Wednesday, November 2, 2022

NBA Live '96 on the Sega Genesis

I tried to avoid anachronisms in Sega CD Summer and skirted some through the power of the book being told from the viewpoint of a narrator looking back on his childhood and thus having knowledge of certain future events.

Part of the reason I set the book in 1994 was so that the characters could play some of my favorite games. Having the book take place any earlier would've forced me to leave out at least one key game: Rebel Assault. As that game is one of the primary reasons Tommy wants a Sega CD in the first place, the events had to take place later than March 1994 for Rebel Assault to be included.

That did mean some other games got the shaft, including NBA Live '96.

The officially licensed NBA game from EA Sports was the latest in a long line of basketball games from the company. Some previous versions didn't include all NBA teams, such as Bulls vs. Lakers and the NBA Playoffs, which featured only 16 NBA playoff teams. Team USA Basketball used the same game engine to bring the "Dream Team" to life and incorporated international basketball rules. EA also released NBA Showdown in 1994 before rebranding the series as NBA Live for the 1995 edition of the game.

NBA Live '96 for the Sega Genesis

The game used a three-quarters overhead view that you'll either love or hate. I liked it and tend to favor a similar isometric view when playing the modern NBA 2K series of basketball games. These were solid basketball games with the ability to call different defensive sets and offensive plays. One nice feature was animated play diagrams that taught you how to run an offensive set, showing you the positions of screeners and where the ball needed to go.

I'm reasonably certain my copy of NBA Live '96 was a Christmas gift, which would mean I got it in December 1995. You'll be shocked to learn I almost always played as the Indiana Pacers. The game featured one of the rosters from the team's mid-90s to early 2000s era, memorable for players like Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and the Davis "Brothers," Dale and Antonio.

EA Sports tried to bring a TV-style presentation to the game, and while it lacked a constant score overlay, the pop-up display that appeared after a scored basket was a nice touch. Basketball arenas didn't have a ton of character separating them one from another, but clever use of crowd reactions and in-game music beats provided some nice atmosphere.

NBA Live '96 allowed you to create players, which meant you could put yourself in the game or add rookies would who later be added via the NBA Draft. Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were missing from the game for licensing reasons, but if you input "Michael Jordan" as the name of a created player, the game autofilled the rest of the information for His Airness. Same thing for Barkley--you'd end up creating a 6'6" dude who played college ball at Auburn.

The create-a-player fun extended to some NBA legends like Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and Pete Maravich, among many others. The incoming rookie class was also represented, meaning you could add players like Jerry Stackhouse, Cuonzo Martin, Antonio McDyess, Kevin Garnett, and "Big Country" Bryant Reeves. 

Oh, you could also "create" Ed O'Bannon, which I'm sure made him really, really happy.

During a birthday party for one of my friends, I organized an NBA Live' 96 tournament in which we challenged each other for the coveted "Hoopster Doofus Award," a made-up trophy inspired by Seinfeld's "The Handicap Spot" episode in which a woman told Kramer he was a "hipster doofus."

I played this game a ton. Thanks to another magical battery backup, you could play an entire season with stat tracking.