David Foster Wallace believed that tennis is the most beautiful sport, but basektball isn’t too far behind – it’s just that, as a team sport, it doesn’t have the purity of movement that tennis does. Similarly, fencing and boxing are close, but they are directly violent and thus lack some of the grace and geometry that makes tennis the most beautiful.
It is indubitable that basketball is a beautiful sport. Many will say that it’s not as fun to watch because it’s too high scoring, and any individual basket is unexciting because, in itself, it is not a significant event. But the beauty of the ball’s motion in basketball is what really makes me enjoy watching a game, even if I rarely watch sports at all. The straight lines and small weaves of hockey, or the tumbling, bouncing irregularity of soccer – they don’t do it for me.
I am also terrible at hockey and soccer, so. You know. That could have something to do with it. I’m kinda okay at basketball, when compared to other people who are not very good at basketball.
And so, the problem with a basketball video game is that it loses the beauty of the sport. The round loops and swirls and quick reversals of direction, the bursts of speed and smooth transitions from one direction to another by the players as they relentlessly hunt the ball, the surges in the tempo of ball-to-court as the tension explodes in the ball’s vicinity – that’s all lost. Instead, the game becomes a pallid, cardboard strategy game – move closer, pass to open players, shoot and hope you hit the net. In this game, where your shot doesn’t even depend on your own abilities as a player but on some eldritch random number generator buried within the cartridge, the soul of basketball flits silently in the bleachers and watches you play. On top of that, this is a game with almost no collision detection and distorted isometric perspective, and bizarre screen-rotation every time you reach the other half the court, and so what little sluggish strategy you can find in other basketball games is lost here as well.
Maybe that’s why football games seem to be the most successful, and the most high quality, amongst the mainstream SNES sports games – football and hockey. Football is a game of strategy and collision and deployment, which can easily be simulated on even an SNES’s virtual field, and hockey’s straight lines and larger spaces make it easier to model as well. Baseball, too, because it so easy to divide into tiny condensed chunks of play.
I can’t say I was ever impressed with any of the older soccer games, or any of the old basketball games (no, not even NBA Jam). None of the boxing games, either, that’s for damn sure. Football and hockey games are the only ones I recall being any good in that era. But I was never a huge fan of sports game at that time, nor am I now, so I may be unenlightened.
I do know that this game is probably the worst basketball game I’ve played, including that time I was playing in real life and I stepped on my cousin’s foot, and he tried to move back but fell over because I was standing on his foot, and he fell backwards right onto a trailer hitch. I got in a lot of trouble. This is still worse.