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Kobe Bryant NBA Courtside 2 (N64) Review

Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: November 1999

Background Info
The original NBA Courtside was a pleasant surprise for N64 sports gamers. It made good use of the game controller to allow players to go beyond the run-n-gun fare typical of many b-ball titles and work on the battle in the paint; at the same time, its options allowed players to perform a number of moves that were not always so easy to pull off in other games (notably the alley-oop). How will the second edition build on the promise of the initial offering?

Presentation/Graphics : 85
What will impress gamers upon first glance is the impressive rendering of player faces and features, especially when viewed from the foul line or before the opening tip-off. It's a shame that in contrast the uniforms appear badly pixelated. When viewing replays, you'll see players' faces grimace and smile according to the situation. All of that's okay, but when it comes to playing the game, you may want to do a little sampling of camera angles (a sizable assortment) and zooms (zooming in may look pretty, but it's hard to execute the offense). Sometimes the animation seems to be a bit choppy; at times players collide with each other as you bring the ball upcourt.

The courts are fine; the crowds are animated (although the mapping of the patterns is rather obvious); however, there's really nothing else very compelling about the atmosphere of the various courts. It's not as if you can tell the difference between the United Center and Madison Square Garden. All in all, a visually appealing game, but lacking a truly distinctive flair.

Presentation/Audio : 75
Replacing last year's PA system is the announcing team of Chick Hearn and Stu Lance. They are okay, although it's not too long until you begin to tire of hearing the same phrases. The music is nothing special, and there is a track dedicated to endorser Kobe Bryant that gets tiresome for non-Laker fans. The in-game sound effects range from fairly good for swishes to adequate for dribbling. However, there's no signature home court noises, cheers, or music. The entire package neither enhances nor detracts significantly from one's gameplay experience.

Interface/Options : 90
Courtside 2 offers the usual array of play options, including exhibitions, a so-so arcade contest that's worth a try or two, the three point duel, and multiple versions of season and playoff contests. You can choose from an assortment of game options for quarter length, fouls, various rules options (foul outs, out of bonds, violations, and so on); the same goes for in-game preferences (including various indicators and displays; sound effects and music; replays)

Most interesting is the create a player sequence. You may choose to fashion an already-polished player or work to develop a rookie into a veteran (the so-called career player). In the latter case, the CPU assigns default values, and those values change in response to player performance (usually, but not always, they improve).

As with the original Courtside, the array of individual options available through the button array is impressive. In addition to the alley-oops, fakes, picks, steals, and other standard fare, you can execute give-and-goes, spins, cuts to the hoop, and backing players down into the post. You may also choose to lock on a single player (through the team set-up menu). I found the passing game to be problematic at times; the icon passing option can be difficult to activate, and the point-the- joystick-and-pass method does not always hit the right target. Also, be warned that pressing the shot button sometimes initiates an animation sequence that can wreak havoc with your intentions, especially near the hoop.

The coaching options include the usual playcalling on the fly, full court pressure, how tight each player will guard his opposite number (or front him), and double teams. Despite the individual defender options, the game skimps on team defense, leaving it to the player to do what he can to hold the opposition in check. You may also choose to work on your game by choosing the practice mode--something that becomes especially useful when it comes to working on one's foul shooting. And make no doubt about it, you will want to practice your attempts from the charity strip. Courtside 2 employs a novel method, combining the old-fashioned method of aligning a moving and a static basket with using the control stick to place a bar within a continuously- contracting area. Some people will like this; I found it a bit irritating, although if one concentrates on moving the control stick while watching the hoops out of the corner of one's eye, one can hit a decent percentage of shots.

Gameplay : 83
If you are looking for a fairly easy game against the CPU, you can turn the difficulty up to normal and the controller to pro (I won't even discuss the blowouts on rookie). Put the game on hard, however, and be prepared for a contest, in which you have to move the ball around and look for the open man. On offense, it is disappointing to see your teammates assume their positions--and then all too often stand in place. Even worse is the time some of the game's big men take to get down court and set up. Finally, the game's defensive sets simply do not match up to the offensive options available.

Still, Courtside 2 offers players a fairly good game of video basketball--as most of us play it. That is, if you like to control the game from the point, you bring the ball up, work the outside, look for openings in the paint and underneath the hoop, and do what you can to pound the ball inside or look for the open shooter outside. On hard, the CPU-team offers you a real test, and perhaps that's what we most want to see--aside from some tremendous slam dunks.

Replay Value : 80
Like most sports games, the replay value of any b-ball title lies in a game's ability to keep one's interest during a season schedule. That, in turn, means something more than running undefeated through the league, a task all too simple at easy or normal difficulty. The Career Player option will also attract those eager to develop players. Rest assured, however, that if you want to hone your game against a challenging opponent who executes at both ends of the floor, you will have to set the difficulty on hard.

Overall : 84
Courtside 2 builds on its predecessor, and with proper tweaking can offer players a solid challenge. However, I can't say that I find it to be an outstanding representation of basketball, although I appreciate its ability to engage in one-on-one play and movement in the key. For those of you who want more than an exercise in steals and jumpers, you may find this title to your liking.

By: Brooks Simpson 2/24/00



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