Let’s conclude NBA week (in honor of the recent 2017 NBA Finals) with arguably the Super Nintendo’s best basketball title prior to the NBA Live series. You know, there was a time when Tecmo had a foothold on the market of sports video games. EA Sports was rising but with smash hits like the Tecmo Super Bowl series, Tecmo was king. Tecmo was well known for the Ninja Gaiden games back in the ’80s but for me and my friends we found Tecmo synonymous with “good sports games.” Tecmo released Tecmo Super NBA Basketball to the Super Famicom on Christmas Day, 1992. The North American version would arrive in March of 1993. There weren’t a lot of basketball games on the market at the time, and of the ones available, this was the best one. But has it stood the test of time? Let’s take a look.
Tecmo NBA Basketball arrived on the 8-bit Nintendo in November of 1992. The NES was on life support by that time; the SNES had been out in the North American market for over a year by then. But many of us still owned the NES, and I remember playing this game with my brother and our friends. We had a good with it. That was no shock to any of us. After all, it was a Tecmo sports game.
Tecmo NBA Basketball, similar to Tecmo Bowl, still has something of a cult following to this day. In fact, there are new versions still being released. It says something about the longevity of these old sports games and how much people enjoy them.
Barely four months after the 8-bit version came the 16-bit version. You can see the clear technical jump in graphics. Still got those sweet official NBA logos, too.
Tecmo Bunny for life! Them some fancy double doors.
Optimus Prime? No, still them fancy double doors.
Fancy intro gets you hyped to throw down with the pros.
Tecmo sports games shared this classic menu. Like seeing a dear old friend, it brings a certain sense of comfort and nostalgia. Hint: put game speed to fast. Trust me…
Notice the striking similarity of their abilities. Hakeem the Dream Olajuwon, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Karl Malone — four of the best NBA big men of all time. I’m such a sucker for player ratings. Always fun to compare and scout.
Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley were MIA in some other basketball games after this but they’re both here in all their glory. Well, the SNES version anyhow. The Genesis version has “Roster Bulls” player instead of Jordan.
Reggie Lewis tragically died during an offseason basketball practice in the summer of 1993. In the Genesis version of this game, he was replaced by “Roster Celtics” player. Speaking of Reggie, “Miller Time” was bad news for 26 other NBA teams.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson — two legends that I never tire of using. One of the perks of this game using the 1991-1992 roster. Later NBA games lost out on these icons.
Select from any of the (then) 27 NBA teams.
Similar to Tecmo Bowl, you can select certain plays but unlike Tecmo Bowl, it’s completely at your discretion rather than forced. You can strategize as much as you want or as little as you wish. Let’s relive the ’92 NBA Finals: Bulls vs. Blazers!
Cinematic cutscenes appear here and there. Not the biggest fan of them as they kind of impede the flow a tiny bit. Must be pretty intimidating to see Michael Jordan coming down the court ready to attack.
Scottie Pippen with the sick turn around hook shot.
Jordan swishes an 18 foot jumpshot. Nice.
Jordan doing what he does best: throwing down!
Details… it always bugged me how players jump for their free throw shots. Come on Tecmo, you’re better than that…
Cinematic cutscenes can be great when used effectively. Not really here as it interrupts the flow. Not a fan. It worked for the Ninja Gaiden games, but not here.
Paxson’s 3 pointer bounces around the rim and falls through. Making 3 pointers in this game isn’t as easy as breathing (as it was in the NBA Live games). Really satisfying when you nail them.
Jordan cocks the ball and jams it home with ferocity.
Halftime stats are shown including a dance number. Good thing this isn’t 2016 or that cheerleader would have dabbed.
REJECTED! [Story of your life… -Ed.]
Annoying pet peeve: when you think you’re close enough for a dunk but your guy decides to try a layup instead. Layups will occasionally bounce off the rim. Ugh!
Scottie Pippen with the exclamation mark.
Terry Porter heaves a halfcourt prayer and it bounces in, bringing the final score to Bulls 36, Blazers 20. Nice shot, Porter, but simply window dressing.
Making 3 pointers is pretty damn hard.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Prior to Tecmo Super NBA Basketball, SNES basketball games were slow and plodding. This game is no barn burner by any means but it played faster than the other available choices at the time. GameFan gave it ratings of 83, 89, 89 and 95%. Super Play rated it 86%. Critics applauded it for its control, stats and playability.
My friends and I enjoyed playing Tecmo Super NBA Basketball back in 1993. For its time, no other SNES basketball game could compare to it. One year later NBA Jam came out and took over as basketball king. Admittedly, that’s a bit unfair as the two games were so different. However, NBA Live ’95 was released in October 1994 and suddenly made it really difficult to go back to the 5 on 5 “action” of the much slower Tecmo Super NBA Basketball. NBA Live ’95 increased the speed and even had a turbo button. Suddenly, penetration in the paint was not only possible but it was relatively easy. It did a much better job of simulating the game of basketball. That’s not to say Tecmo Super NBA Basketball is no longer playable. It certainly still is. But it’s one of those games that has become something of a victim to the passing of time. I can still enjoy a game now and again but only when nostalgia knocks. More often than not, when the basketball itch strikes on the SNES, I turn to either NBA Live, NBA Jam T.E., Looney Tunes B-Ball or Dream Basketball: Dunk & Hoop.
It’s hard to recommend this game when you have several better examples of the genre on the same system. However, if you don’t mind a slower, more methodical experience then it’s worth a look. The graphics and sound were decent for its time. There are tons of stats to keep simulation freaks happy and a battery backup memory allows you to save your progress throughout a long NBA season. But unless you have nostalgic ties to this game, there are many better basketball titles I would personally rather play on the SNES. I wouldn’t go so far as to call Tecmo Super NBA Basketball obsolete, but it’s definitely an acquired taste from a bygone era.
Ah, the NBA Live series. Anyone who grew up with a Super Nintendo and loved basketball back in the mid ’90s most likely would remember this franchise well. The first one, NBA Live ’95, came out on Halloween of 1994. NBA Live ’96 came out exactly one year later (Halloween 1995). NBA Live ’97 was released in December 1996 and the final entry, NBA Live ’98, made its way to the SNES in March of 1998. What made these games so special? GAMEPLAY. Never before did SNES owners enjoy such fast paced basketball in the traditional 5 on 5 sense. NBA Jam might be the king of arcade style basketball, but when it came to simulation, NBA Live ruled the roost.
BEFORE NBA LIVE…
Before NBA Live the pickings were pretty slim. I mean, these games weren’t bad for their time, but even as kids we knew there was something missing about them. Namely, SPEED. NCAA Basketball (October 1992) was certainly groundbreaking for its time, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Then came Bulls vs. Blazers and the NBA Playoffs (what a terrible title) in December 1992. Again, for its time it was something we played but man was it slow. Tecmo Super NBA Basketball (March 1993) was a step up and easily the best of the lot prior to NBA Live ’95. But even then it failed to replicate the excitement of the NBA. NBA Showdown (October 1993) was infamously known as NBA Slowdown. Finally, a year later EA Sports got it right when they unleashed NBA Live ’95.
2017 NBA CHAMPIONS
The Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers this past Monday evening at the Oracle in Oakland, California, to secure their second championship in three years. Kevin Durant dominated the Cavs and Steph Curry was an afterthought despite averaging nearly a triple double. That’s how good KD was. It was great to witness and definitely put me in a basketball state of mind.
Yesterday the Warriors and their fans celebrated their Finals victory with a parade. Over one million people attended, according to estimates. Crazy.
The Cavs were a little petty with their celebration last year coming back from a 3-1 deficit. For their Halloween party they made “R.I.P.” cookies for Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. They also had a band named “3-1 Lead.” At the parade LeBron James wore an “Ultimate Warrior” t-shirt. Naturally, Draymond Green had to respond. He wore a “Quickie” shirt at the parade yesterday. This represents the Q (Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs call home) and the fact that it was a quick series with the Dubs winning 4 games to 1. Classic Draymond. Never change, my man. Never change.
Barring injury, I look forward to Cavs-Warriors Part IV next June. Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers would be proud [Don’t forget Capcom -Ed.]
“IT’S IN THE GAME!”
Electronic Arts, better known as EA, created a monster with this first edition. How about that skyline there — what is this, Streets of Rage?!
Shaquille O’Neal that is. Your eyes do not deceive you. Shaq didn’t appear in the SNES versions of NBA Jam, but he’s here in all his 7 foot 1 inch glory.
Simulation-based, yes. But there’s a healthy amount of arcade style thrown in there as well. You can adjust various options to make it as arcade-like as you wish. It strikes a nice balance.
Player ratings are ranked out of 99. It was always fun to see how each player was scored in all the categories they had.
Veterans of the NBA Live games know the “secrets” of the numbers. For example, when it came to 3 point shots, 75 was the magic number. If you were rated 75 or better, you could hit a good percentage of your 3 point shots. 74 and under drops dramatically. So guys like Derrick McKey of the Indiana Pacers were screwed, but Mark Jackson and Haywoode Workman could nail a decent amount of their 3’s, despite being separated by just one point. The Milwaukee Bucks in NBA Live ’96 had a whopping six guys rated 77 or higher in 3’s, making them extremely dangerous beyond the arc.
Dribbling is even rated. 75 is once again the magic number. If you were a 75 or higher in dribbling then you can do the crossover dribble. Guys like Jeff Grayer got the short end of the stick with a 74. But Donyell Marshall, barely cracking 75, could perform the crossover dribble. The (then) Washington Bullets had six guys rated 75 or better.
Cavaliers vs. Warriors was a different look back in the mid ’90s…
Switch substitution to manual in the strategy option screen. Trust me. If you left “fatigue” on then be sure to monitor your guys’ stamina bars throughout the game. Like I said, you can customize it to be as arcade-like as you want.
Statistic guy? If you’re like me then you’ll appreciate the amount of facts these games threw at you. You can see everything from total games played to points per game and more. Remember, this was back when the internet wasn’t really a thing, so having these features made it feel like your very own basketball encyclopedia!
Curious about a guy’s field goal percentage? Check. Curious about his exact number of shots made and attempted? Check. This game had it all.
THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE LEGEND
My brother was once a big basketball card collector in the early to mid 1990’s. One day he ripped open a fresh pack and out popped this curious little card. I remember us laughing at David Wood’s expression like it was the funniest thing we had ever seen. But I also became a David Wood fan that day. He was an end of the bench player who bounced from team to team. There was something incredibly endearing about his playing style, however. He was fierce, and although he lacked talent compared to his NBA contemporaries, David Wood could never be accused of not trying. Wood was the motherf*cking man!
The reason why I’m highlighting David Wood here is because he really was my favorite player in the NBA back in the mid ’90s. Some people were Jordan fans. Others, Patrick Ewing or Reggie Miller. But me? I was team David Wood all the way. Even back then I was rooting for the underdogs and a supporter of the obscure! I mean, look at those staggering statistics there. How did this guy never make a single NBA All-Star team?! Highway robbery.
Here’s a five minute highlight reel of David Wood. Some of the footage is grainy due to the age, but it’ll give you a sense of why so many NBA fans in the ’90s adopted him as a pet favorite. Dude was scrappy and 110% heart.
GAME 7 OF THE NBA LIVE ’96 FINALS
Cleveland gets on the board first with a nice little push shot.
David Wood attempts to answer back. A little strong there, my friend…
Chris Mills stuffs it home to end the first quarter.
Warriors are off to a hot start shooting 75% from the field. They’ve doubled up Cleveland. Let’s head to the second quarter.
David Wood nudges Bobby Phills (R.I.P.) out of bounds. Crafty bastard.
SENSATIONAL move by Mark Price!
Battle of the Chris!
Mullin filled up the stat sheet at the half. But he had zero blocks. That’s now been taken care of. He even knocks down the 3 pointer in transition. Cold blooded Chris Mullin. Steph Curry would be proud.
David Wood was known to knock down the occasional 3. For a 6’9″ Power Forward at the time, it was rather uncommon (unlike in today’s NBA). Wood could stroke it from downtown!
Sloppy pass leads to a fast break monster jam.
Bobby Phills channels his inner JR Smith to end the quarter and keep the Cavs within striking distance. Even though NBA Live is more of a simulation based basketball game, you can make a lot of crazy running shots like such. It really blends the two (simulation and arcade) masterfully.
Trivia question is presented at halftime. The answer is revealed end of the third quarter. Some of the questions are tough enough to stump even the most knowledgeable of NBA fans.
David Wood times his leap perfectly to block Mark Price’s shot. Wood dribbles down the court and launches a 3 pointer. Hey Mullin, whatever you can do Wood can do better. OOF. Or maybe not. Wood’s 3 point rating, by the way, 74. One point shy of the magical mark. ROBBERY!
Fortunately, Mullin grabs the offensive rebound. Yo Wood, this is how it’s done. OOF. Or maybe not.
Critical basket by Mark Price puts the Cavs up by 3. 50-47. 30 seconds left. Game 7. Who’s going to save the day for the Dubs?
Latrell Sprewell makes eye contact with a streaking David Wood. Wood wants it. Sprewell passes the ball to Wood who then rises for the potential game tying 3 point shot…
WHAT?!? DAMN THAT 74 RATING! SHOULD BE 75!!
Luckily, Latrell Sprewell manages to steal the ball and launch a game tying 3 point shot with less than a second to go! We’re all tied up 50 a piece — it’s Overtime!
Nothing beats a Game 7 Overtime.
Absolutely ruthless, that Mark Price. 53-50 Cavs.
Mullin answers! Tied at 53 a piece.
Victor Alexander tries to scoop the ball off to a wide open cutting David Wood, but sadly Big Vic is too slow, resulting in a critical turnover.
Remember that play earlier where Wood nudges the Cavs player out of bounds? Deja vu! Wood was always one scrappy son of a gun.
REDEMPTION! This time Big Vic reacted faster and made the connection with David Wood for the clutch game tying reverse jam!
Nothing beats a Game 7 DOUBLEOvertime.
ZOINKS!Mark Price blows the layup! Fatigue has set in. Those legs aren’t as light as they were in the first quarter. Hey, just ask Kyrie Irving…
Massive dunks both ways to tie it up 61 all.
Hardaway with the vision and excellent deep pass to a wide open streaking Chris Mullin for the clutch go ahead 3 pointer in transition! This is another aspect that the NBA Live games nailed down. Other SNES basketball games struggle with the passing game. They often result in annoying turnovers and it was practically impossible to make a long pass like you just saw here. These little details go a long way and really separate NBA Live from the pack.
Kyrie Irving is much better but man Mark Price had some game. Big 3 point shot here to put the Cavs up by two with less than 30 seconds to go!
David Wood for the tie!? … Nope.
Hardaway, the smallest guy on the court, with the big offensive rebound and game tying layup! Tim Hardaway was sick back in the day.
Hardaway with the heads up defense!
David Wood gets a shot, literally, at redemption. Nothing but net!
Warriors win 68-66 in Double Overtime! Mark Price might have won the Player of the Game award, but the Warriors win the war.
Player stats can also be viewed.
Bloody hell, Wood had a bad shooting game but hey, he made them when they counted the most!
FREE THROW GIMMICK
Every NBA game back in the ’90s had their own free throw system. Nobody did it better than EA Sports with their NBA Live franchise. A crossbar appears on the screen and your job is to center both basketballs in the middle as best as you can. The speed of the ball traveling is dependent on your player’s free throw rating. The higher his rating, the slower the ball travels. The lower his rating, the faster.
Failure to align the balls closely in the middle results in bricks. The best part of this gimmick? The away team’s basketballs in the cross section become clear circles with white outlines. And the home player can madly tap buttons to cause the fans in the free throw background to wave their arms around. It’s such a small detail but one that my brother and I loved back in the day. It truly brings forth the meaning of “home court advantage.” Brilliant.
Ratings were based off their actual performance from the free throw line that season of 1994-1995. I have to say, though, that Chris Mullin was robbed. He shot 87.8% on the season but EA gave him a free throw rating of 87. Round that sucker up to 88, would ya?! Talk about stingy
Nothing like a pure swish. Love the way the net either sways to the side or straight up. By the way, NBA Live ’96 has the best sound effects in the series. For some reason, the other entries are a bit muted.
WHICH ONE IS THE BEST?
For my money, NBA Live ’96 is the best of the lot. NBA Live ’95 started the groundwork, but NBA Live ’96 refined the foundation. This included crossover dribbles, a create a player mode, trading players and so forth.
NBA LIVE THROUGH THE YEARS
Going from top left to bottom right: NBA Live ’95, ’96, ’97 and ’98. Notice that the Boston Garden looks the most different in NBA Live ’95. I actually like the look and aesthetic of NBA Live ’95 the best. But ’96 captured the magic of the series in general. ’97 and ’98 are great too, but feel more like afterthoughts milking the cow. It’s interesting to note that Hitmen Productions developed ’95 and ’96, not EA Sports (they were the publisher instead). NuFx developed ’97 and Tiertex Design Studios developed ’98. ’97 added a half-court 2 on 2 and 3 on 3 mode, for what that’s worth.
CREATIVITY AROUND THE HOOP
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
The NBA Live series on the SNES is often regarded as the finest simulation basketball titles of the 16-bit era. And rightfully so. Talko from GameFan fame gave NBA Live ’95 a whopping 98% score. He called it unquestionably the best sports game he had ever played. Super Play rated it 84%. Some folks go back and back on whether they like the NBA Jam or NBA Live series better, but it’s a bit like comparing burgers and pizzas. Both are excellent; it just depends on your mood.
I have such fond memories of the NBA Live games. They played great back then, and still to this day they hold up remarkably fine. The new isometric perspective brings the action full throttle like never before seen. You can finally throw baseball passes and execute fast breaks properly, just like you see in the pros. Best of all, NBA Live added a turbo button (not unlike NBA Jam) which allows a speed burst to add some spice to the gameplay. Previous SNES basketball titles had no turbo option, making them a bit clunky to play and penetration in the paint proved to be difficult. Not the case here. It really brought a new sense of life to the way we viewed basketball games. There’s never a moment of slowdown and although NBA Live is more simulation-based, there is a great mix of arcade action as well. It’s a near perfect marriage of the two.
You can’t go wrong with any entry from this series. But if I had to recommend just one, I’d definitely go with NBA Live ’96. I still occasionally replay it these days from time to time. As far as sports games go on the Super Nintendo, this is one of the very best. It’s simply a ton of fun and has aged remarkably well. Yes, it’s a little too easy to hit shots, and you probably shouldn’t be able to make so many 3 pointers fading away, but it’s all part of the charm. Maybe it won’t convert non basketball enthusiasts, but basketball aficionados are sure to be in NBA heaven here.
The Super Nintendo enjoyed many years of commercial and critical success, but of all the years I’ve always considered 1994 to be its most memorable. It just seemed to have the best games that year in terms of quality and quantity. 32-bit systems were starting to seep into the pages of gaming magazines in ’94 but it was still largely all about 16-bit. ’94 saw the release of such iconic titles as Super Metroid, Super Punch-Out!!, Donkey Kong Country, Final Fantasy III and so much more. EGM and GameFan didn’t miss a beat, either, as I felt ’94 was also the best year for those respective magazines. 1994 was just a great time to be a kid. But aside from your AAA classics, there were a bevy of games that flew under the radar that year. Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City was one of them. Sure, the concept was bizarre. Control one of the greatest basketball players ever in an action platformer? Doesn’t exactly ring my bell. And made by EA Sports of all people? They weren’t known for their action games. But when I saw it in the pages of GameFan, a big part of me was instantly intrigued. It took me two decades to finally play it…
Michael Jordan was a freak athlete. Born February 17, 1963 (happy belated, Mike), Jordan went on to become one of the most iconic figures in all of sporting history by the year 1993. However, with the tragic murder of his father during that summer, Jordan announced his retirement from the game of basketball on October 6, 1993. Citing the death of his father and a loss of interest in playing basketball, Jordan went on to pursue his dream of playing professional baseball.
He toiled in the Minors for a year and a half before declaring his infamous two words on March 18, 1995: “I’M BACK.” Jordan went on to 3-peat once again, leaving the game with six championship rings and an amazing 6-0 record in the NBA Finals. Today he is still considered in many circles as the greatest NBA player to ever play the game.
CHAOS IN THE WINDY CITY
Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City came out while Jordan was attempting his hand at playing baseball in the Major Leagues. The game acknowledges this and uses it (somewhat) as part of its storyline.
Jordan unearthing an underground prison where his friends are held captive deep within the bowels of a museum? You can’t make this stuff up… and this is how our adventure begins!
Rescue your friends in the holding cells (five levels there) and make your way through the rest of Chicago. This includes riding the local trains, the laboratory, the factory and more. Unfortunately, the lab and factory have five levels each themselves and the backgrounds can get a bit repetitive and dull. Although the game has a decent number of levels, they’re not spread out very well since the theme is repeated for five levels.
WEAPONS OF CHAOS
Mike begins the game with a regular standard orange basketball. It shoots in a straight line and has unlimited ammo. It shoots out pretty fast too and you can fire multiple balls at once. For a standard default weapon it’s more than serviceable.
I see what you did here, EA. Clever. One of the balls is, appropriately, a baseball. I like this one as you can fire it through walls and solid objects. Sweet!
Bounces around when it hits a horizontal surface, or splits into two balls when it hits a vertical surface. I like using this in tight spaces — it turns you into a killing machine.
Does double damage to enemies. Spike it to create a trail of flame along the floor.
Tracks down enemies who are within range. Spike it to split it into multiple missiles. I like how spiking certain balls can change its use.
Channeling his inner Sub-Zero, Mike’s Blue Ice ball freezes most enemies into a solid chunk of ice. It’ll shatter if you hit it with another ice ball. Enemies will thaw out and escape if you don’t destroy them while they’re frozen. You can stand on frozen enemies and use them as platforms. Spike an ice ball to coat part of the floor with a layer of ice and make it slippery.
Spiking certain balls can lead to different effects. It added a nice layer [I C WAT U DID DERE -Ed.] to the game and also added some strategy in addition to picking which ball to use.
Doesn’t go far if you throw it, rolling along the floor to hit enemies. It explodes when spiked, doing one point of damage to all enemies on-screen.
It makes everything shake when you spike it, doing massive damage to all enemies within range.
THE HOLDING CELLS
Be on the look out for your friends, and watch out for mutant spiders. Keys are key (sorry) to success.
Backboards are scattered throughout. Dunking on them has a different effect. Some drop items (like keys) when you dunk. Others may even damage all enemies on-screen. It’s a neat little way of bringing basketball into the gimmick.
Saving your friends opens up a bit of dialogue. It’s nothing to shout about, but it adds a bit of variety as it breaks up the action a bit. Hell, you may even get a key for your troubles at the end. But the way Mike’s friends evaporate is slightly bizarre.
Sometimes there’s a weak wall that Mike can bust through. Ah, Wheaties. The Breakfast of Champions.
Dunking in an action platformer — who woulda dunk it… [har har -Ed.]
Spiking the ball isn’t just a secondary option, sometimes it’s necessary to advance. Spike balls to break away weak floorboards.
Purple swirling doors lead you to bonus bits that range from slam dunking to killing enemies to bouncing off giant springs. Find these doors to unlock extra goodies and points.
Bastards zip fast so be ready for the fast pitch. BOOM [SHAKA LAKA -Ed.]
Whoever thinks that Jordan never passes never played this game.
Enemies on a tier below you can be damaged by the spiking technique.
Defense is played in the form of nullifying. Wish more games did this.
Use the White Knuckleball to retrieve items lodged away. Sweet!
You know what’s cool about that animation above? You know how in most games if you let it ride out nothing happens but the status quo? Well, not so here. If you leave Mike in that vulnerable position for more than a few seconds, he actually falls over. I was quite taken aback the first time I saw it as I don’t recall many platformers from the ’90s that did this as well. The animation is ugly but I can appreciate the concept.
Some backboards have the number 23 on them. If they do, slam it home and you’ll be rewarded with everything freezing for 15 seconds. A shot clock just like the NBA appears on the screen, counting you down. Pretty cool integration.
Speaking of timers, there are none in this game. I hate it when there’s a timer that presses you to zip through a level. A generous timer is all good in my book but even better is when there’s no timer at all. Make sure you take the time to explore all the nooks and crannies, as you don’t want to miss out on bonus doors.
Golden hearts add another ball to your health meter. Super valuable!
D’OH! MJ might be the GOAT when it comes to basketball. But when it comes to swimming he doesn’t stand a chance! He automatically bites the dust the moment his head is submerged in water. Boo! Come on…
Press the L button to break into a sprint. Jumping while running allows Michael to do a super jump, which allows him to reach items in faraway places. Not bad, right? Until you factor in EA Sports wasted the L button on running when they could have made running double tap. Then that frees up the L button to cycle back on the special balls. Cycling one way only with the R button can get a bit annoying when you have all eight balls in possession.
Remember the epic shot Jordan hit over Craig Ehlo in the Playoffs on May 7, 1989? Props to EA Sports for recreating that celebration here.
THE L TRAIN
Charles Barkley on steroids? He has good defense. So not Chuck, then.
PSST, WHAT’S THE PASSWORD?
As many action platformers did from the 16-bit era, there’s a password system in place. However, you’re only awarded a password after defeating the entire section. For example, the Laboratory has five levels. You have to beat all five to get the password rather than just one level. As far as user friendliness is concerned, passwords are 11 characters. Not the best but definitely not the worst. Although the passwords do take into account your lives. Beat a section with 0 lives? That password is essentially useless. Pretty unforgiving…
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City is one of those games that you expect to be crap, but isn’t. It has a pretty decent reputation with most retro gamers. GameFan gave it respectable scores of 82, 79and 74%. Browse online and you’ll see most people find it to be pretty decent despite the odd use of the license. However, Nintendo Power back in 1997 had a different opinion. They posted a list of their top 100 games but they also posted a list of their top 10 worst games. Chaos in the Windy City made that list at #7. That always bugged me. Especially when they wrote in the description: “Not that this game was even that bad, but it wins the award for Totally Blowing the Best License in the Universe. What’s next, Michael Saves Nike Town?”
It bugged me that they put a decent game on the worst list. A list plagued by such filth as Bebe’s Kids. Chaos in the Windy City deserved better. I love Nintendo Power otherwise, but that one blurb always rubbed me the wrong way. Put it on your Top 10 Wastes of a Good License list but don’t put it on the Top 10 Worst list. Anyway, I told myself I’ll write that whenever the day comes that I review Chaos in the Windy City so yeah.
Like I said earlier, 1994 was a good year to be a Super Nintendo owner. We got so many good games. But it wasn’t a good year to be a Michael Jordan fan. We did get Chaos in the Windy City as a bittersweet reminder that Jordan had retired from the game of basketball. His minor league baseball career was pretty bad in 1994, but thankfully his video game turned out to be fairly decent. I like the versatility of the different powered balls. I also like the locked doors and keys formula that EA incorporated here. It helped to give it a slightly different feel from most other action platformers. The visuals are grimy and pretty much the complete opposite of most 1994 SNES games in terms of style and tone. The animation could have used some extra work, though.
For all the nice things Chaos in the Windy City does, however, there are a few missteps here that prevent it from being a hidden gem. For starters, the music is pretty forgettable. And what I do recall is only average. The control is a bit loose and the scrolling suffers from slight bouts of herky jerky action. Enough for you to notice it in a negative light. But perhaps the most annoying thing of all is that whenever you pick up a powered ball it automatically becomes your default weapon. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if either the ammunition was plentiful or if you could scroll the other way. The problem is… bingo. The ammunition is low (single digit only) and you can’t cycle the other way. R cycles one way, but L is used to run. Being that there are a total of eight balls, imagine trying to cycle back to your regular ball in the heat of the moment. Not only is it infuriating but it can also prove to be costly. Zombies Ate My Neighbors also suffered from a lack of two way cycling. It’s not a huge deal when you only have a few different weapons but that’s not the case for either ZAMN or Chaos in the Windy City. And speaking of low ammo, why do I have, say, five Knuckeballs but I pick up another Knuckleball icon and still only have five? It makes zero sense. The game would have been better served if you could bump the ammo count into double digits. I understand they probably didn’t want Michael to be overpowered but c’mon, throw us a bone here. The low ammo saps some of the joy away.
It just feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity. The different powered balls are pretty fun to use but you never feel like you really get to. At least in the way that you really want to. I give EA props for the spiking system and how it changes the effects of different balls, but I wish they shored up a few of the shortcomings that I listed above. Had they done so, this game could easily have been a high 8 and considered a hidden gem. Instead, it falls shy of its potential and is one of those weird games that’s both decent and slightly disappointing all at once. To EA’s credit you can tell they put in some effort here. It’s a pretty well thought out game that’s better than it probably had any right to be, but it’s far from being a slam dunk. Still, it’s a decent action platformer worth checking out if you’ve already conquered the giants that the SNES has to offer.