NBA Courtside 2002 – Review

There's disappointment, and then there's that feeling that all sports fans at one time or another have experienced when their home team didn't just lose a big game, but didn't even bother show up. It's one of the most disheartening feelings a fan can endure because not only did the home team betray the fans faith in their ability to win, but they didn't even have the courtesy to put in an effort worth the price of admission. Fans feel cheated in the worst kind of way.

I was recently "cheated" on January 12, 2002, Martin Luther King Day, when my beloved Knicks were massacred by 43 points and suffered the worst home defeat in Knicks' history at the hands of the Charlotte Hornets, a team so uninspiring the owners are trying to relocate to New Orleans. The Knicks were so dismal that at the end of the game, the home town crowd was chanting "RE-FUND! RE-FUND!"

Shortly after that Knicks debacle, I was "cheated" once again when I played NBA Courtside 2002, the debut basketball game for the Nintendo GameCube. The first NBA Courtside that graced the Nintendo 64 (N64) was one of my all-time favorites. In its prime, the N64 Courtside featured the toughest computer AI (artificial intelligence), a solid feel to the players, and pioneering post-up play that still stands as the benchmark that others continue to follow. This was at a time when most competitors over glorified the slam-dunk, defense was of the El Matador variety, and players handled like 'pigs on roller-skates'.

Unfortunately, the first sequel to the franchise, Courtside 2 (also on the N64), failed to capitalize on the success of the original and was wrought with too many problems and inconsistencies to be considered good. So with the series debuting on the new GameCube, I was hoping the developers, Left Field Productions, would reinvigorate themselves by exploiting the latest gaming technology and recapture their former glory proving perhaps the Courtside series to be a true dynasty like the Celtics rather than a lucky fluke like the Spurs.

So much for the dynasty.

Right from opening menus of the game, I already got my first sign that I was in for a stinker. The aesthetics of the menus could only be described as butt-ugly. It almost looks like the graphics and design was lifted straight out of the N64 version, washed out colors and tacky 3D graphics in all.

Things don't get rosier once you're in the actual game either. (Warning: The rest of this review will read like a laundry list of missteps, problems and inadequacies). Even before the actual tip-off, here's what I noticed during the player introduction sequences: the line-up/player introductions look awkwardly silly and inauthentic; 3D models for the players are disproportionate and overly muscular to the point of being laughable; the colors of the game look muddy and bland. If anyone was expecting a gorgeous graphics, the first few seconds will dispel that belief immediately.

Once the gameplay actually starts, more and more problems just seem to accumulate, the most obvious of which are the controls and the feel of the players. The overall pace of the game seems more fitting for slow-motion replay and players feel pillow-soft (the game can be unnaturally sped-up through option settings). The soft and slow combination is also reflective of the controls. Players at times seem unresponsive and split-second delays in the actions are common.

The delays aren't the only quirks with the controls either. Even when trying to do something as simple as taking a three-point shot from behind the ark, the game would exhibit strange behaviors. Players have an annoying habit of either doing a more difficult fade-away shot or a tendency to execute drop-step before shooting even if it meant waltzing out of bounds!

And if you thought the next-generation of consoles also meant unheralded realism in new sports titles, Courtside 2002 will give you a reality check faster than the time it takes Rasheed Wallace to get Ted-up.

In Courtside 2002, teams routinely make 70-80 percent of their shots. With that kind of accuracy and with regulation 12 minute quarters, the score totals topple the 200 point margin with relative ease. Of course it also doesn't help that defense whether it be computer or human controlled makes very little difference in determining the outcome of the game. It doesn't matter that the developers didn't bother to include zone-defenses to match the new rules in the NBA, because regardless of what kind of defense a player tries to put up, a several things become inevitable. 1) The computer AI is incompetent. It cannot stick with an opponent (screens and picks have a 100 percent success rate) and help defense is always too little, too late. 2) Anyone and I mean ANYONE can force themselves into lane, park themselves right under the basket and get the eventual dunk or lay-up. It doesn't matter if you're Steve Nash or Shaquille ONeal. The results are always the same and trying to stop the drive is next to impossible. 3) Even with tight D and a hand in an opponents face, nothing short of a rare block seems to alter or phase a jump shot that almost always finds the bottom of the net.

Courtside 2002, however futile at this point, does try to include a few innovations. The most prolific feature is that the analog C-Stick is used for passing. In theory, this sounds like a great idea (pass in the direction pushed), but in execution, it isn't perfect. It worked as intended most of the time, but it also still failed to deliver the proper pass more times than I would have liked. Like most of this game, its a work in progress.

The other noteworthy feature is the analog shoulder buttons of the GameCube controller enable two degrees of turbo (or adrenaline as referred to in the game). Again, this sounds like an interesting idea on paper, but the actual implementation is horrible. Having two degrees of turbo makes controlling a player feel like I'm driving a stick shift car. Its unnatural and inappropriate for athletic-style control.

Adding to list of "howd-they-managed-to-screw-this-one-up?" innovations is the Crowd Meter (which also appeared in part 2). The intended use is to reflect the involvement and influence of the fans. When a team performs progressively well, the meter surges in their favor and the overall spirit of the team is elevated. Once again, this brilliant idea on paper is ruined upon execution. The meter always seemed to surge disproportionately in favor of the opposing team and home field advantage made little difference. Whenever I performed a dunk, I would only get a slight boost. Every time the computer performed a dunk, the meter would practically explode off the charts in their favor.

For those still reading (or caring), I could add that the tacked on three-on-three Arcade mode is mildly more appealing than the regular play modes and I could also add that there's an interesting create-a-player feature that allows you to build-up your character by earning attribute points in the game. However, these minuscule positives will do little to undo the collection of blunders that is Courtside 2002. This game is an embarrassment for Left Field Productions, Nintendo, and Kobe Bryant (who endorses the title). If my review accomplishes anything, I hope every time a reader thinks of Courtside 2002, they also think about the Knicks Martin Luther King Day massacre. NBA Courtside 2002 = 111-68 Loss to Charlotte. Don't be cheated. Rating: 3 out of 10