It's now 2009 and when you want play a basketball game you can just pop in NBA 2k9 when you want a realistic looking challenging game of basketball on your favorite console. But let's get in our time machine and set the dial to an era where you didn't always have the luxury of such a lush experience. Back when the Nintendo Entertainment System was the top of line in home entertainment and 8 bits were as much as anyone could handle. The year is 1987 and if you and your friends wanted to go head to head in a game of hoops, Konami had you covered with Double Dribble.
It's classic 5 on 5 full court basketball. You have 4 periods to score more points than the other team via 2 pointers, 3 pointers and free throws. You have the same four periods to keep them from scoring more than you and just like real basketball you can foul and have to give up free throws so you want to make sure your blocks and steals are of the legal variety. (though quite honestly it's always seemed to be to be random when the game decides that something is illegal.) For the time period it was actually pretty accurate to the sport is was portraying and was one of the first games to feature sound and cut scenes which was a real treat for those of us old enough to remember when that was not only a rarity, but the cutting edge of technology.
The gameplay graphics are pretty terrible by today's standards. Your characters and the crowd are faceless and undetailed but, to it's credit, the crowd does cheer in the background while the game is going on. However, this cheering is limited to just two frames of animation. The cut scene graphics on the other hand, are fairly detailed especially for the time period and are easily the most memorable part of the game.
The music is pretty standard Nintendo fare and is only present when something special is happening: the beginning, the half time show and the end. The remainder of the game is played to the sounds of shoe squeaks, passes and dribbling .
You start off the game by watching the crowd, which at this points seems to resemble old TV static, stream into an unnamed arena while the us national anthem plays and the Konami Blimp flies overhead majestically. After you wipe the tears from your eyes at the beauty of such a touching scene, you get to the selection screen. Here you shoot baskets to choose how long you want your periods to be, what team you'd like to be and if you're playing a one player game, if you'd like to be playing the computer at skill level one, two or three. Your teams while clearly based on existing American teams at the time, exist only in the mind of Konami's programmers.
The 4 teams available are:
The Boston Frogs: Who as you would expect have a green theme and a frog mascot.
The New York eagles: The team in white with an eagle mascot.
The Chicago Ox: The red team who has an ox mascot which is absolutely not bull in spite of what it looks like.
The LA Breakers: The blue team with a mascot that's completely indiscernible. As a child I was pretty convinced it was a blue raspberry freeze pop and my siblings thought it was a blue pickle. As I aged I decided it was a radioactive rod, but now I suspect given their name it's supposed to be a lake.(not to be confused with the Lakers)
Once you've made your decision based either on your personal affinity for the geographical location or silly mascots of these fictional teams, you start off with the jump ball. This is one of the things that supports the voice feature and actually sounds pretty much like what it supposed to be saying. (I can't say as much for some of the other Konami games that supported voice at the time - I'm looking at you, Blades of Steel) One team gets the ball and the game begins. The player you're controlling flashes to easily discern them from the AI players. Though this is an NES game with 10 playable sprites on the field and an active background so all the players flicker a bit sometimes making it seem as though your teammates are suffering from an advanced form of leprosy(this is especially apparent in some of the screenshots). If you've got the ball the active character can either shoot or pass and if you don't have the ball you can steal or block. The characters you aren't playing with work on very simple AI which basically causes them to run around the court not doing much of anything until a ball basically falls on them or you select them. When shooting in addition to your normal basics you can hit three pointers and slam dunks.
The three pointers are made from any place beyond the three point line though there are a few "sweet spots" where it's easier to hit them and they make a very gratifying sound when they sink and cause the crowd to go wild. The slam dunk is probably the part of this game everyone remembers. Whenever you get in close the basket from the front it will trigger one of three slam dunk cut scenes - two handed, one handed and behind the back. Be aware though that seeing the cut scene doesn't mean you've successfully gotten it in, all too often you'll often hear the brutal buzzing of shot bouncing off the rim.
After the first two periods your thumbs get a break as a squad of cheerleaders (which don't seem to be affiliated with any specific team) take the court and do several dance steps and formations as your chosen teams' mascots go by the crowd. Once the cheerleaders leave the court, the game resumes and you can continue trying to steal, pass, and shoot your way to victory. At the end of the 4 periods whoever has the most points is declared the winner and sees one player, always the same player in a jersey that matches your team's color, receives a trophy and the admiration of the aforementioned cheerleaders.
Double dribble may not sound like much, but It's been 22 years since it came out and most people who owned a Nintendo still fondly recall it and plenty have downloaded it to their Wii virtual consoles since Nintendo made it available again in 2007. It's not just for nostalgia either, I can almost guarantee that almost everyone who played it enjoyed it and probably spent a good number of childhood afternoons competitively playing it with their friends, family and neighbors. The game is a lot of fun and while graphically it has very poorly weathered the test of time, it's fun factor and playability are as high as ever. It's not as "epic" as many of the games I review, but it is a classic and one I heartily endorse.
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