So far, the Deadspin Sports Quarantine Nintendo Club has been an exercise in showcasing my own futility at playing NES games on my laptop.
I got hammered by the Soviet Union while trying to re-enact the Miracle on Ice in Ice Hockey, put on an interception exhibition worthy of Jameis Winston in 10-Yard Fight, and allowed the Boston Red Sox to get some 1986 World Series revenge with a huge eighth inning in the wildly overrated RBI Baseball. Having gone through hockey, football, and baseball, it feels like it only makes sense for basketball to be next, so I decided to see if things would go any better for me when I fired up the 1989 release Double Dribble.
This is a not-even-close-to-licensed game, so it’s almost funny that there are any choices of teams at all. In a game like Baseball Stars (coming later this quarantine!), there are different characteristics for the different teams. For this one, New York wears white, Chicago wears red, and Los Angeles wears light blue. The computer opponent will wear green. The colors appear to be the only differences.
I pick Chicago because I’m very comfortable losing with what I imagine is the Bulls. I also feel like I’m staying true to myself because this game came out in 1989 and I didn’t have any ill will toward the Bulls until they started ruining my life as a Knicks fan in the 90s. I even rooted for Michael Jordan to win a title in his first Finals — what a dope my 10-year-old self was.
Also, I figure playing red vs. green is the best I can do for contrast, thankfully not being corlorblind.
I win the opening tip by… jumping up and catching it, walk up the court, and find out that the A button is pass and the B button is shoot when I hit B and launch a three-pointer for an airball out of bounds. Good start!
Boston (let’s just call them Boston since you know the green) comes right back down the court and makes an easy jump shot. On the ensuing possession, I master the art of passing, work the ball to an open man, drive the lane, smash that B button, and the wonderfully memorable dunk animation starts.
I forgot that you can miss dunks in this game.
As the score goes to 4-0, I’m worried that this is going to be just more drudgery. The game engine is extremely slow, and while the sound effects are pretty good, I’m annoyed that I can’t control where my passes are going. Not that it matters much, because it’s mostly possible to dribble to the paint and then either miss a short jumper or miss another dunk.
But then I make one of those short jumpers. I find that instead of trying to block shots, the best way to play defense is just to constantly go for steals. It’s not dissimilar from a lot of soccer games I’ve played — go up to the guy with the ball, tap the button, maybe you come away with the ball.
I’m successful enough at getting steals to keep the game close. I do get frustrated, however, by defenders’ total lack of awareness at any given moment. They’re not playing zone, and they don’t really seem to be manning up on anyone, either. In some weird tribute to Oklahoma high school girls, or to 1989 video game programming capabilities, it’s only ever 3-on-3 basketball on either end of the court. Other players just stand on the other side of the halfcourt stripe, pretty much doing nothing.
Not knowing what constitutes a good shot or dunk attempt is annoying, but the possession-to-possession flow of the game is nice, and I embrace the challenge at the defensive end of the court. There’s no shot clock, which maybe would add some more excitement, but neither the computer nor I go looking to drain clock; it’s all about getting to the basket for me on offense, and getting a steal on defense before Boston gets an open look.
I’m pretty decent at getting steals, too, because even though Boston shoots, seriously, 100% from the field in the first half, with 1:37 left in the second quarter, I take a 20-18 lead with a big slam.
And that’s all the scoring for the first half. It’s not that I’m getting that many steals, but that I’m getting one steal and turning it into multiple misses on the offensive end, all from close range. The intense Charles Smith vibes are my least favorite part of this, and I’d much rather think of it as a time-warped game that I’d like to call Bo Ryan’s Big Ten Challenge.
Then there’s a halftime show. It has cheerleaders and a mascot.
The second half gets underway, and it’s shenanigans time.
After zero fouls were called in the first half, when I try for a steal early in the third quarter, there’s a blocking call. Two free throws, made as effortlessly by the computer as every field goal attempt.
I’m not passing a whole lot, but whatever AI is guiding the passing sure isn’t Allen Iverson, even as a child, because all of a sudden, when I attempt a pass, my player decides to throw the ball to one of the guys on the other end of the floor. It’s a backcourt violation, followed by an easy deuce, followed by me having the ball stolen, followed by another blocking call.
What pushes me over the edge and into actually yelling at my screen is that, down 30-26 and trying to keep the game from slipping away, I get called for a charge. The screen calls it “PUSHING,” but whatever you want to call it, I’m losing another possession…
…and Boston gets two shots? Are you kidding? CHARGING IS NOT A SHOOTING FOUL. Now I see how this is going to go the rest of the way, and I am heated.
At least I get some “ball don’t lie” courtesy, and only one of the two free throws is made. It’s also a moment of discovery… the computer can actually miss? Maybe it’s not just going to shut me down the rest of the way.
But the trend continues. Early in the fourth quarter, it’s a 41-34 game, and given my shooting around 30 percent for the game on shots almost entirely from the paint, the increasing difficulty in getting steals, and the limited time remaining, I’m really just sticking around for the closing animation. I’ve had fun, but also a good deal of frustra — hey, there’s a steal. And a dunk. And another quick steal. And a… missed dunk. But an offensive rebound and a follow-up dunk! It’s snug! Late!
I figure when I get to 41-40 that the next possession is the game, because I’m not hitting a three to tie it. I need this stop, and that means I need a steal. I go for it, but the Boston player slips by, and converts an easy layup. It’s 43-40 with a minute to go.
I pass the ball down the court as quickly as I can, which isn’t particularly quickly, and manage to find a lane for a dunk that goes down — on the first attempt. Now it really is time for a stop… and just like that, Boston’s passing game goes to another level. They’re flinging the ball all over the place and my defenders can’t keep up. It’s only a matter of time before the dagger. Up it goes, and off the rim, and to the waiting hands of one of my players!
I don’t want to try to hold for a final shot, because even from right next to the rim, nothing is certain in this game. So when I’m able to get to the middle of the paint, I just go for it. And with 25 seconds left, the seven-point fourth quarter deficit is officially erased.
The last 25 seconds play out faster than any one-point basketball game in the last 30 years. Boston inbounds, makes deliberate progress into the other end of the court, and I manage to come up with a steal. I don’t think the computer knows how to foul, because even though I’m only up by 1, 44-43, I’m able to freely pass the ball around, running the clock down to two seconds before launching one last shot that I know will finish the clock.
It does not go in, because of course it was from more than two inches away from the hoop. But who cares? The game is over, and I have won.
You’re right, Double Dribble. I am a winner.