Clearly the best basketball game of last season was Kobe Bryant's NBA Courtside on the Nintendo 64. Compared to the competition of that year, it had smoother animation, more innovative gameplay features, and the most wicked computer defense the genre had ever seen. Not that any of this mattered to the masses because what the game didn't have was a whole lot of glitz and glamour, which is more commonly associated with the full-motion video-laden NBA Live series that has somehow managed to place a stranglehold on the less-informed for years now. Nonetheless, that hasn't stopped Nintendo from giving Leftfield Productions the green light to make a sequel for their previous underrated title. Reminiscing over the 82-game Courtside season I played through last year (that's right, folks, I made it through the entire thing), complete with all the joys, pains, and highlights, I must admit that I waited for NBA Courtside 2 with great anticipation. Sadly, Courtside 2 did not live up to my expectations.

The main problem is that Courtside 2's attempts to improve upon the original either do not alleviate the old flaws or end up unearthing entirely new ones. For example, foul calls were extremely unbalanced in the original Courtside. While it was easy for human controlled players to draw foul calls guarding a computer opponent, the computer showed an amazing, albeit mechanical, ability to avoid getting fouls called. In Courtside 2, this has been corrected as the computer will now foul with like-frequency as human players do, which makes free-throw shooting as well as dramatic three-point plays much more of a factor in the game. While this adds a vital dimension to a game that previously underrepresented it, it falters because of some glaring bugs in the implementation. The computer will not alter its defense when guarding players shooting from the 3-point perimeter, which results in far too many triple free-throw attempts as well as, the rarest of all, the 4-point play. Plus, the computer intentionally fouls much earlier than necessary and does so almost without consideration for what the score is. Even if I was blowing out the computer by 10 or more points and there were only 30 seconds left, he would still aggressively try to put me on the free-throw line, which only served to needlessly prolong the game and annoy me a whole lot.

Another problem with the original Courtside was the relative ease with which looming defenders could block shots (often with the aid of a bug that allowed players to stay wondrously afloat). Again, this has been corrected in the sequel and now makes blocking shots a much less predictable endeavor and makes stopping players driving into the paint much more difficult. This seemed like a welcome adjustment at first, but after prolonged play, I found that trying to stop a marauding offensive player in transition to be nearly impossible. Plus, there apparently is a newer bug, which allows computer-controlled players posting up in the paint to do physics-defying moves that begins fading away from the hole just to then magically gravitate back towards it! Without the overly effective blocking, I was left at the mercy of the computer's offense and trying to stop such moves became a very aggravating experience.

Other bugs that plagued the original have apparently, and disappointingly, stuck around for the sequel. Pump-faking on jump shots still behaves too inconsistently to actually incorporate into the offensive fold. Aggressively harassing computer players when they are bringing the ball upcourt will cause them to freeze up resulting in 10-second violations. Plus, the computer can still magically dominate the boards off of free throws, which then leads to the annoying, second-chance opportunities.

Talking about the visuals in Courtside 2 is another hit-or-miss affair. Everything looks sharper because the screen resolution has been bumped up to high-res mode and this is done without sacrificing frame-rates. There are also new dribbling moves and dunking animations as well as a few new expressions for the players (to go along with their accurately detailed and life-like faces, which is one of the true bright spots of the game). Yet outside of the close-ups during free-throws and instant replays, everything still looks overly similar to the original. The same could also be said of the audio, though there's now the inclusion of play-by-play commentary, which sounds overly mechanical and riddled with unnatural pauses. The more ambient sounds like crowd cheering, rim-rocking dunks, and the swooshing of the net are also decisively weak.

There are some interesting new features that Courtside 2 brings to the table that doesn't suffer from any adverse effects. Most remarkable is the character development that takes place during 'career' modes. Created players will start out with minimal attributes and actually improve depending on their on-court exploits. It's a nice addition for those who have the time to take a created players through the multiple seasons required to gradually develop more effective skills. Another nice feature during play is the 'momentum' meter displayed at the top of the screen. Symbolically representing crowd involvement, the meter increases and decreases depending on the home team's performance and simulates the streakiness that real NBA teams often go through during a match. If the momentum completely sways in favor of one team, that team is temporarily given unlimited turbo. Free throws have also been adjusted with a new system that requires two separate meters, one representing power and the other representing shooting alignment. It takes a little dexterity to correctly line up both meters before releasing with a button press, but it's an improvement over the original's, which was just a tad ambiguous. Rounding out the new features is a give-and-go feature and the ability to call for a player to cut to the basket, both of which gives players more offensive possibilities.

In the end, Courtside 2 is certainly not the worst basketball game on the market. The game still boasts the impressive arsenal of offensive and defensive low-post play that made the original so good. Also remaining are the effective dribbling and hand-switching moves (which were also pioneered by this game) that add dimension to the game allowing for much more than simply pushing the ball up and down the court repeatedly. The computer AI is still very tough (mostly due to its aforementioned physics-defying moves and extremely aggressive offense) and is ripe for anyone wishing to take up a challenge. It's just a shame that for all the enhancements Courtside 2 tries to make over the original, there are still so many glaring bugs, new and old alike. Though the first Courtside had lesser features, it was also less buggy and an overall more solid game. Courtside 2, on the other hand, attempts to do more, but falters in doing so. The improvements also can't hide the fact that everything looks and plays like the original to a fault. Rather than playing like a full-blown sequel, Courtside 2 is more of a version 1.5, still needing a few tweaks in the gameplay department. Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Chi Kong Lui
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