Sports video games are a funny thing in the world of early gaming. The games are always judged on how close they come to the actual sport, and are always criticized for the sheer number of exploits that you can find in them. However, there’s always something charming about going back to play a sports video game on the NES. You know the developers were trying their hardest, but there’s always that one little thing that ruins the game for you.
Tradewest, however, made a game that is seriously fun and pretty close to the way you’d remember basketball in the late 80’s… except for one thing…
I know he meant well, but every time Magic Johnson popped up on the screen with motivational sayings, I couldn’t help but break down laughing. I know he wanted me to achieve the same excellence that he had in his career, making a three-point shot in one out of every three trys, but I really couldn’t take him seriously.
Magic Johnson’s Fast Break was lost to time. Sports games for the NES were beginning to surface everywhere, and even the star power of Magic Johnson couldn’t pull this one into the mainstream. There are a few specific things, however, that made this game particularly unique.
#5: Tradewest’s Attraction to “Star Power”
After the relatively poor performance of John Elway’s Quarterback, Tradewest needed to find a different way to propel itself into the world of sports games. Football just wasn’t going to cut it on the NES (until, of course, Temco Bowl was released with more exciting music) so Tradewest needed to focus on a different sport. A few years later, Magic Johnson’s Fast Break hit shelves.
Amusingly enough, this game was sponsored by Pepsi. There are a number of possible good reasons for this:
- Tradewest was cash-strapped from paying royalties to John Elway.
- Tradewest didn’t want to lose too much money from the potential failure of this game.
- Tradewest wanted to make things more realistic and add in-game, on-the-boards advertising.
My bet is that it was not option #3.
#4: The Music and Sound
The game actually tauted a pretty good soundtrack. Written by Tim Follin early in his career, Magic Johnson’s Fast Break was entertaining to listen to. The intro music is still considered some of the best intro music for a sports game on the NES. Before each period started, a fun and energetic theme tried to get you excited for the action to come!
However, that’s where it stopped being normal and started becoming a video game. See if you can notice these wonderful sounds while watching thirty seconds of the game.
- Squeaking shoes every time you turned.
- Blades of Steel-style cheering in the background.
- The “you picked up an item!” sound every time you stole the ball.
The game was cutting edge, adding squeaky shoes… Yeah. I guess it was cool at the time.
#3: Red vs. Blue – Gameplay based on skill
The game was balanced.
By only giving you the option to play as the red or blue team, nobody ever had the opportunity to pick the overpowered team who won the championship the year before. It was all down to player skill, and a little bit of luck.
Of course there were a list of things you could do in this game that you definitely could never get away with in a real game of basketball… however, that just made it all the more fun! Opponents hated it when you started goalhanging, when you stood on the half-court line to force them into getting a backcourt violation when they tried to steal… oh, and the ever popular “I can make a three-point shot from half-court!”
This game was fun when played with friends… which brought up the question: who had a multi-tap to play this game with four players? Displayed plainly on the front, the game asked if you wanted to play with one, two, or four players. This just taunts all those little kids who always wanted a multi-tap and couldn’t get one.
Since only 22 games out of the 750+ even supported three or more players, Fast Break really didn’t provide the incentive to buy one.
#2: Magic Johnson’s floating head
I know I already mentioned it, but it needs some going back to.
Magic Johnson was a hero when this game was released. He was one of the best players in the NBA, was on track for his eventual Hall of Fame induction, and seemed to have everything going for him. So rationally, his words of encouragement should rock the foundation of every person playing his game! Right? Right?
Probably not. To be completely honest, it made him give the same types of messages that a PBS kid’s show would give. It just doesn’t fit into a video game.
#1: Stealing the ball. Every single time.
If there was one thing I noticed, it was that there was no regard for your fellow opponents. After making a basket, you could literally stand in front of the player throwing the ball into play, jam the A button repeatedly, and continue to steal the ball and shoot it at the net.
We’ve tested it. It is possible to get twenty points in fifteen seconds doing this.
The problem is, once you’ve mastered this technique, nobody will ever want to play this game with you again. It’s pretty much over for you too, because every time you fall behind, you immediately think “I’m never really behind…” That’s it. You never really were… cheater.