Team USA Basketball: Olympic-sized Letdown

August 8, 2012 at 10:20 am | Posted in Reviews | 1 Comment
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The mission statement for Retro Sports Gamer World has always been to educate on the best and worst of sports gaming.  In judging and labeling a certain title, I strive to have an open mind and either eliminate or be very transparent about any bias coming into a piece.  I’ve had my mind changed from a previous perception – for better and worse – in a number of articles.  This brings me to our participation in 1 More Castle’s Review a Bad Game Day” with Team USA Basketball for the Sega Genesis.  Despite this edict of reviewing something “bad”, my approach to Team USA Basketball was no different from previous games.  I nominated the game because of a previous negative play-through (I talked about it here) and being topical and all with the current Olympics in London.  And there was even a 15-minute stretch where I found myself enjoying the game and thought I would have a different angle for this piece.  Alas, Team USA Basketball had a great premise but at the end of the day, just could not deliver an experience worth replaying or recommending.

Back in 1992, to wisely piggyback on the excitement around the original Dream Team, Electronic Arts took their Bulls vs. Lakers engine and created what would be akin to a DLC add-on in today’s gaming nomenclature.  Timed between EA’s yearly releases (but no SNES release), Team USA Basketball was an Olympic skin that featured 14 teams, complete with an All-World team to combat the United States’ Dream Team of NBA superstars.  All of the pageantry of a hyped release was there too.  Skybox, a popular trading card company at the time, had created three cards of the Dream Teamers pictured together that were packaged in each game.  EA also continued their tradition of stocking their manuals full of information.  You could read detailed information on every country’s team and a succinct breakdown of each Dream Team member.  The game itself was a mini-Social Studies lesson with informational screens about each country’s history and background.  A true effort was put into all the presentation areas of the game.

The graphics were the best around for basketball games at the time, beating out what Tecmo was producing in the early ‘90s (everyone looks the same in Tecmo Super NBA Basketball).  Players had distinct looks, be it Michael Jordan’s bald head or Larry Bird’s blond hair.  The game also introduced additional signature moves for its NBA superstars, as well as special animations for other countries and their best players.  The controller layout was still the static EA norm for the time.  A and B were shoot and pass on offense and jump and switch on defense.  Your signature dunks or other shots were initiated by pressing shoot in certain areas of the court.  The C button did nothing on the offensive end but did let you shove on defense.  Depending on your game rules (the old arcade vs. simulation choice), this button was either incredibly valuable or an absolute waste until the end-game and needing to foul.  A “turbo” choice wouldn’t come around for another two years (1994) when NBA Live ’95 was released.

The subject matter itself leads to one of the biggest issues I had with the game.  The Dream Team was unstoppable in real-life (in Olympic Qualifiers as well as being perennial NBA All-Stars of course) so how do you translate that to the virtual hardwood and maintain a healthy competitive balance?  Ideally there should be tiers of how challenging the teams are, even if the United States would murder all of them.  Let the dregs like Angola or France get ran over, while teams like Yugoslavia and Lithuania have a bit more punch.  Team USA Basketball over-thinks this entire aspect and can be charged with being too challenging.  While there are three difficulty settings, I found I was being punished for my patriotism when trying to play with Team USA.  On the normal difficulty, is there any reason that Angola can press for 40 minutes, block shots with guys a foot and a half shorter and generally tear up a horrible computer AI on defense?  This is Angola!  And this was not an isolated incident as similarly bad teams like the French would have guards continually pulling off two-handed lay-ups while my 7-foot monsters just stood around.   When I shored up my defense and dug deep, I found any lead was quickly evaporated when all of a sudden the best basketball players in the world could not make a second half shot from anywhere on the court.  Any good done by working the ball around and making easy shots earlier in the game unraveled faster than Magic Johnson’s NBA career at the time.

While lowering the difficulty in exhibition games is an option, the heart of the game is simulating the Olympic Tournament.  And this is where the game does its greatest disservice to the player.  You can only play the Tournament mode on Showtime difficulty (as you’ve surmised, that’s the hardest).  Imagine you’re a 12 year-old excited to recreate the Olympics you’ve watched on TV.  Your reward for purchasing the game is getting blown out by France and having zero fun along the way.  Challenge aside, the mechanics of the game play just didn’t entice me to want to play more either.  The players are slow and repeatedly having to work the ball up court against the same full court defense (every team, including Team USA did this) with the same player movement in the half court is incredibly boring.  I mean boring to the point I was nodding off and it was 3’oclock in the afternoon.  Team USA Basketball literally put me to sleep.  And this is when it really hit me.  As much as I look to be an optimist and give everything a fair shake, if you can’t find any enjoyment or fun in a game, you’ve really found a bad game.

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  1. […] States’ Dream Team of NBA superstars. Read more about the only Olympic Dream Team game right here. Share this:TwitterFacebookStumbleUponRedditMoreDiggLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]


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