Monday, March 4, 2013

NES Replay: All-Pro Basketball

Developer: Aicom
Publisher: Vic Tokai
Released: 1989
There's a "watch" setting: That sounds
somewhat creepy.
In NES Replay, we go through each NES game from A-Z to see if they're any good. Today: All-Pro Basketball.

Sports games were really hard to make in the NES years due to the NES' myriad limitations. Developers resorted to all sorts of behind-the-scenes trickery in order to make them work, and when they could pull them off, like they did with Tecmo Bowl, they were great. When they failed, like with most other sports games, the results were painful.

A lot of times, the choice came down to fun or realism. When a developer aimed for realism, the results weren't pretty. For example, 10-Yard Fight could have been great if they would have gone with a more up-tempo feel and given up any pretenses toward representing real football. For example, maybe the could have cut out two linemen per side and added one more wide receiver to give the player more options to throw to. That would have made the game play faster, since there would have been fewer players for the computer to manage, and opened the game a little more, making big plays happen more frequently. Alas, they assumed that people would rather play a gimped version of football, and it stunk.

All-Pro Basketball aimed for realism. The developers tried to make a basketball game with five players per side, fouls for traveling, charging and back passes, and a season mode of sorts. Could they pull all of that off on the NES?

Notice how badly the computer is spanking me.
No. Not at all. Let's look at a few of the problems in All-Pro Basketball and see why they happened.

So, you're going to do an inbound pass from the sideline. In order to do an inbound pass, you hold down the right or left side of the D-pad and throw the pass to one of your players. However, instead of throwing the ball to one of your teammates, you manage to throw the ball the entire length of the court and it ends up out of bounds.

Why did you do that? Well, instead of being able to choose a specific player to throw a pass to, you're throwing the passes in a specific direction. If a player happens to be standing in that general area, the ball will be thrown to them. If a player was standing there and wandered off to a different place on the court right before you pressed the pass button, you'll end up whipping the ball into a vasty nothingness. This happens more often that you'd think.

Now, why would you program a basketball game like that? I don't know much about basketball, I'll admit. I think a shooting guard is the same thing as a New York City police officer, and a power forward is when a bunch of people are standing in line and all move together at the same time. Even with my limited knowledge, I can't believe that there is ever a situation where it makes tactical sense to throw the ball across the court and out of bounds.

This looks SO COOL! If only this was ME
dunking and not the computer player wiping
the floor with me.
And your teammates. Oh, Lord, your teammates. They wander around like confused and frightened lemurs. They don't play defense at all. They don't attempt to block passes or steal. I've seen them run away from the ballcarrier. They bunch up in a clot along the three-point line and let you go one-on-three constantly.

A few other problems: When there's a steal, there's no real sound indicator or anything. The only way you know that the ball has been stolen from you is because the computer player starts running the other way with the ball while you're still running toward your hoop like an idiot. Of course, the computer player doesn't have this problem. They know where the ball is at all times and will steal it right back from you.

The score and time isn't displayed on the screen either at all times in All-Pro Basketball, which is essential for a game where you need to, you know, know how much time you have at all times. It's only displayed on the wall behind the hoop, and if you happen to be at midcourt you have no idea how much time is left on the clock. With most sports games, when time starts running out they'll start playing a sound indicator, maybe a series of beeps or dings just to let you know that time's a-wasting. Barring that, they'll at least have the current time on the screen at all times so you at least know how much time is left. All-Pro Basketball doesn't do either, so you end up dilly-dallying around midcourt only to realize that you should have shot the ball a second ago. Of course, the computer player always knows what time it is and will attempt that half-court shot.

"Well, sports games are supposed to be played two-player!" you might say. If that's was the intent with All-Pro Basketball, why did they include a single-player season mode at the heart of it? It's obvious that the developers intended you to play single-player at some point. Yet, because your opponent barely commits any fouls, always knows what time it is, and doesn't make the same mistakes that you're forced to make because of your idiotic teammates, single-player is a hideous misadventure.

The one consolation is that there's one person in the game who seems to understand what you're going through: The reporter in the news segments.
"The world is burning."

"I smell the seared flesh and hear the snapping of necks. We are all among the damned."

She understands. She's the only one who understands.

Final Rating:

Next Week: Alpha Mission

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