Midway is one of those third-party publishers that will put every game on every platform possible. As such, NBA Showtime, the company's latest arcade basketball game, is coming to the Dreamcast, the Nintendo 64, the PlayStation, and, yes, the Game Boy. The Nintendo 64 version manages to feature most of the options and gameplay of the arcade version, but the sound and graphics have taken a rather large hit.
NBA Showtime is essentially the latest iteration of the arcade basketball classic, NBA Jam. The most obvious upgrade from Jam to Showtime is graphical. The game is now in full 3D, as opposed to NBA Jam's 2D looks. The arcade version of Showtime featured extremely nice player models. The player heads looked outstanding. While the arcade version had players that looked real (to the point of being downright frightening at times), the N64 just can't push the required number of polygons to deliver that arcade look. As such, the characters look blocky, the crowd doesn't move, the ball leaves an ugly motion trail, and other graphical tweaks have been made. These tweaks allow the game to run at a playable speed, but some playability issues have been introduced that don't quite match up with the arcade version. Some of the dunks are missing frames of animation, causing players to suddenly teleport from about two feet away from the rim and sink the ball. Needless to say, this makes blocking dunks - an exercise in timing and skill - much more difficult. Also, three-pointers seem slightly easier to sink when you have opposing players in your face - a phenomenon that is exactly opposite from the arcade version. Unlike Jam, Showtime actually calls fouls. After one human player (computer players are allowed to be as nasty as they want to be) commits five fouls in one quarter, a player from the opposing team is sent to the line for a free throw, worth three points. Now, at first, the concept of fouls in a no-rules arcade basketball game may seem like a horrible idea, but it actually balances the game out fairly well and keeps it from degenerating into huge shove fests. The arcade version of the game featured a lot of speech, including the calling out of every player name. This is gone from the N64 version, but a good deal of phrases from both the announcer and the players remain.
The gameplay is vintage NBA Jam. It's two-on-two basketball at its finest, complete with huge dunks, alley-oops, shoves, swats, and lots and lots of goaltending. The ball never goes out of bounds, and aside from goaltending and the occasional foul call, the only other rule is the shot clock. You've got a turbo button, a pass/steal button, and a shoot/jump button at your disposal. You'll control the same player throughout the game, so if you don't have a human teammate, you'll have to issue commands to your teammate when he's carrying the ball. You can call for a pass or command the computer player to shoot the ball. Double tapping turbo executes a quick evasive spin or dodge move that you can use to get past pesky defenders.
The game features a create-a-player mode, which lets you pick a head for your player as well as customize several stats, such as height, weight, dunking ability, and power. You can pick a jersey number and the name the announcer would call you, but since you can't see the jersey numbers on any of the players, and the player name speech isn't in the N64 version, having these options just seems silly. As you win games with a created player, you'll earn new points you can use in the various stat categories.
Aside from the aforementioned gameplay bugs, the game controls reasonably well. You use the analog stick to simulate the arcade game's 49-way joysticks. Because the player models look a little funky, it's occasionally hard to tell which way you're pointed when all four players crowd together. This makes accurate shoves and steals tough.
It's not perfect, but NBA Showtime is still a fun four-player game, and it's worlds better than the team's last N64 arcade basketball translation, NBA Hangtime. Give it a three-day rental, and see if you're left hungry for more.