the home team, the higher your side of the meter is, the louder and louder the crowd begins to get. The meter is tied into the L trigger, the adrenaline button. It’s basically a turbo meter, but with a twist; the higher (or lower) your momentum, the more oomph you’ll get out of it. It’s a realistic approach to turbo, and it works extremely well.
Those are mostly gimmicks to the actual gameplay of the game, which is a bit disappointing. The biggest problems are a lack of defense and lack of control depth. It seems that the game thinks the best defense is a good offense, because both you and your opponent will be reaching high scores in a short time. It seems like the AI doesn’t care about defense, even on the highest difficulty settings. Conversely, it seems like the rest of your team is relying on you to handle all defense, because it’s just as bad on your side.
You also really don’t have that much control over your AI teammates. About all you can really do is call for a pick or double team (using Z), but that’s really about it. The control pad can call some set plays, but they’re not really as effective as just winging it and going without them. If you grab a rebound and start sprinting up court in hopes of a fast break, you’ll find your team jogging up court as if you just inbounded the ball after a hoop. It’s a shame that there wasn’t better AI in this game, because it could have been a lot better gameplay experience if there was.
Of course, this is bad for simulation games, but it’s better for the Arcade mode. Here you’ll go 3-on-3 on a generic roof-top court, with 4-7 point hotspots, moon-like gravity, and bigger dunks. This mode is definitely a diversion from the lax AI in the simulation game, where you can just worry about dunking and scoring instead of setting up plays. It is good fun, especially when you round up some friends.
The game’s sound is a little underdone. Sound effects are there, like the increasing roar of the crowd or the sneakers squeaking on the floor. The play-by-play isn’t all that good, notably because of the color commentary. Van Earl Wright does the color, and he’s a sports news anchor, not a play-by-play man. It just seems really out of place to a know-it-all sports fan. On top of that, the audio sounds a bit hollow, which is a tell-tale sign of audio compression. With all the audio tools and media space the GameCube has, was this really necessary?
Anyway, this is a good basketball game overall, but there will definitely be better games coming to the GameCube in the future. If you were a fan of the first game, then you’ll for sure like this one, but otherwise, you’d be better to wait for EA’s Live series or Sega’s NBA2K2. Normally, it could be said that there’s room for improvement, but since the game probably isn’t going to be developed by Left Field in the future, there are no guarantees for next year. If you need a basketball game right now, it’s recommended you rent first.