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Great Basketball Review

Developer:Sega Publisher:Sega
Release Date:1987 Also On: None

Oh man, here we go again. If you’re not familiar with Great Baseball, read my review on that, because if you start from here you may totally despise the “great” series without giving all of them a thorough investigation because one of them is actually a really good game and there are maybe two others worth a look. This beast I’m reviewing really could have been a good game and has some potential, but it just wasn’t put together properly. It doesn’t look the best, but it doesn’t look the worst either. The music sounds pretty good with some lame sound effects countering. But the gameplay, which is what one needs to have in a sports title, is just not there at all. This is definitely not the worst game in the series, I’ll get to that horror when I do, but it’s a close running for the worst and only manages to make it due to a few features that set it apart from totally sucking. As much as it pains me, being a Master System fan and aware of the console’s power outside of the US, it’s time for me to review Great Basketball.

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Graphically this isn’t exactly the worst game out there, especially when one considers the time period. Then again, Double Dribble for the NES was around in the same year and it totally blows this pathetic thing away, so I guess I have to take that back. I’m supposed to be objective here so let me do it without trying to salvage what peace one may find herein. Great Basketball doesn’t look terrible necessarily. The title screen is decent with flashing letters and a presentable color scheme, they did as good of a job as they could with the country flags, but wait, why is the court green? This is the strangest color to pick for a basketball court and though it’s not that big of an issue, I’m not sure why they didn’t just go for the “wood grain” look like they did in every other basketball game in existence. Okay, fine, let’s ignore that. The crowd is much better than Great Baseball where they actually made an attempt at suggesting the presence of actual human beings instead of a mess of color. Wait, no, wait a minute, oh I see that’s only on the back of the box. In the actual game it is a mess of color. I’m not sure the reason for the deception, but it’s likely these shots are from the Mark III version, which I’ve never played, and if not it’s simply an earlier version of the game they scrapped. Realizing that the random, puked blocks of vomit they used for the crowd looks like absolutely nothing, they figured they’d use something better to fool you into purchasing the damn thing.

They didn’t even try to suggest the crowd was moving in the actual game, which I suppose makes sense because while playing this game I was pretty inactive myself. In addition to this, while apparently adjusting the original cheerleaders to make them appear American they left the players overtly Japanese with some of the choppiest animations I’ve ever seen. The AI-controlled players will move about twitching in place, jerking from left to right with no clear direction, sometimes appearing to lose limbs, and their little feet animated in such an atrocious manner that it looks worse than some of the most notorious unlicensed games ever created. When you shoot, your character magically animates up the screen at times, the ball itself enters the basket from some of the most awkward looking directions ever, it twitches as well when you hit the rim and miss, and even the dribbling was put together incorrectly. Your character can be standing perfectly still, but the ball moves as if dribbled two millions times faster than the average robot could ever hope to perform on a good day. The half time show is the same, tiresome set of cheerleaders doing the same tiresome movements and the ending sequence is hideous with your team members, who look naked, waving at the crowd for a few moments while you’re glorified in text for several seconds. I could go on but why bother.

Here’s one category I must say is pretty decent overall. The opening track is catchy and fun, suggesting there’s much more to offer here than there really is. Followed by this are the country themes during the team selection screen, where the programmers actually, very accurately I might add, rendered the first several bars of each of eight countries’ national anthems. Though most people wouldn’t really listen to them, nor care, I was pretty impressed that they milked that all out of the SMS since it’s not known for having the best sound capabilities. Great job with those anthems, wish they would have spent as much time on the graphics and actual gameplay. In the game proper you’re treated to a fun, catchy tune that was programmed well. Again, like the title track, it almost suggests to the player that they’re about to engage in some exciting gameage, but woe onto those who go further. The half time track is nicely done too, as is the final score when you actually win.

The only problem with the sound is the effects, they’re generally poor. The sound of the basketball bouncing up and down, by far one of the most important since you hear it constantly, was programmed horribly. If you tap lightly any direction bit by bit so your player moves slowly the ball, though bouncing a million miles a minute, will only make a bouncing sound around every four steps or so, I’m not entirely sure I remember how many, but whatever it is it looks and sounds ridiculous. Couple this with the fact that the effect sounds more like someone with a foot stuck in the mud trying to pull it out. When it happens to twitch out of bounds after bouncing off the rim, this strange effect repeats to the frequency of a machine gun and sounds absolutely inane. The digitized speech, at times, is quite good, but at other times it’s difficult to make out exactly what the referee is saying, or, more importantly why he’s saying it. Whenever you dunk, which looks more like a jump-and-pathetically-tap-it-in shot than a dunk, he says “dunk shot.” First off, who says dunk shot and second off, who says dunk whenever anyone does it during a game? Still, sound is Great Basketball’s strong point, and overall it’s pretty good and one of the only redeeming features it has to offer, saving it from utter ruin and the place of second to last for the great series. Actually, thinking of the next title I have to trudge through, it may actually make third to last. Let’s put it there.

Then of course we get to the area where any game needs to be strongest and where most of the games in the great series fail miserably. Great Basketball could have actually been a decent game in spite of the above if not for one major fault that makes one wonder what the programmers were doing. They certainly would have been driven just as insane as I was playing while they were testing it, but I’ll get to that. The set-up is simple; you have one or two-player modes and then a team selection screen. Each team has a set of stats with twenty points distributed amongst each attribute, such as speed, but really I couldn’t notice any difference in these. In fact, I experimented a bit and put all of my awarded points as I one into one category alone, but yet noticed almost no difference whatsoever. What differences I may have noticed may have been simply placebo, assuming there should have been a difference I felt like there was one when there simply wasn’t. The controls are easy to learn and pretty intuitive. It’s a breeze to jump, shoot and pass, so at least they got the basics down pretty good. In addition, and this was the feature that laid Great Baseball down to the floor, in Great Basketball when you beat one team you move onto the next in a tournament style play until you either defeat all of the teams or lose three games total. Since it plays generally well, graphical sludge aside, it would have been a fun game, except for some serious flaws that ruin everything quicker than you could ever believe.

First off, though this may be a minor factor to some, there is no way to save your play. Each game runs for at least ten to fifteen minutes if you’re good enough, but you’ll likely be playing for up to twenty minutes apiece. Since there are seven different teams to play other than the one you pick, you may be playing longer than you’d like. Considering that every team strangely has the same color jerseys, it gets pretty redundant because there’s really no way to tell them apart so it’s almost like you’re playing the same team over and over again with the difficulty getting a little more intense each time. Because of this, it would have been ideal to have a save or password feature to come back later. I’ll tell you this, there was nothing more draining than playing this the entire way through. I thought I was seriously going to have a nervous breakdown.

But there’s an even bigger problem than this, I could have possibly dealt with the lack of a save feature, but there’s something even worse that ruins everything. For some reason, the programmers decided to make this game very sensitive to two types of fouls. There are three in total, actually, only one of which makes sense. If you jump and don’t shoot, it’s traveling, just like in real basketball. However, you’re able to backcourt if you so please, avoiding the computer after scoring points, simply to run the clock down since there isn’t any call to worry about. But the big problem is the other two fouls: charging and pushing. If you want to steal, you need to get close to your opponent, move around a bit, and hope you suddenly grab the ball. However, the problem is that if you have the ball or if the opponent has the ball and anyone from the opposing team gets too close to said player, a foul is called nearly 100% of the time every time. I’m serious, if you try to steal you normally end up pushing and if you run too close to the opponent while dribbling you end up charging.

You can use this somewhat to your advantage, because anytime the computer is passing the ball, simply get right next to the target player and half of the time it seems either charging is called on them, and you get the ball, or pushing is called on you. Of course, after eight fouls any other foul equals the opposing team getting free throws, so be careful. At any rate, this ruins everything because some of the biggest aspects of the game that should be here simply aren’t because you can’t get close to anyone when you have the ball or they have the ball without risking a foul. It almost always happens and thus it’s nearly impossible to steal, which totally ruins any sense of competition in this game or strategy. All that’s left is pass like mad, run if you can get away from everyone, shoot and hope it goes in. Eventually either you or the computer will miss, giving the other the chance to pull ahead. Sorry, but that’s not what basketball is. You kind of have to experience this to see how agonizing this game was made by this little detail, but it really ruins everything. If they didn’t program it like this, it would have actually been pretty fun.

Creativity is always a problem with sports games because how creative can you be with something that simply plays as it is and there’s not much to do with it? Well, this fact aside, programmers have managed over the years, and even during the 8-Bit era, to come up with interesting variations to keep things interesting. Basketball Nightmare for the Master System, the only other basketball game released for the console, really shows off what can be done, I suggest you check it out if you’re interested, it’s a great game. At any rate, Great Basketball isn’t that creative. The basic format is there, fine, I don’t expect too much to be changed unless the entire idea is being worked with. However, it’s just too basic to really stand out. Double Dribble was a pretty basic game but threw in cinematics, mascots and so forth, helping it to climb to the position of one of the most legendary sports titles for the NES. In addition, you could steal in that game, which is kind of key. This title, though, is just basic, there’s nothing here creative unless you consider using different countries creative, and even though I suppose you can’t say much could have been done, there’s just not enough to capture anyone’s attention so I have to take it straight to the floor.

Replay value? Yeah, right. This game essentially has none. Even in two-player mode it’s a piece of decomposing human waste due to the strange, foul programming. In Double Dribble, you can have a blast with a friend stealing the ball back and forth, slamming the buttons like mad, but here you just can’t. Any time you try to steal the ball you have to stay a certain distance away from the opponent to do it and even then you usually don’t steal it at all. If you try you just end up committing a foul, so forget it. They should have taken the fouls out completely and forgot about it, because it’s not like anyone really cares about fouls when they’re playing a basketball video game; seriously, who cares? As for game length, Great Basketball would have actually been decent in this department if it wasn’t for the lack of a password or save feature. As it is, it’s way too long and tedious for even the most stoic of gamers, so I really wouldn’t bother playing it without a Pro Action Replay because you’re going to be putting hours into something that doesn’t even deserve it.

Yet again I’m saddened by what Sega of America did to the Master System. The great series was clearly a failure and should never have been marketed. The PAL market is lucky this set of suck didn’t drop the system down like it did over here, but then again they didn’t have to contend with Nintendo’s stranglehold either. Another thing is that they decided to change the artwork for some damn reason, the Japanese had it right, suck aside, using a cartoon-like design that really captures what they were trying to pull off even though they didn’t. Great Basketball is thus not only an embarrassment in gaming, it’s also an embarrassment to collectors because the cover is god awful. Stay away if you’re interesting in playing and only purchase this if you’re a sick, disturbed, obsessed completist, there’s no reason to own it otherwise.

Graphics: 3
Sound: 6.5
Gameplay: 2.5
Creativity: 0
Replay Value/Game Length: 2
Final: 2.8
Written by Stan Review Guide