In the 80’s, a wave of American culture landed on UK shores that would influence and shape a generation, things such as MTV, The Simpsons and American sports like Baseball, Ice Hockey and the sport for today’s review, Basketball. First played in the late 19th Century in a town named Springfield (not where Jebediah first founded) it would only have been a matter of time before a video game was based off the sport – why get kids out playing the real sport when they can put on their Nintendo and play the video game of it? Konami hit on this brainwave and released Double Dribble, so how does it fare – is it a 3 pointer or a non-starter?
Double Dribble started life as per a number of early NES titles as an arcade game released in 1986. Due to the popularity of this, Konami thought (and rightly so) that it should be ported to home consoles, which it duly released in 1987. Double Dribble is a basketball game in which as per most sports, the idea is to score more points than your opponents. The rules and scoring of basketball won’t be covered here however there are plenty of fine resources out there that would describe the sport, so let’s assume you know the basics of the game.
When you pop in the game you can choose between one player game versus the computer or playing against a friend in local multiplayer which is always favourable – online multiplayer at this stage was not fully designed or implemented on the NES…so you choose which mode you wish to play and then you’re treated to an opening scene of what looks like hoards of moles burrowing underground make their way to a Kremlin-like building (such is the graphics in the opening segment) whilst the US National Anthem plays in the background. A nice touch and adds to the charm and appeal of the game.
You then get to pick your options before the match starts, which was common for sports games on the NES at the time however to choose your options your player shoots the ball into the net to change the setting. Firstly it’s time, so you can play a 5/10/20 or 30 minute match, then which team out of 5 to choose from you want to be (surprisingly no option for a London basketball team – maybe London wasn’t glamorous enough at the time…). Then you get to pick the level of difficulty from 1, 2 or 3 before starting the match. The one criticism here is that it takes too long to cycle through the options – what is wrong with pressing left or right to choose your team or match length? Instead your waiting for the guy to shoot the hoop which draws out the process.
So the match starts, and the graphics suit the game well and are of good quality, which isn’t surprising as Konami were the publishers of the game. There are the odd quirk here and there, such as in game the player’s skin colour can change (which is more evident when the player you are in control with “flashes”) but in the background you can define the crowd and is a nice touch when you can see them pumping their fists in the air like they just don’t care and supporting team. The centre piece of the game is when you go in to the dunk the ball into the basket, a cut scene appears – for the time this was mightily impressive and felt realistic. It doesn’t matter how many times you see the cut scene, it always does bring a smile to the face and the following shouting at the TV wanting the ball to go in the basket to get your two points.
The controls are responsive and tight, with the d pad (unsurprisingly) moving your player, the A button passing the ball and the B button changing the player you are controlling and also shooting. Although there may be a button to press to tackle the ball from the player, having tried all combinations it is difficult to know what this is, which for a sport’s game as much as the offense is good, you need to know how to defend. The sound effects at times can sound like they were direct from the Atari 2600 however hearing the beeps go up in pitch when you are in control of the ball is a nice touch, the ball being bounced is a nice effect and there is some voice sampling which is always a welcome especially on a console like the NES.
Overall, Double Dribble is an average basketball game with which it’s postives and negatives equal out in measure. The positives include the Star Spangled banner at the start of the game, the cut scene when dunking a basket and the tight and responsive controls which for a sports game is always important. The negatives is the hard difficulty of the game – it does seem tricky to tackle the ball from your opponent and feels like every chance they are at your basket they score whereas when you attempt to score, more often that not it doesn’t go in. Maybe the difficulty gradient you choose at the start from 1, 2 or 3 means 1 is the most hardest and 3 is the easiest? Who knows, it is not explained in game but a solid title from the Konami team, heaven knows what it would have been like if it was a black box game by Nintendo as a launch title. Maybe then the mighty USSR and Great Britain may have been involved…but do pick up the title, just so that two of you on local multiplayer on a Tuesday night can compete against each other pretending to be Michael Jordan. Copies of the game are plentiful in your preferred method of purchasing games, so do try it and don’t be tempted to shout BOOMSHAKALA – wrong generation of console my friend……
Rating – 3 out of 5