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Monday, April 8, 2013

NES Replay: Arch Rivals

Developer: Midway
Publisher: Acclaim
Released: 1990
Detroit Melee Joke: On its way
Remember our discussion on sports games that accompanied All-Pro Basketball? If not, here's a recap: In the NES years, you had two choices when making a sports game: You could either try and make an exact replica of the sport (which usually wouldn't work because of the NES' limitations) or make something that felt like the sport but wasn't quite the same thing (which also didn't always work).

All-Pro Basketball tried to make an exact replica of basketball and didn't turn out very well. Arch Rivals tried to just have fun with the concept of basketball, and it was all right. Not perfect, but all right.

Arch Rivals is a two-on-two basketball game where you can steal the ball easily, knock down other players and shatter the backboard with thunderous dunks. If that idea sounds familiar, it's because Arch Rivals was made by Midway, who eventually turned out NBA Jam. Yes, Arch Rivals was NBA Jam before NBA Jam was NBA Jam.

However, there's a little bit more going on than that. The joke in Arch Rivals is that the referee is near-blind and really short, so he has no control over the game. Because of that, the players have resorted to violence and throw punches at each other. It's pretty hilarious to run across the court toward an opponent with your fist cocked and knock them out cold right before they take a shot. It's like a continual Detroit Melee, except without Ron Artest climbing into the stands. It's almost the best idea anyone has had for a basketball video game ever, but Arch Rivals doesn't quite do it right.
For example, punching out your opponents is a great idea but in the game it doesn't have much of an effect. Knocking out an opponent in Arch Rivals merely makes them lose the ball for a bit and have them lay on the floor for a split second while they get back up. It doesn't really matter how many punches you throw, you're not going to make your opponent play any worse or injure them in any meaningful way, so that's a little disappointing.

This is how chaotic everything usually is.
Fun!
There are also only two music tracks that play throughout Arch Rivals. The main music track acts as the title screen music, the character selection music, and the in-game music. The only other music is played during the breaks between quarters. Also, get this: Every time either team scores, that main track starts over from the beginning.

Don't get me wrong, the main music is good, but there's only so much you can hear the first 10 seconds of it before you start getting annoyed. Why didn't they just let the track keep running instead of constantly restarting it, or, better yet, come up with a new track just to mix it up a bit? Just throwing that out there.

You also don't get to choose your team, but instead have about eight different players that you can choose from. Each player has their NBA equivalents from the 80's. One looks like Dennis Rodman, one looks like Larry Bird, one looks like Horace Grant, and so on. I'm sure that somehow they have their differences, but I've never been able to tell. For that reason, I just pick "Tyrone," who's the Michael Jordan equivalent. It's like, if there's a player who plays like Michael Jordan, why would you pick anyone else?

Finally, Arch Rivals is a game that's designed to play multiplayer, and it shows. The computer opponents can be pushovers if you pay a little bit of attention. They really only have about five different plays that they run, so if you anticipate their moves, it doesn't take much to rack up high scores against them.

Arch Rivals had so much potential, and it's the kind of game that's ripe for a revival. Imagine a two-on-two basketball game where your punches matter, you can knock the star player out of the game, run out of bounds, grab the referee and use him as a shield, dump Gatorade on the court, and run into the stands after loose balls. I can see that being a huge hit as a downloadable game, and I would play that so hard.

As it is, Arch Rivals is a neat precursor to NBA Jam, but it's not much else. It's fun to play, but is much more notable for having a great idea than being able to pull it off.

Final Rating:


Next Week: Archon