The fall of 1987 saw the sport of basketball make its debut in the 8-bit arena as both consoles got their first hoops titles. The NES received the Konami classic Double Dribble, while Sega published this cart for the Master System, another in their line of deceptively named “Great Sports” carts. However the NES game is more fondly remembered because it was a simple yet fun title, while this game doesn’t quite match the enjoyment of the competiton due to some massive brick shots from the Sega programmers.
If you’ve seen most of the other Great Sports titles you can guess what’s offered here, and that’s a one-or-two player focus on an Olympic-style international competition instead of an NBA-style league like the NES cart, even though it seems like the game follows the college rules. Anyway eight countries are represented here, once again with few if any differences between them, but no matter which squad you pick it’s always red team vs. blue team. Once the teams are chosen you engage in your 5-on-5 hoops battle, which consists of two 3-minute halves. However this competition features a few oddities, such as a green-colored court and a massively oversized basketball, as well as extremely tall cheerleaders on the sidelines. Nonetheless the usual basektball rules are followed, such as scoring, timing and fouls, and acumulating eight or more fouls will allow the opposing team to shoot two free throws. Whichever team has the most points after both halves wins, and in the event of a tie, overtimes will be played until a winner is decided.
Unfortunately actually playing the game is an exercise in frustration due to some very sloppy programming. For starters the ball movement is floaty during passes; it’s possible to inbound the ball and race down the court fast enough to catch your own pass. Also when you shoot the ball it manages to sink through the basket at awkward angles, even if it looks like making the shot shouldn’t be possible. If the ball misses in rare occasions it caroms away in weird angles and often out of bounds, making it difficult to snag the rebound. The AI of your teammates is spotty at best, since they never seem to know where they’re going and are often out of position to take your passes, and you just watch delplessly as the ball bounces out of bounds or into the hands of the defense. Playing defense is also needlessly difficult as you can hardly block any shots or even steal the ball, while the CPU doesn’t have as much trouble getting turnovers. Worse yet is the frequency of called fouls as any slight contact with the opposing player will result in a penalty, either charging or pushing. Then again you can use this to your advantage; when the CPU passes theball, just position your sprite on top of the opponents’ receiver (usually the guy twiching in place) and odds are you’ll draw a charging foul and get posession. Also worth mentioning is there’s no 24-second shot clock or even any backcourt violations, though travelling is called if you jump up but fail to shoot the ball when you land. All of these faults causes the game to move at a ploddling pace, resulting in may low-scoring contests; it’s not unusual for both teams’ final scores to be in the 20’s once the buzzer sounds.
Interestingly enough this Great Sports cart tries to have an extensive one-player mode instead of the usual one-and-done format, though it’s not a particulary well done one. Basically the ‘tournament’ has you playing against the other seven teams over and over, and after every victory you earn special points based on your margin of victory to upgrade your team’s stats, such as jumping, speed and so on. In fact after the game concludes your team engages in a special “Winning Shot” contest where each man takes a shot behind the 3-point arc to earn bonus points and increase the margin of victory. Then it’s on to the next country’s squad, and winning seven consecutive games nets you the gold medal. However there’s no way to save your progress which forces you to play all seven games in one sitting, and while surviving just one session can be laborous, imagine having to do it seven times in a row. Incidentally losing a game will cause you to start your run over, and losing a second game will eliminate you entirely.
The graphics aren’t much to speak of since it’s just the court and the people on it. The sprites are pretty tiny but are still recognizable as players and have some okay animation. The background music plays non-stop during the action but actually doesn’t get in the way; in fact it even grows on you after a while. But that’s overcome by the terrible sound effects, including the dribbling sound and an annoying spring when anyone jumps up, not to mention the crowd noise is once again represented by a jet enging. A number of voice samples are present and play at certain times (such as “three-point shot” or “out of bounds”) but they’re fuzzy and hard to understand.
So overall Great Basketball is another Great Sports dud and one of the worst basketball carts ever. The game is not fun to play at all, even with another friend, and almost every factor of this cart is easily blown away by Double Dribble and other 8-bit hoops carts. Sadly SMS gamers don’t have many options when it comes to basketball titles, just this and the bizarre Nightmare Basketball which is miles better than this farce. Either way this cart needs to get dunked into the trash bin.