Platform: Nintendo 64
Release Date: Apr. 1998
Region: NA, PAL
Developer: Left Field Productions
Players: 1-4 (simultaneous)
Special Features: Game Pak Save, Controller Pak Save, Rumble Pak
Availability: Very Common
Kobe Bryant lends his likeness to his first NBA basketball simulation on the Nintendo 64. The game features three main modes of play, all including 3-D, full-court, five-on-five action that aims to replicate the experience of watching a televised NBA broadcast. Pre-season mode lets you jump in and play a single game, while Season lets you experience an entire NBA season. Playoff mode allows you to relive the 1997 playoffs or create your own custom 16-team tournament. The game features full rosters from the 1997-98 NBA season, the only exceptions being Michael Jordan, who doesn’t appear due to licensing issues, and Latrell Spreewell, who was on suspension because he choked his coach (oof).
Overall, the gameplay feels sluggish. The players move so slowly as if they’re wearing ankle weights and wading through molasses. This is a pretty stark contrast to the NBA’s freakishly nimble athletic real-world players, so minus some points for realism, there. What the game lacks in pace it makes up for with responsive controls. Calling for a pick-and-roll with your point guard, driving the lane, and tossing it up to the center for an alley-oop are unquestionably satisfying. The defensive side of the ball quickly devolves into button mashing in an attempt to steal. Even when you do snag the ball, it feels more like pure chance, not the result of skill or stats. Player control is fine on the defensive side, at least, allowing the player to maneuver into a position to make a play, but blocking attempts feel futile, similar to stealing. In its rookie attempt, the title manages to pull everything together into a good, if flawed, showing.
In the 1996-97 season, basketball fans everywhere became fixated with the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere. Sure, you’d have to live under a rock to not be familiar with Michael Jordan during this era, but Kobe represented the start of a new era for the NBA. As the legend of Kobe grew, it is no wonder Nintendo wanted his name on the box for it’s first licensed NBA game on the Nintendo 64. Kobe was young and edgy; a perfect fit for the next generation of gamers. In the end, this game offers a fun NBA simulation that’s a hair above average. Players will inevitably want more out of the somewhat simplistic title, and they’d get their wish when the sequel, NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant, came along.