Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



#150 – Double Dribble

Naming a game after something that can happen in it is all the rage.

I just love being told the name of the game I’m playing.

To Beat: Win a Single Game
To Complete: Win a Game on Level 3
What I Did: Completed the Game
Played: 2/27/20
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Double Dribble Longplay

Hey, it’s another milestone post!  Finally made it to #150!  The milestones on the 50s have been pretty kind to me so far.  Let’s recap.  Game #50 was Dragon Warrior, which is a very nostalgic game from my childhood and a nice one for that spot on the list.  Game #100 was Milon’s Secret Castle.  While not the most classic title to remember, it was one I played a lot growing up.  Plus, I got to beat the second loop for the first time which was nice.  So, I was pretty excited to get to #150, only for it to be Double Dribble.  Another basketball game!  This is the 5th of 10 basketball games so we are already halfway done.  But the good thing is that this tends to be regarded as one of the best basketball games on the NES.  Maybe this one won’t be so bad.

Double Dribble originated as an arcade game developed and published by Konami.  It was released in Japan as Exciting Basket.  It was Konami’s 2nd basketball game, the first being Super Basketball, and both games were deemed a success by the company.  The game continued on into the home console market.  It was released on the Famicom Disk System in July 1987 as Exciting Basketball, then on the NES in September 1987 in North America and 1988 in Europe as Double Dribble.  The game was ported to a number of home computers in 1990.  The Game Boy got a version in 1991 named Double Dribble 5-on-5, the Sega Genesis had Double Dribble: Playoff Edition in 1994, and iOS got Double Dribble Fast Break in 2010.

Double Dribble is a standard NES basketball game.  One of the defining features here is that it is a full 5-on-5 game, which due to technical reasons is infrequently used on the NES.  (It’s also convenient that my 5th basketball game is played 5-on-5.)  There are some further configurations and settings here to spice things a little bit, but the goal is simple.  To beat this game, just win any game!

There’s enough room here for everyone.

The game starts off in an impressive manner.  A digitized voice greets you with the name of the game, Double Dribble.  On the title screen, select between a single player game or a two-player game.  Next, you’ll see a cutscene of a large crowd entering the stadium while The Star-Spangled Banner plays.  Then you are brought to the options screen.  A basketball player in the corner will help you set the configuration.  You can set the length of every period from either 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes.  Choose from one of four teams: Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and New York.  This is purely cosmetic for the players.  The uniform colors of each team are displayed in the lower left.  You can also set the difficulty level from either 1, 2, or 3, with Level 3 being the hardest difficulty.  Use the D-pad to move the cursor and press A to update the setting.  The ballplayer will make a shot in the corresponding basket and change the setting.  Once you have things set the way you want, make a final shot by selecting End.  Now you are ready to start a game, going straight into the jumpball.  Time your jump with B, and now the game begins!

Like all basketball games on the NES, the controls differ from offense and defense.  In all situations, use the D-pad to move around in eight directions.  You control the player that is flashing.  On offense, you use the A button to pass and B to shoot.  You use a directional key while passing to pass to the nearest player in that direction, then you assume control of the receiving player directly.  You also use passing to inbound the ball.  You shoot the ball by holding B to jump and release B at the top of the jump to shoot.  On defense, you use A to steal the ball.  Get near the opponent holding the ball to attempt to steal, typically by mashing the button.  The B button lets you change the active player on your team to whoever is closest to the ball.  If you’ve played any other basketball games on the NES, these controls should seem very familiar.

The screen layout is very similar to other basketball games I’ve played on the NES.  The court is laid out horizontally, panning across the court from left to right to follow the ball.  The scoreboard at the top has all the basics.  You see which period you are in, the time remaining in the current period, and the score for both teams.  Also, if you scroll all the way to one side, you can see which team’s hoop it is in the corner.  It’s pointless since the player is already displayed in that corner anyway, but it’s there.

Fouls send you to the free throw line.

This game has some violations and fouls during game play.  Violations include traveling, holding, shot clock violation, not moving the ball forward past half court, and taking the ball out of bounds.  The fouls are blocking and pushing.  Violations simply turn the ball over to the other team for inbounding.  For fouls, the fouled player goes to the free throw line.  A floating ring appears above the rim, moving up and down.  You need to time your shot so that the ring is as low against the basket as possible to make it in.  I didn’t take any free throws in my game but I did foul an opponent once or twice.

I wrote earlier that one of the defining features was the 5-on-5 action, but truly the main defining feature in the game is the dunk cutscene.  When you get close under the rim and shoot, the view changes over to a close-up cutscene of the player attempting the dunk.  These are very simple animations with only a few frames each, but they are so much more detailed in appearance than the standard action.  I found it hard to tell if you actually make the dunk because there’s only one frame or so that actually shows the ball going in.  I picked up the sound effects better and could tell that way.  Dunks are high-percentage shots though so usually they go in.

This was my first time playing Double Dribble.  It was an early NES game and one of the only basketball games on the console for a couple of years, so it is one of those ubiquitous NES titles you see in game lots all the time.  I’ve had many copies of the game before but I’ve since sold them all, so just from that limited sample, it appears to be a popular game to own on the NES.  Even then, it wasn’t a game I had in my collection for quite some time, and even when I did I wasn’t all that interested in playing it.  But now I put all that aside to give this one a try.

Even with low animation, they do look nice in the game.

As you probably know by now, my basketball strategy consists of hitting as many three-pointers as possible.  I try to look for the right spots to shoot from or pick the person with the best shooting capability.  In this game, I did not find out the good three-pointer spots, even though I found out after the fact that they do exist.  My road to victory was very different this time.  In my first game I lost by over 20 points.  I struggled with getting the ball across the court past the Level 3 defenders.  They intercept passes and steal really well.  What I ended up doing was taking shots pretty much any time I was open.  This became a form of passing for me because I could get the ball on my end of the court and either recover the missed shot or steal the ball back and make another shot.  It was an ugly strategy, and I never really found my groove, but it was effective enough.  It was a back and forth game.  I had a decent lead after the first period, and then allowed the computer a decent lead after the third period.  With a little over three minutes to go in the game, I was down 32-24.  Then I had a nice string of lucky shooting and good enough defense to storm back into the game, winning by a final score of 43-36.  I scored more points in the fourth than in the first three periods combined.

I ran across an interesting story about this game while doing some post-game research for this blog.  I looked up scoring exploits for the game and discovered this video showing a trick where you can make just about every three-point shot from a particular spot.  The video ended up being shown during an episode of Family Guy, but in this case they ripped off the footage entirely without credit.  Furthermore, after the episode aired, the original video was incorrectly flagged as infringing copyright and was taken down.  Thanks, YouTube algorithm!  The creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane, got involved and fixed the issue so the original creator got his video back.

Double Dribble predated any other NES basketball game by almost a full two years, but there are still reasons why this one stands up as one of the best on the system.  The graphics in this one are nice for the time.  In-game, it is not that special, but the full screen dunk cutscenes still hold up nicely today and have good impact during the game.  For music, the game doesn’t have anything other than sound effects during the game.  However there are some nice tunes on the options screen and during halftime, as well as The Star-Spangled Banner at the start.  The controls are responsive and easy to use.  The gameplay is done well, with passing, shooting, and stealing all working with good feel.  It is pretty impressive on how much Konami got right for this first NES basketball game, and perhaps it sheds some light on why there was such a delay before anyone else tried releasing another one.

#150 – Double Dribble


#146 – Arch Rivals

You gotta beat down before you get beat down.

Punching right through the basketball!

To Beat: Win a game
Played: 1/27/20
Difficulty: 2/10
My Difficulty: 2/10
My Video: Arch Rivals Longplay

Prior to this project, the only basketball video game I ever really played was NBA Jam.  I have had a lot of fun with that game, shoving guys around, stealing the ball, and going in for the big dunk.  Now that I have played a few more games that came before it, I am starting to build an understanding of how they paved the way to NBA Jam.  Back when I reviewed Magic Johnson’s Fast Break, I noted how it felt a little bit like NBA Jam but without all the visceral actions.  Arch Rivals is a much bigger step forward and feels a lot like a prototype for NBA Jam.

Arch Rivals originated in the arcades in 1989.  The game was developed and published by Midway.  Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin are credited as co-developers, with Jeff Nauman doing the programming and Brian Colin creating the art.  Dan Forden is listed as the composer.  The NES port of the game was programmed by Rare and published by Acclaim, releasing in North America in November 1990 and in PAL territories in 1991.  In 1992 the game was ported to both the Sega Genesis and Game Gear.  Arch Rivals also re-appeared in a few different Midway game compilations.

After booting up the game, the first thing you’ll do is set up the game on the selection screen.  There are six different teams in the game, but they only amount to a palette swap.  Press B to switch between pairings of teams until you get to the setup you want.  The A button brings you to some instructions screens so you can learn from the game without needing the manual.  Neat!  The Select button switches between single player and two player modes.  The Start button advances you ahead to the player selection screen.

The teams are angry about being palette swaps.

Regardless of team, you can select from one of eight players to control.  Each player has a character portrait and a short description of his attributes.  Tyrone is the defensive giant.  Vinnie is a great player!  Hammer is the rebound king.  Moose is a real champ.  Lewis is a top shooter.  Blade is a crowd pleaser.  Mohawk is tough and mean.  And finally, Reggie is All-American.  Really stirring stuff here, am I right?  Anyway, choose the player you want and press Start.  For my game I chose Lewis because I always like to have a good shooter.

This is a pretty simple basketball game with one big gimmick.  Games are played two-on-two, you only play single games, each quarter is four minutes long, and there are no difficulty levels.  What sets this game apart is that you can hit and shove your opponents freely without fouling.  I mean, this is called out as “A BasketBrawl” after all.  The manual mentions a shot clock violation as the only penalty but I’m not sure even that exists in this game.  Every time someone scores, you’ll see a brief animation of either one of the coaches or a cheerleader, something like that.  I think that serves the purpose of lengthening the game since contests are short and the action is quick.

The control scheme depends largely on who is holding the ball.  On offense, you press A to shoot and B to pass.  When you are near the basket you will dunk the ball instead.  If your teammate has the ball, you can direct him to shoot and pass with A and B respectively.  If you have the ball, you can do a fakeout move by holding down B, then A to shoot.  After shooting the ball, either you or your teammate, you can press A to jump to try and recover a rebound.  On defense, you press A to jump or use B to fight your opponents.  Press and hold B to “charge up,” then release B to deliver a punch, hopefully clocking the opponent and letting the ball loose.  If you hold B and press A instead, you will do a lunge move.  You can use the lunge to steal the ball away, but if you miss you roll on the ground and lose control of your player for a little bit.

Try to knock over the ball carrier.

There are a few minor things during gameplay to be made aware of.  This game scrolls the length of the court, so sometimes you or your teammate will be off-screen.  In this case, an arrow will show where the player is positioned.  The referee is pretty useless in the game with not calling any fouls, and he will often get in the way of the action.  If you collide with the ref, you get knocked down and you’ll lose your ball.  Sometimes people in the crowd toss out trash onto the court and that will trip you up the same way.  Another purely cosmetic thing you can do is that sometimes during a dunk the backboard will shatter.  I loved doing that in NBA Jam.

There are some small events between quarters to break up the action.  In between the first and third quarters, you will get a small word from their sponsors, as well as some brief gameplay tips.  At halftime, you get a very short halftime show from the cheerleading squad.  The end of game features those sweet, sweet statistics.  You can enter your high score on the leaderboard, which is how many points your player scored.  Next, you’ll see stats from the game.  They are points scored, shot percentage, steals, and rebounds, which are compared to some fictitious averages.  Finally, you’ll see where you ranked on the leaderboard.  Very exciting!

This was my first time playing through Arch Rivals, as it was my first time for all these NES basketball games.  I first bought this game at my local store back when they had cheap and plentiful NES games.  I don’t remember for sure if this was a $3 or $5 game, but I bought it with others Buy 3 Get 1 Free which is always nice when you can cherry pick your titles.  I got a few additional copies through buying lots.

This was the start of my comeback.

For this game, I had to use different strategies from my normal approach to basketball games.  My game plan is always to shoot threes, as often as possible.  For my player I chose Lewis as he is of course the “Top Shooter.”  This was the first time that my strategy let me down.  I had a really hard time getting open just to shoot the three, and when I did I missed most of the time.  I can’t tell if it was because I didn’t have a clear shot, didn’t time the shot well, or didn’t find the right spot.  My plan wasn’t working and I was losing badly.  Early in the 3rd quarter, I was down 36-21, which was when I finally figured out the trick.  Naturally it was right in front of me the whole time.  This is a game where you can foul freely, so at every opportunity I started punching the other team.  When they held the ball, I punched.  After they shot, I punched.  While waiting for the rebound, I punched.  When I got the ball, I tried to dunk which seemed to be the most effective method of scoring.  After scoring, when the other team gets the ball, that ended up being the perfect time to punch the ball away and dunk immediately, forming a nice scoring loop.  I mounted my comeback at that point, winning the game 65-54.

Arch Rivals is a little bit different from your normal NES basketball game, and certainly it is the predecessor to NBA Jam.  I would say the game has good presentation, with features like the in-game manual, a nice cast of characters to choose from, and some animated spectators in the background.  The music does not play a main role in the game, but it is fine nevertheless.  The gameplay is fast action.  Two-on-two suits this game well, though there is a lot of flickering especially when the players are all clumped together.  Punching takes a little while to get used to because it triggers when you release the button, not when you press it.  It’s such a vital weapon that you’ll figure it out.  The way I played the game mirrored how I used to play NBA Jam: Constantly knock guys over to steal the ball, then dunk.  In one way it felt right at home, but in another way it felt weird to deviate from my normal strategy that has worked in other NES basketball games.  This is not a bad game at all.  I don’t think it would hold up for repeated play, but one time through was nice.

#146 – Arch Rivals

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