Kobe Bryant's NBA Courtside
Reviewed by Raymond Almeda
The long wait for a top notch Nintendo 64 basketball game has finally ended.
Unlike previous roundball efforts, Kobe Bryant's NBA Courtside fully exploits
the power of the N64. A joint effort of Nintendo and independent developer
Left Field Productions, NBA Courtside exudes the quality that has become
the hallmark of Nintendo in-house titles. Forget the arcade-inspired NBA
Hangtime and the blurry NBA In the Zone 98; NBA Courtside is the N64
basketball game to buy.
NBA Courtside is in many respects a basketball simulation, and the
corresponding attention to detail on the part of the Left Field developers
is impressive. Of course, the game boasts all the necessary basketball
licenses that lay the groundwork for the game's realism. NBA Courtside
is (obviously) sanctioned by the NBA, and thus contains official NBA team
names, logos, and arenas.
But in addition to the teams, over 300 actual NBA players are present,
both statistically and graphically. One unfortunate exception is none other
than Michael Jordan himself. Apparently Jordan cuts his own licensing
deals, rather than being lumped into any players' association. In his place
on the Chicago Bulls is the mysterious #98 named "Player," who is a
suspiciously tongue- wagging dunk-slamming guy in his own right.
The NBA Courtside gameplay engine is robust. Running in the N64's medium
resolution mode (512x240 pixels), the game delivers crisp visuals without
a trace of slowdown. The game's graphics performance is thus notably
better than a couple of other medium-res N64 sports titles, FIFA 98 and
NHL Breakaway 98.
But the true strength of the NBA Courtside graphics engine is not
immediately apparent with the default camera angle, which is somewhat
removed from the action. It is during instant replays that the game's
remarkable attention to graphic detail becomes clear. All of the on-screen
characters are highly detailed, right down to their armbands and socks.
Images of the actual faces of each NBA player have been mapped onto
Up close, the player models thus resemble the characters in Goldeneye 007,
only this time they are based on flesh-and-blood human beings. The
ultimate effect is striking, and bears testimony to the N64's original
"Project Reality" code name. In a couple of years, this texture mapping
technique is going to produce characters that are indistinguishable from reality.
Instant replays also reveal fine touches like a basketball that actually
rotates in mid-air. Various reflections (of the arena lights, players,
the basketball and goal) are evident in the shiny arena floor surfaces.
Unlike the case with many games, the reflections in NBA Courtside are
subtly and gracefully implemented.
Control is easy and intuitive. The A button is used for passing, while
the B button is used for shooting. The C buttons have a number of cool
functions. On offense, C buttons are used for things like lob passes,
setting picks, and behind-the-back dribbles. On defense, the C buttons
are used to switch players, box out, and intentionally foul. The Z button
is used for sprinting, while the R button is either a spin dribble (offense)
or a shuffle step (defense). Meanwhile, the control pad is used to call
All of these controls may sound confusing, but they are actually quite
easy to learn and master. Beginners will be able to play and enjoy the
game immediately, while veterans will have a blast with the more
advanced moves. The upshot is that NBA Courtside delivers a complex
game of basketball very smoothly.
The music of NBA Courtside is catchy and well-composed. A mixture
of rap and hip-hop, it calls to mind the excellent audio of 1080*
Snowboarding with its incorporation of looping voice and sound clips.
The music thus provides a refreshing break from the typically bland
N64 MIDI fare, and may represent a refreshing trend for N64 games.
If nothing else, it once again demonstrates that music need not be
compromised by the cartridge format.
The sounds of NBA Courtside are excellent as well. Play-by-play
commentary by announcer Vic Orlando is seamless and professional. It
does not sound artificial or forced like the sometimes lagging commentary
of International Superstar Soccer 64. The arena sounds of the crowd are
also well done; although there is some looping of crowd noise, it is
very subtle. And the crowd reacts quickly and often to on-screen
action with appropriate cheers and boos.
The free throw shooting system of NBA Courtside is unique, to say the
least. Pressing B starts a free throw animation, in which a hoop rotates
from left to right in front of the real hoop. Players must use the control
stick to line up both hoops before the shot is automatically released, a
process which is more difficult than it sounds. Suffice to say that free
throws are by no means automatic points. Whether this system is a good
one is a matter of preference.
The balance between offense and defense is competitive. There are three
difficulty settings from which to choose (rookie, pro, and all-star) and
naturally these affect one's ability to regularly nail down three-pointers.
Some of our head-to-head matches have featured excessive stealing by
the defense, an occurrence that hinders the realism of the game. But as
in real life, good ball movement and guarded dribbling can prevent most steals.
NBA Courtside is not only the best basketball game for N64, but one of
the best basketball games for any system. The game excels in terms of
graphics, control, sound, and authenticity. While some may find fault with
certain minor aspects of the titles gameplay, the overall impact is one of
uncompromising quality. NBA Courtside is a strong addition to the N64
library, and bodes well for the system's future as a sports console.
Overall 9.45 out of 10