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Arch Rivals Review

Developer: Midway Publisher: Acclaim
Release Date: 1990 Also On: Arcade, Game Gear, Genesis

Groan, awful. This just, god… What we have here is a really cool idea that worked in the arcades but ended up in the wrong hands when it was ported to the NES. Arch Rivals takes basketball and combines it with violence, allowing you to attack opponents with no fouls involved. Cool idea, but oh how this game sucks!

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Arch Rivals is decent as far as its graphics are concerned. There is a nice range of colors, though a bit monochromatic, cartoony details, and it’s easy to make out what they’re trying to portray. It has a feel to it that’s more fun than realistic, which fits with the general theme, so good marks there. No glitches or flicker to speak of; everything moves smoothly. Some things, however, just seem off. Sure, it looks cool when we see the coach sitting there yelling, but just having him moving his mouth open and closed, especially at points in the game where it doesn’t seem to make any sense, kind of throws off the atmosphere. You have various odd shots like this that occur at random and sometimes they just don’t seem like something that would be going on if this were actually happening. So why when my guy gets punched and falls down do we see this picture of a dismal-looking audience of four who aren’t moving a muscle? I don’t really see the connection. That should have been a hint, I guess. It’s like they tried to give it the feel of a real game with these images, but just threw things together without thinking where they should go. In the original, these shots had a clear connection to play. In addition, there are a few instances of really, really poor design. The coach, for example, during normal play is standing near the sides, but instead of trying to fill in the sprite so it looks like he’s standing in front of the stands, they merely placed his huge sprite block there, leaving black gaps in the stands that clearly can’t count as shadows. And check out the cheerleader animations in the video below. Come on, guys.

Arch Rivals has a pretty cool soundtrack overall, though. It’s not necessarily catchy, but it does stick in your head and it gives the game a sort-of ‘backstreet’, ‘rough-and-tough’ feel that’s pretty close to the original. The sound effects are pretty sparse, however. You have a few that you’d expect to be here but others that aren’t, like the ball bouncing, and then the ones they did provide, like the punches, sound like they should be for something else. But, overall, the sound works and it isn’t necessarily bad.

And now the gameplay. Oh boy, this just sucks. Arch Rivals. Okay, basketball, fine seen that before. Combine this with beating up your opponents to get the ball, okay that’s cool. In theory. In application, it is not cool. First off, I’ll say that it’s easy to play and the controls are responsive. They went against the typical button arrangement for passing and shooting for some reason and changed how they work. For example, to shoot, you just press the A button once, and everything else is automatic. No need to press it once, get the correct height and press it again to shoot, the game does it automatically. Of course, this kind of was part of the strategy and challenge of other basketball games, but okay. Points are scored like normal, but instead of the usual steal, you punch or push your opponents to wrest control of the ball from them. It’s not a bad idea, but check it out here before I explain why you should just steer clear of Arch Rivals:

Alright, so Arch Rivals is cool in concept, but definitely not in actual play. The major problem is that there simply isn’t much to do. No tournament to speak of, only a single game against the computer or another player, and no difficulty settings. That’s freaking it. Talk about weak. For a late-run game this is unacceptable. First, you select your player, which though the game seems to indicate means something, it doesn’t. You’re basically just selecting a different sprite design. The major feature here is that stealing in Arch Rivals involves pushing or punching your opponent. The computer is killer at this, and it’s kind of annoying at first, but with a friend of equal skill it’s kind of fun for a bit.

The main problem Arch Rivals has is the depth. You punch, get the ball, shoot, pass sometimes and repeat. That’s it. Passing is almost pointless because you end up getting hit most of the time and it’s difficult to dodge, so you end up shooting real far away and then slamming the computer before you rebound the ball at the other end. Speaking of taking a shot, I noticed almost immediately that the computer seems to score an inordinate number of three-pointers and you seem to miss (even dunks) a hell of a lot more. I thought maybe there was some skill to shooting, but since you just press the button and it happens automatically, that element of skill is out of the water and it also reveals the cheap programming found herein. However, this is avoided with a simple trick where after each shot you make, simply punch the computer as they pass (which they usually always do when they first get control back), take the ball, and then dunk at your net, scoring about 88% of the time. With another player it can be kind of fun, kind of like an early NBA Jam-style game, but other than the fun you’ll have mocking each other, it’s really, really basic when it comes down to it. This is one of the most simplistic basketball games I’ve ever played.

As for creativity, Arch Rivals was slightly ahead of its time. The idea of punching your opponents and making it violent is novel, but it wasn’t well thought-out in the end. It’s almost a prototype for NBA Jam in a way, but other than the punching there’s not much to it. It lacks so many basic features that this modicum of creativity is hardly noticeable after awhile and you’ll get quickly bored with the small amount of violence you can pull off.

Honestly, Arch Rivals isn’t worth playing against the computer. Use the trick I mentioned and you’ll be thirty points ahead in no time. There isn’t any skill to speak of, just carefully timed punches. No shot tricks you have to learn, no stealing, it’s just punch, shoot and repeat. Wow. With a friend, not so bad, but you’re not likely to play it with someone else too often. As for length, way too short. A single game? Seriously, is that the best you could muster? I always expect some kind of tournament mode or at least a save feature or something for a game like this. Why in the hell would I want to play a single game with no difficulty options, points, or even skill to it?

Arch Rivals is not a basketball title I’d recommend for casual gamers, or even hardcore NES fans. It’s not very fun unless you’re playing with someone else, there are hardly any features to speak of, the gameplay is repetitive and shallow, and there isn’t a bit of skill involved in winning. The basic idea is cool, but they copped out in the end and left us with what amounts to an unfinished games in many ways. Should have left this one on the shelf. I don’t even know why I still own it.

Graphics: 6.5
Sound: 7.5
Gameplay: 4
Creativity: 5
Replay Value/Game Length: 3.5
Final: 5.3
Written by Stan Review Guide