Shaquille O’Neal is a surprising sort of individual. If you weren’t around for the 90s, you missed some seriously colourful ice cream. You also missed this movie, which is a shame. In addition to playing a genie named Kazaam, he also released four rap albums, the first of which went platinum. The two first singles off that album were “(I Know I Got) Skillz” and “I’m Outstanding.” The former contains the lyrics: “I lean on the statue of liberty when I get tired / Then I punch you in the stomach, I don’t give a heck / (Hey, yo, why you bug a hooker like that?) / Yo she breathed on my neck.” Yes, all of his lyrics are references to his height. Also, in the 90s, “heck” was considered a swear. I wasn’t allowed to say it, lest I incur my father’s patriarchal fury. You kids have it good. Anyway, Shaq stands a lofty 7 feet 1 inch, which makes him slightly taller than the length strand of human DNA, which I guess means that he is more than the sum of his parts.

But what we remember him most for is his awesome video game tie-ins. Shaq-Fu is a bizarre example of a bizarre career. It involves Shaquille O’Neal fighting character archetypes from fighting games. But you don’t need to play as Shaquille. You can play as any of the other ones: Undead Man, Devil Thing, Sexy Woman From Hell, or even Some Kind of Mummified Monster. And I guess Shaq is supposed to be able to beat these guys. Well, guess what, Shaq is terrible. He didn’t last a minute against Bag Over Head Man. But, as all are well aware, I suck at fighting games, so it could just be that, and not Shaq’s naturally squishy human form.

This game actually handles pretty well for a clear star vehicle. It’s too bad we can’t take it seriously now.

RapJam Volume One

There would be no second volume.

RapJam Volume One is really the only title in the RapJam series. The concept runs thusly: wouldn’t it be awesome if all the most hip-hopular hip-hop artists in America played basketball against one another? And let me tell you, it would be. Did you know that Queen Latifa was a rapper? Did you know she was skinny? I certainly didn’t. But check this action out:

Two people destined for greatness.
Damn you, Everlast!

Remember when rappers were allowed to be egotistical? These days, all we get is Kanye. He tries his best to live up to his forefathers, but in the end he’s just a lost child, sad and alone. Now that I think about it, the mid-90s was really a renaissance for rap in many ways. These days, even rappers don’t want to be rappers. (c.f. popular culture.)

This game celebrates the rap ego. The concept is just a rap battle that kids can take part in. I watched a youtube video where a dude demo’s this game (and complains a bunch — what a douche). He makes it abundantly clear at 48 seconds that he is “NOT picking L.L. Cool J.” however much it may have appeared that way. What’s wrong with L.L, man? I guess he’s not a cool as Everlast? Or maybe he’s not as white.

In the end, this game unites two subjects that seem inseparable in the public eye: basketball and rap. Though it may be racism that conflates the two pursuits, I like to think that they are both equally driven by an individualist outlook.

The man who makes the dunk; the man who is the crunk.

What sport are you playing, America?

NCAA Final Four Basketball

I am all things, now and for never

Why I Love Basketball, a third-year English essay by PG #44 at Minnesota

A rubber band goes around the arm; Vitamin B12 enters the syringe, tapped and squeezed, ejaculating a small amount of precious vitamin into the sky; metal enters vein, and a bandage protects the newly-made wound. There are 3,395 dimples on a basketball; each, pierced with a separate syringe, creates the sound of a single harp string being plucked. Vitamin B need not be inserted into the basketball to achieve this effect, but if it is the sound is fuller, and swells of cellos can be heard in the back of diameter. Once 3,395 syringes are pressed into the rubbery flesh of the basketball, one per dimple, the orb balloons (if you’ll pardon the expression) to a rather unwieldy 22 inches in diameter and takes on the appearance of a Koosh brand Koosh Ball.

Vitamin B12 has its advantages to the college-level basketball specialist (herein “baller”). Without, one’s memory might prove faulty. Lethargy may set in. With these, a greater threat can emerge: depression. While most college-level academic specialists (herein “bookers”) will experience depression at some point over the course of their academic careers, and emerge from the entire four-year ordeal with nothing more than a diploma, a quarterlife crisis and a homosexual experience that will never leave their memory, burned in for the rest of their existence, eating away at their confidence in their sexuality like a termite at the foundation of a once-strong summer cottage, a baller will experience much more damage from a B12 deficiency. The high level of granularity in the average game means that the random number generator that God runs for every sport in Heaven becomes less relevant. While in baseball, the difference between 1 and 0 home runs might be a twitch in the elbow of a pitcher, or a batter, the difference between a similarly good number of assists (for example, 12) or points (for example, 25) and 0 is entirely reliant on the coaching and the player’s abilities. Depression can turn 25 points to 20; fatigue, from 20 to 15; memory loss, from 15 to a number the player cannot even remember.

With Vitamin B12, I experience the game the way the game was meant to be experienced. The ball may be 9″ in diameter, but at times seems 22″ in diameter. Similarly, the net will expand and contract, as if an invisible lung inside of it pushes at the metal and bends it like the cartilage of the breastbone. With B12, I can ensure that I react to this tidal expansion of the hoop, and place the ball within it when the ball is smallest and the net is largest. Due to this process, I currently have the highest field percentage among all NCAA Big Ten point guards.

I love basketball because I am a baller; I am a baller because I am a basketball. Inside of me is every sound of every stringed instrument, from the ephemeral, wavering dirge of a fiddle in fog to the sharp, perforating shrieks of a harpsichord in heat. The basketball court, a field I see every game pregnant with ripened grain, becomes threshed by my scythe. I do not sow basketball; I do, however, reap. The University of Minnesota newspaper said that I have “single-handedly murdered” the competition (Michigan State University) on the court; I believe I have done no such thing. However, they came to a farm with nothing but hammers, and I have come with my fingers, toes, penis, and each hair on my head replaced with tiny sickles. I firmly believe that this is how MSU’s power forward received a 4″ gash across his temple in the third quarter. I made no attempt to harm him; he merely came into the range of my flailing blades and paid the price. If I could, I would have healed his wounds on the spot, but it may have been seen as unsporting to do so.

I am not a booker and have never pretended to be as such. I am, however, also not a killer, which I believe I may still say as there have been no literal accusations of murder in the court case (this a different type of court, not one grain-filled and bountiful, but frozen and tundrous and tasting vaguely, at the back of the nose, where the mouth meets the sinuses, of sulfur. I am a baller. I am a baller because I love basketball and I love basketball because I am basketball, and I am basketball because I am more than man, but spirit. I am therefore I am basketball. I am all Jesuses and Moseses and Allahs. Basketball is a spirit, and the spirit, of Heaven and all of its numbers. The future is Jesus; basketball is the Holy Spirit of the past. Twelve, thirteen, forty-four.

PG #44 was kicked out of school after writing this essay, not because of the blatant use of psychoactives, the assault court case related to his unsafe play, or his near inability to communicate without screaming that he is intangible nouns, but because the university’s zero tolerance policy on plagiarism nailed him for not properly citing his own school’s newspaper. No amount of on-campus protests could bring him back, and Minnesota fell to the bottom of the Big Ten conference. Three weeks later, PG #44 was found dead in his fraternity, with a needle sticking out of the crook of his elbow. An autopsy found no sign of illegal substances, or foul play. All that could be found was thirty times the recommended daily dose of Vitamin B12, and traces of nutmeg in his nasal passages and lungs. An aneurysm is noted to be the official cause of death. NCAA Final Four Basketball was made in his honour. The college basketball is included because PG #44 played; the graphics, which look like Out Of This World, are included to reference PG #44’s incredibly strange view on life.

NBA Showdown

Too many characters, too many characters!
EA Sports: offering ridiculous amounts of options since 1994.

If ever there was a case against realism in videogames, this is it.  Is real life basketball so enthralling that we should settle for a normal slam dunk over a flaming helicopter dunk?  I should go start the Church of NBA Jam already – or at least marry it – there’s not a b-ball game review goes by that I don’t profess its superiority.

So now we come to NBA Showdown, the eleventh title in this 26-strong dearth of sports-games-in-a-row.  Can you feel the struggle?  We are literally pushing on through like constipated razor blades; forced and painful though it is, we just have to get them out of our system.

It’s quite possible that once upon a time, this was the most realistic basketball simulation money could buy.  What that equates to in this day and age of whiz-bang textured polygons and bloom lighting is utter boredom.  Take that realism!

The gameplay is realistic too.  Stop-starting every five seconds because your stupid players can carry the ball over the sideline.  And you can’t even punch people over!  What’s with that?  This game was such a snorefest I fell asleep and was penalised for holding the ball too long!  Give me a break!  NBA Jam does the inbound pass automatically!  The phrase “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” never rang truer – I’m not sure if that’s ironic or not – but here’s the redux: “never let reality get in the way of a good videogame”.

Like Mike, I'd like to be like Mike (oooh, I wanna be like Mike!) that Michael Jordan?!

Showdown has at least one thing going for it: it’s one of the blessed few basketball games to actually feature Michael Jordan.  That the title remains as pedestrian as it does in spite of his illustrious presence is testament to its blandness.

Where's my invisible wall, BITCH?!
Not even the God of Basketball is immune to the trappings of the Real.

We have reached the dreaded ‘N’-zone of this EveryGame journey; a veritable graveyard of iterative sports titles.  But take heart, little warrior!  I see a glorious ‘S’-bend on the horizon!

NBA Live ’98

This is really exciting for me. Really. Look how great this is. This whole...thing.

Holy shit this is a trippy game.

Players move like the Flash greased with pork fat, gaining momentum and rocketing around the half-court with only a tiny blue arrow to mark their location.  Everything moves faster than normal, the music stutters and is off-tempo, and the whole thing is just horrible.

If there’s anything that we should have learned from NBA Jam, it’s that normal sports games are boring and masturbatory, in a bad way.  Sports games should involve fire, yelling, explosions, superhuman feats, and aggressive combat mechanics which result in grievous injury, preferably animated either with amusing cartoonified pain sounds or disgustingly realistic CSI-style zoom-ins and exploding organs and splintering bones.  Look at Mario Strikers.  This is a soccer game where you can shoot homing missile turtle shells, grow to twelve times your original size, and kick a dozen flaming balls at the goalie, each one a potentially scored goal.

This game, in contrast, has little, possibly even no fire involved.  Terrible.  What’s the point?

NBA Live 97

What can be said about NBA Live 97 that can’t be said about all the other NBA Live titles on the Super Nintendo? I’m sure you might be able to fill a whole paragraph if you tried hard enough. You could probably talk about roster updates, maybe some control or graphical changes, a fancy-pants new title screen, and so on.

Of course, this is based on pure speculation; you’re not going to get me to fire up the other titles to do a detailed, comparative analysis. If you thought you were, well, I apologize, but you came to the wrong site. For me at least, reviewing a title usually involves playing said game for anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour until I get sick of fumbling with the direction pad on my PC’s Xbox 360 controller, consuming a 12-pack of Tecate and maybe a few shots of Jameson, punching the keyboard until words form, and passing out on my couch while watching cartoons. Given, that’s no way to spend a weekday morning, but in my defense Tecate is fairly cheap around here, so I make due.

The games in the NBA Live series are often called “basketball simulations”, in which they curtail the highly flammable sporting equipment of NBA Jam and intense hand-to-hand martial arts of Shaq Fu in favor of a more “authentic” basketball experience, albeit with somewhat less drug abuse and gambling scandals. Don’t be confused by this, though! NBA Live 97, in fact, does a terrible job of properly simulating real-life basketball! After playing this game for a while, I thought I would step outside and tear up the neighborhood court, but instead I just made an ass of myself and accidentally hit some kid in the face with the ball. Next thing I know, I’m on the receiving end of a punch to the downstairs baby factory, followed by having my shoes stolen while lying down, hunched over, crying on the pavement. Yet another awkward Thanksgiving holiday with the grandparents, I guess.

Anyway, I’m about due for a run to Office Depot to get a new keyboard.

NBA Live ’96

Basketball: It Happens Live in Cities.

I have no doubt that this is an excellent Basketball Game.  Look, I even capitalized Basketball Game.  I’m sure that, based on the pedigree of the other ’96 EA Sports titles, this is an excellent addition.  The problem is that I’m completely unqualified to talk about how good or bad this obviously-alright basketball game is.  Sure, if this were NBA Jam then I’d be able to say boom shakalaka or something.  Maybe this game is on fire.  I liked NBA Jam.  As a kid it even gave me some sort of appreciation for the Charlotte Hornets for some reason.  I have no idea why.  Now that team doesn’t even exist anymore and I don’t know what to believe!

My issue is not with sports games.  I like sports games.  I just don’t really like basketball.  It’s probably a great game and all, but I don’t find it interesting.  You have dudes running back and forth, sneakers squeaking on hardwood, and dunking.  You don’t get more points for dunking no matter how stylish or aggressive you do it.  I just don’t understand.  I can tell you that in NBA Live ’96 that when someone does a dunk they do it in slow motion and it looks pretty badass.  Likely, my disinterest lies entirely in the fact that the NBA season lines up almost perfectly with the NHL season and I’m a huge hockey fan.  Sure, I follow football, but football only happens two days a week, it’s not that demanding.  Baseball is too much work to follow… they play, what, like 900 games a season or something ridiculous? Pfft.

Anyway, it’s basketball.  It’s isometric-view basketball.  With dunks.

I will say this, the game begins with you having to perform a draft lottery for the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies.  This was a fascinating piece of information and historical recreation.  These days we have the luxury of downloads to fix our broken rosters, and since the games always come out before the season starts, those roster updates are totally necessary to have the game be closer to the real thing.  In NBA Live ’96, you basically get to make up 2 team seasons from scratch!  And since all your players are, like, the dregs, you get to emulate what it’s like for real expansion teams when they show up and try to compete and end up basically unsuccessful for repeated seasons because player development takes time.  Amazing!

The road to the top is paved with now-defunct NBA franchises, you guys.

In conclusion, basketball.