First and foremost, there is some serious dissiní hustling about the Internet over Courtside 2002 for the GameCube. I am not pleased at the way this game has been hammered by reviewers stating that itís a "shell" of a game without gameplay substance or merit. Donít fall for that, Dojo Disciples, because the comments regarding Courtside 2002 are as wrong as Mario wearing a back pack.
I want to make sure that weíre all on the same page here. Courtside 2 for the N64 was one of the most technically advanced sports video games Iíve had the pleasure of playing. Left Field pulled off a miracle on a cartridge with Courtside 2. That effort alone gives Left Field a wide berth of respect in my book. Left Field should be offered an opportunity to perfect Courtside on the GameCube. Unfortunately, as the firm has broken its second party relationship with Nintendo, that may never happen.
As for Courtside 2002, it is a good beginning on a new system. It is however, a mirror reflection of Courtside 2 for the N64. All of the features from the previous N64 game are here with the addition of a new rooftop arcade mode that has the same "hot spots" from Courtside 2. Courtside 2002 is a solid game with some AI and gameplay issues that should be addressed in upcoming versions of Courtside-- if there are any.
While the faces may be spot on, the overall player models arenít perfect. The bodies of the players look as if they are a bit too stiff and top-heavy. Imagine a basketball player wearing shoulder pads.
The great thing about basketball is the fluidity of motion: itís almost like a dance rather than a sport. The technology to echo this movement is available on todayís consoles, but Left Field hasnít taken total advantage of it.
The other concern that I have in regards to graphics are the disjointed animations. For instance, when you attempt to steal the ball from an opponent, itís difficult to anticipate when an attempt will be successful. Whether picking the ball or intercepting a pass, everything seems a bit off visually and you canít get a grasp on how the play will develop.
Also, seeing players standing around watching the play would drive a coach mad in any sport. Thereís way too much of that going on in Courtside 2002. The players should be moving around, running through screens, and following up on their man, rather than just observing the action. These issues cause the game to have a bit of a flat feel to it.
Having said all that, all it takes is one replay of Vince Carter posterising Dikembe Mutumbo with a Skywalker dunk to realize how beautiful this game is, and where Left Field could bring this franchise if permitted to retain the license.
All of the menus and statistical interfaces are easy to navigate and very intuitive. One thing I question though is why Left Field opted to go with the Robotic theme for the menus. All of the swinging robot arms and items in the menu are cool, but when I think of basketball, "robotic" is the last thing that comes to mind. Basketball is embedded in the hip hop culture and clean and fresh stylings, and that should be reflected in the front-end of the game.
What's missing is the overall audioscape that Segaís NBA 2K2 offers gamers. Thereís no chatter between players, no heckling from the crowd. In the same way that the visual miscue of players just standing there is a flattening experience, so is the bland audio experience. The crowd does get involved but there just isnít enough character here. Both of the above mentioned issues can be attributed to the "initial game on the system-itis." Courtside could have filled in character, given due time.
Commentary can make or break a sports game. Take ISS 64 for instance: the over-the-top commentary of that announcer ruled the N64 sports scene and made that game magic. In Courtside 2, LAís Chick Hearn did the game a great service with his "jello is jiggling!" wrap ups. Here, the commentary is so "honky" and rigid that it interrupts the flow of the game. Courtside 2002ís commentary suffers from the same thing that my Saturday nights do: boring repetition of supposedly exciting events. After almost every play call the announcer says, "Thatís right/I agree/Truer words couldnít be spoken." Am I missing some attempt at humor here? What the hell is trying to be accomplished by this?
On a more positive note, I have to make note of the theme song. Much like Brunswick Pro Circuit Bowling, this "rap" is so sad that it actually sticks in your mind. In fact, I canít stop singing this Vanilla Ice rendition of Courtside 2002. Aside from Henry Sterchiís rap at the game intro, the rest of the menu music is pretty good quality mixes. Nice stuff.
Control wise, Courtside 2002 delivers the offense that Courtside 2 did, and adds some defensive sets including press, 2-3 zone and more. You can also dial in the consistency of your rebounding effort. All of this is accomplished on the digital pad.
Some excellent game play features unique control schemes. The first is the oft-maligned Z trigger. With the Z trigger you can call for a double team on defense, or get a pick set for you on offense. Very nice execution here. The best innovation is the use of the C stick for passing. Now you can dial in analog passing to your players by pointing the C stick in their direction. You can also set the C stick to release mode where you pass the ball only after aiming and releasing the C stick.
Another nice game play feature is the adrenaline (a.k.a. "turbo") mode. The adrenaline mode "pumps up" your player, which can result in better crossovers, dribbles, and over-the-top dunks. The nice thing here is the turbo indicator's visual cue. A red spinning star appears beneath the player; the more you "adrenalize"(no not the Def Leppard Album), the more exaggerated the star becomes. Good work with this idea. In fact, good work in general with the entire control scheme.
The problem in the gameplay lies in the AI. Itís way too easy to crank up dunk after dunk. The defense should provide a bit more challenge against your drives. Mind you, when you dial up the difficulty you will find some pretty stiff resistance, and those off-balance shots wonít drop as often. Still, seeing players just standing there watching you drive is so bloody frustrating!
Perhaps one of the most awkward gameplay sensations is the entire set up for the alley-oop. In this sequence, one of your players throws up his tree trunk of an arm. Then, if you get him the ball, a disjointed sequence breaks down on whatís supposed to be the smoothest play in basketball: your player will catch the ball and jam it home as if he were Marv Albert flying through the air. "But Marv Albert canít skywalk," you say. Exactly. This feature really didnít work out as well as it did on Courtside. As I mentioned in the graphics section, disjointed visuals also hurt the stealing system.
Finally, the most significant AI gap that I noticed is that some players will hesitate in the post when they have the ball and an unobstructed path to the net. Instead of turning around and crushing the rim, like The Goodyear Kemp would if a waitress were in his way at the local A & W., the opposing player just waits to set up a post play. And when you see opposing guards step back for that three pointer, it looks so forced.
The first Courtside effort for the GameCube is remarkably better than the first effort on the N64. However, it does suffer from some of the same issues that original game had. Namely, the disjointed steal and alley oops, and the lack of visual or aural character that comprises the NBA.
There are moments though (like the beautiful soaring dunks that are replayed perfectly) where itís easy to see how great this game could have been. If you enjoy sports, you donít have too many options on the Cube. In that, Courtside 2002 is a bit of a disappointment.
Having said all that, Courtside is a challenging title that you can enjoy and recognize quality in its craftsmanship. I suggest you check Courtside 2002 out, even if itís a rental on your part, and when Sega releases NBA 2k2 on the Cube you can decide who rules the court. Courtside 2002 is worth a look.