Retro Game of the Day! Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball
Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball by Hudson Soft, released in 1991 for the Super Nintendo 16-Bit console.
Alright, how do I explain my way outta this one? In the late eighties, there was a mini-gaming revolution of sorts with sports video games. One can likely attribute this largely being kiked-off by Atari Games' excellent arcade Cyberball, where robot gridiron gladiators played a futuristic version of the ol' pigskin. Lots of cybernetic enhancements were made to the game and the rules in general (exploding ball!), the game looked pretty slick, it was a hit and ported to a few home consoles. It started a trend and after a few years many other companies got in on the action - Konami with robot baseball (Basewars), SNK with their Neo Geo hit Super Baseball 2020. Of course we saw EA's well-known Mutant League titles. And Hudson Soft participated with their own little basketball game - this was it.
Most kids today probably have not heard of Bill Laimbeer - back in his day, before Dennis Rodman, Laimbeer was "the Bad Boy" of Basketball. Whereas the Rodman was sort of a caricature, Laimbeer was just basically a prick. A leading player for the Detroit Pistons, he was well-known for committing lots of fouls and toying with the referees. Dirty player basically - but that was his shtick, love it or hate it. I used to see the guy when his team played versus the Celtics at the Boston Garden, he was heckled by the crowd more than anybody I'd ever seen.
Anyway, in light of all of that, it made sense to make a futuristic basketball-themed title with this guy's moniker on the masthead. Unfortunately, the results were subpar at best. As seen in the screen shots, they went for a top-down view (no perspective) - this was the first mistake, as it's visually very unappealing for this kind of sport in general and the 16-Bit graphics aren't looking so good in any case. Secondly, the gameplay is absolutely flat - there's not much going on, you toss a ball around, it's just not very fun. The "futuristicness" of the game doesn't really permeate so well, other than a thinly-applied aesthetic. Violence is supposed to be encouraged here, but other than constantly checking your opponents (which isn't very enjoyable) and of course you can throw bombs at each other.. but, ehhh. To add to the displeasure, of all the SNES joypad's myriad control buttons, only a single action button is utilized. It all adds up to a disappointment.
Still, this game is worth remembering simply for how strange it is. It represents an odd time in gaming history, and the types of projects that were greenlit. I rented it as a kid, though the screens looked atrocious I was expecting that "there had to be something to it." Even now a combat basketball game sounds like something that could be really fun to make a game out of, maybe someone will (ahem.. zombie basketball? Anybody??)