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Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside

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Ratings (0.0-10.0): -Graphics: 8.8 -Sound: 7.0 -Control: 8.6 -Gameplay: 7.4 -Lastablility: 7.6 -OVERALL: 7.6

Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside, which officially kicks off the Nintendo Sports brand, marks Nintendo of America's full-blown entry into the sports market. Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside does so many things right, yet it does the very fundamentals of basketball -- fast breaks and driving to the hoop -- wrong. Ultimately, Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside is a bench player in the world of video games just like the star who endorses the game. From the onset, it was apparent that Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside would be on the disappointing side. The game's real-time introduction actually probably hurts the game more than it helps. Several people who I played the game with commented that it "doesn't look very good" or "looks like it moves too slow." The introduction was supposed to show off Kobe Bryant doing very slams and such, but it ended being a precursor to the game's problems. And there are two huge problems with Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside that prevent it from reaching greatness: it moves too slow and it makes it too hard to drive to the hoop. The game's first problem would definitely need to be addressed in any forthcoming sequels, but it must be mentioned that you do get used to the speed after a while. In fact, the game really isn't slower than NBA In the Zone '98 on the N64 or NBA Shootout '98 on the PSX. But I think that problem leads into the next one: driving to the hoop. Fast breaks, slam dunks, and lay-ups are a huge part of basketball, but Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside doesn't let you do these easily. Much more often than not, when you're driving to the hoop, you're forced to pick up your dribble if you run into a player. Why will it rarely let me go around him or through him? It's also difficult to just stop and shoot over a guy in that same situation. Also, because of the slow pace of the game, the players hardly seem to be running fast even if there is a clear lane. The fast-paced excitement of basketball just isn't here. On the other hand, Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside does some things better than any other video game version of basketball on the planet. For starters, the intelligence in the game, which is one of the most common complaints of recent basketball games, is fantastic. The computer actually plays defense in the game. And unlike NBA In the Zone '98 on the N64, there is a lot happening away from the ball. You'll see guys running and covering each other all over the place, you'll see picks be set up, you'll see defensive shuffles, and you'll see many other realistic situations. As you pump up the difficulty from Rookie to Pro to All-Star, you'll face computer opponents that play even tighter defense and make more accurate shots and passes to the point in which it's almost perfect. One thing I was impressed with was that the intelligence on the Rookie level was set up to make different kinds of errors now and then. For example, passes would occasionally miss their target, shots would miss the basket, or a player would accidentally step out of bounds. But don't expect these mistakes on the higher levels of difficulty. Another great thing about Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside is the control. There are a ton of moves to learn, but the developers have made the control scheme about as good as it can get. It's best to learn the basics and slowly add in additional moves over several games. Once you realize what all the buttons do, you'll find that you have incredible control over every facet of the game. Everything will feel great and responsive with one exception: the B button. As you'll see below, because it shoots, picks up the dribble, and does the pump fake, you'll have trouble dunking when you want to and shooting when you want to, and that presents a major problem. On offense, the A button passes; the B button shoots (lay-ups, dunks, finger rolls are determined by your location and the guy doing it), picks up the dribble, and can be used for a pump fake; holding the R button is used to perform a post move and pressing it twice makes you spin; the Left C button performs a special move depending on whether you're stationary or running; the Top C button passes to the player closest to the hoop and is used for an Alley Oop; the Right C button is used to call for a pick; and the Bottom C button is used to switch the ball between your hands while moving and is used as a crossover dribble when stationary. Additionally, pressing R and Z at the same time brings up passing icons, which is very nice. You can also switch plays on the fly by pressing the Control Pad. On defensive, there are nearly as many moves. The B button is used for jumping, rebounding, and blocking shots; the A button is used for stealing; the R button performs the defensive shuffle; the Right C button is for intentionally fouling a player; the Top C button switches to the player closest to the hoop; the Bottom C button switches to the player closet to the ball; and the Left C button boxes out your opponent. The most important addition to Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside and its control scheme is the post move. This is such an important part of basketball, yet most video game versions of basketball don't even have it, let alone do it well. By holding down the R button, your player will turn away from the defender and move backwards toward the basket. Then while still holding down the R button, you can press the B button to shoot and your player will turn around and perform a jump shot or a hook shot. It's very important in real basketball for a player in the key to get the ball closer to the net by doing this, and it's also important in Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside. Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside contains all of the important modes found in any other basketball or sports game. For example, you can play a Pre-Season (single) game, you can play a full or abbreviated Season, or you can just go straight to the Playoffs. About the only modes not included in Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside are the novelty Slam Dunk Contest and Three-Point Shootout modes. You can also, of course, make trades and create up to 20 custom players. The number of options in Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside is also another strong point. You can adjust and/or turn off or on nearly every single rule in existence in the NBA, from the various clock violations to how often fouls are called. You can also change quarter length (3, 6, 9 or 12), fatigue (on or off), sound levels, indicators, and auto switching. Besides the gameplay problems, I've also encountered a few too many bugs in Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside, furthering my belief that the game was rushed. For instance, on inbound passes you'll often see the defender trying to prevent the pass by standing out of bounds! Another time, on my friend's second free throw shot, the ball all of a sudden disappeared right before it got to the rim! My friend was then given possession of the ball from out of bounds! Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside is graphically sound. As the third game to run in the N64's medium resolution mode, it looks pretty nice at times -- but not fantastic; the textures appear to be a little bland. Fortunately, all of the players appear to be modeled to their correct size and even look like them down to the little details. The player models can, at times, look a little unrealistic up-close, though. Reducing the polygon count on the players was presumably done to free up more processing power for the artificial intelligence, which is fine by me. Some of the animation can be breath-taking, however. When you go in for a slam dunk, the default options take the camera into a close-up of the hoop from one of several angles. Then you'll see the player perform one of many jams. They also have cool animation after making the dunk, like "raising the roof" or pointing. You'll also notice that passing and post moves can look particularly sweet at times, too. Sound effects and music seem to be the last priority when it comes to sports games on the N64 -- or any game on the N64, for that matter -- and Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside doesn't do much to change that notion. The music during the real-time introduction is in painful monaural, and I thought the music during the menus was in mono, too, until I saw that the default is mono. Unfortunately, changing it to stereo really only affects one song: the one during the menus. That rap song is at least pretty decent, though. The problem is that there isn't any music between quarters or at half-time, making it much too quiet. The actual in-game sound is good yet not-so-good. The plus is the announcer, Vic Orland, voice of the Seattle Sonics. After each basket, there is excellent PA announcing by him, with special emphasis for the home team. Because the PA announcer calls out all the player's names with one of only a few short comments, there is no play-by-play announcing. The crowd noise isn't bad, as it's better than a lot of sports games recently, but it still just isn't good enough. There are some short (5-second) musical tracks to get the crowd going during the game, most of which are rap-like. They aren't bad, but they come straight out of the center speaker. The sound needs to be much louder, should be more robust, and has to get a lot more variety in the future. Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside was so close to being great it's not even funny. The post moves, superior artificial intelligence, comprehensive control, plethora of options, and sweet animation put it in a league of its own. However, the slow-paced gameplay, the inability to drive to the hoop consistently (thanks multi-faceted B button), and the rearing of too many bugs somewhat ruin the whole experience. The game is definitely light years beyond Konami's N64 version of NBA In the Zone '98, but it's not up to par with the PlayStation's best basketball games. Too bad. Let's hope Nintendo and Left Field correct the flaws, improve the sound, and release a '99 version, because the series as a whole has great potential.

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