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Double Dribble Review Rewind


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On 06/16/2022 at 08:00 PM by Jamie Alston

A slam dunk on the NES.
RECOMMENDATION:

The intuitive controls and relative accuracy to the professional sport while remaining accessible to the novice player makes this a no-brainer.

With the 2022 NBA Finals set to conclude this week (possibly tonight), now is as good a time as any to look back at Double Dribble- Konami’s take on professional basketball initially released in 1986. Like many of their arcade hits arcades, the game was forever immortalized when it was ported to the NES a year later. With its accessible gameplay mechanics and realistic presentation, Double Dribble quickly became known as one of the best sports experiences on the home console.

I fondly remember the night my brother came home from the local toy store with our dad. He was holding a small white bag, quite excited about its contents. Inside was a shiny new copy of Double Dribble. Its overall presentation was impressive to me back then, and not much has changed since then.

Upon starting the game, there’s a nice rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner playing while the crowd pours into the stadium. You can select from four teams- New York Eagles, Chicago Ox, L.A. Breakers, and Boston Frogs- all competing to win the fictional World Championship and just a hair short of copyright infringement of the four best NBA teams of the mid-80s. So pick your team, and lead them to victory. And maybe hire a lawyer, just in case.

Double Dribble well captured a live basketball game's familiar sights and sounds. It features a proper full-court 5-on-5 matchup. You can hear the squeak of sneakers as teammates move around. The crowd cheers, and rallying music plays after a successful goal. Typical rules of fouls, free throws, and violations apply in the game. There’s even a brief halftime show with cheerleaders and team mascots parading on the floor. The sheer attention to detail in this game was astounding for its time.

As palpable as those details were, the slam dunk animations elevated this game to rockstar status. When an offensive player attempts an uncontested goal near the hoop, the screen switches to a cinematic close-up animation of the player performing one of a few dunk shots. My personal favorite is the “air walk” animation. When they miss, it’s annoying. But when that dunk connects, it’s the best feeling in the world. Konami nailed that visceral satisfaction that few (if any) simulation games replicated at the time.

Despite being a reasonably comprehensive sports title, Double Dribble doesn’t bog you down with worrying about player stats, heavy strategies, or complicated controls. When playing defense, the A button steals the ball, and the B button switches to the nearest teammate to control him. On offense, B shoots the ball (release the button to take the shot); the A button passes to the closest player. That’s it. Such simplicity allows the player to focus on enjoying the game alone or with a buddy for some 2-player fun.

Besides the rallying music mentioned earlier, there isn’t much music to be heard during the match. Not a bad thing, however, as it allows the sound effects to take center stage. Besides the squeaking shoes mentioned earlier, there’s the constant rhythm of dribbling the ball as teammates try for a goal. A successful two-point shot sounds as it should when the ball passes through the net. Scoring a three-pointer results in an explosive *kaboom!*, making the effort to sink the shot all the more rewarding. Everything worked to good effect, immersing the player much more so than if those sound cues weren’t there.

The game’s visual presentation is on par with what you could expect from a Konami arcade conversion of the era. That is to say, it’s pretty darn good. The bright and bold colors ensure each team’s uniform is easily distinguishable. The athletes are well proportioned, albeit faceless. Funnily enough, most teammates are perpetually in a running animation even when standing idle (except for tip-offs and free throws). The view of the court is at just the proper distance so that you can focus on the immediate area while still seeing at least half the floor’s length at all times.

Granted, the game may not be as impressive as today's hyper-realistic offerings of sports titles. It nonetheless holds a valuable spot in the pantheon of NES games that shaped not only people’s perception of the console but also the perception of what an accessible basketball simulation should be. Double Dribble was a high watermark that paved the way for well-known greats like the NBA Live and NBA Jam series; all games worth playing if you have even the faintest interest in basketball.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

SanAndreas

06/17/2022 at 01:29 AM

Boston "Frogs"? 

I have never been much into sports games other than a few tries with Nintendo Baseball and with NBA Jam. This was a pretty good-looking sports game, though. A lot of work went into this and Blades of Steel, also by Konami.

I'd always wished a company other than EA had become dominant in the sports arena. It might have changed later video game history. EA's big break in consoles came when they borderline extorted Sega into granting special licensing privileges for EA by threatening to release Madden 92 unlicensed on the Genesis at CES if Sega didn't accept their terms. Their refusal to support the Dreamcast was also seen as one of the final nails in Sega's coffin as a hardware manufacturer, though it certainly wasn't the only issue Sega had. Konami seems to have been the best Japanese company when it came to sports.

Cary Woodham

06/17/2022 at 08:13 AM

I never played this, but boy this game was talked about a lot at the schoolyard and such, so I knew it was pretty popular.  I remember the close up graphics of the players making baskets was pretty amazing looking back then, since NES games usually didn't do that.  I remember seeing the arcade version a couple of times and remembering it had the same close up graphics, just that the players were full color.  Never got into basketball video games myself.  Nor do I watch on TV.  It's kind of fun to go see a game live, though.

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