The cheapest courtside seats in town.
Two kinds of sports games have emerged over the past few years - simulation, like NBA Live or NBA 2K2, and arcade, like NBA Street or the classic NBA Jam franchise. Both types satisfy different parts of a gamer's basketball jones.
I guess someone at Nintendo figured that all you had to do was mix the proverbial chocolate and peanut butter to reinvent the basketball buttercup, because NBA Courtside 2002 actually tries to merge sim and action into one package. But despite great visuals and simple gameplay, it can't really decide what kind of game (or candy bar) it wants to be.
Courtside 2002 is an all-around upgrade to its N64 predecessors. The game features all 29 NBA teams, complete with team specific arenas and relatively up-to-date rosters.
The bulk of the game is found in the Season and Quick play modes, which pit 5 on 5 in classic simulation fashion. All of the typical options can be tweaked, though you'll notice that things are rather thin when it comes to specific plays for each team. You also cannot adjust the camera manually - it's just one of 5 preset angles.
For the most part, the gameplay is inoffensive if dry. The control is handled well with the Gamecube controller, particularly the C-stick passing option. By running around with the left stick and passing with the C-stick, you can really zing passes to the right guys without having to change direction. It looks and feels very cool.
You can also back down opponents and pull off a few relatively handy between the legs and juke dribble moves, but the good control is hampered a little by general sluggish gameplay. Players don't really cut on a dime and it's hard to line up blocked shots. Though you can adjust the game speed in the options, things are never really responsive enough.
However, they look great, as the graphics are vibrant and smooth. You'll be hard pressed to find any framerate problems. The facial mapping is pretty accurate, the courts look right and many of the animations - particularly dunks and fadeaways - are just great. A well-executed fast break looks an awful lot like the real thing.
If only they put this much energy into beefing out the gameplay. NBA Courtside 2002's Season mode can't really compete with NBA 2K or even the marginal NBA Live when it comes to depth. It's got some basic GM trade options, but it's hardly Madden. I imagine the developers knew this, as it would explain the strange addition of the Arcade mode.
Arcade mode is basically Nintendo's version of NBA Street. It's three on three 'street' basketball, though the only thing that really gives it street cred is the asphalt court. You don't get any new moves, which makes it play a lot more like NBA Jam, a game that's very, very dated by action sports gaming standards. I think the court itself is located on the Moon, since the ball and players float about in this weird, pseudo low-grav haze. At least the dunks kick ass, which I suppose is what this mode is all about anyway.
The only real innovation in the Arcade mode is the random occurrence of 'big point' shots. While you have the ball on offense, a green circle will pop up somewhere on the court. Make a shot from that spot and you'll get some extra points. Not very exciting, but at least it shows some effort.
The game does have a surprisingly nice Player Creator, allowing you to whip out your own 7'6" point guard with mad range in a matter of minutes.
There's actually one other single-player gameplay mode in Courtside 2002, the 3-point contest, which sounds and feels like an exact replica of the one in the older NBA Live games. It's uncanny. It's also not very much fun just picking up basketballs and hurling them at the basket within a certain time limit. How about actually letting you aim? Or better yet, how about getting rid of the 3-point contest in favor of a dunk contest? Isn't that why people tune in to All-Star weekend?
Regardless of which mode you play, the AI is rickety at best. None of the teams play convincing zones, despite this season's rule changes in the NBA. Defenses routinely leave the lane wide open - just call for a pick, blow by your defender and it's tomahawk time. Upping the difficulty level only seems to result in opponents draining shots unconsciously and stealing the ball every few possessions.
If you tire of artificial intelligence, you can always opt for the 'authentic' kind by playing the game with friends. Like most sports games, the game takes a step up when played multiplayer, but that's to be expected.
NBA Courtside 2002 isn't a bad game by any stretch, it's just a confused one. Is it a simulation? Is it arcade action? It's both, I guess, but it doesn't do either as well as other games. Two rentals don't make a buy, particularly with NBA Street on its way over from the PS2.