Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Jaleco, perhaps best known for their Bases Loaded series of baseball titles, released a video game called Hoops for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console in 1989, as a basketball simulation using a streetball motif. For one or two players, sporting a few different play modes, Hoops promised its players a fast-paced, street-smart ball game.
Hoops is a basketball game that takes place with either one or two human players, and on either a one-on-one or two-on-two setting. Play control is streamlined for pure basketball-sim fun, with the A button stealing on defense and passing on offense, thus making the B button jump on defense and shoot on offense, with a second press at the apex of the jump. Shots close to the rim attempt a dunk, with a cutscene either showing a successful dunk or a blocked shot by a defender. Certain penalties are also in effect, with an offensive foul, defensive foul, and a traveling call for jumping up and down without shooting. One novel aspect in this game that many NES basketball games lack is the ability to jump pass; that is, jump into the air, then suddenly pass to the teammate rather than shooting. Passing options, of course, do not exist in the one-on-one matches.
There are eight different characters to choose from, who will comprise the two or four players on the outdoor court. The player can view a profile for each before making choices, the profile showing their strengths and what they look like. They have somewhat humorous names such as Mr. Doc, Pretty Face (shortened to Face on the menu), Zap, the token girl Barbie, etc. Each has a differing combination of traits in the area of height (short or tall), shooting ability, defensive ability (ease of stealing and blocking), and speed, though these are not made clear through numerical means, rather intangible descriptions.
Before the game begins, options can be selects to play to 10, 15, 20, or 25 points; winner’s out or losers outs, which determines whether the team who just made a basket gets the ball back or give it to their opponent; and whether play takes place on the Eastern or Western court, purely a slight aesthetic difference. The first event is determining which team begins with possession, either by shooting for it or playing a round of Around The World, in which the first team member to hit a shot from seven different spots, switching turns every miss, gets possession.
Gameplay proceeds smoothly, on what looks like a blacktop court. Each time the ball is rebounded or stolen near the basketball, the ball-handler must “take it back;” that is, bring the ball back out past the free-throw line either by dribbling or passing to an opponent there, a classic rule for half-court basketball. A one-player game can continue with each victory until fifteen consecutive wins are attained, achieving a special ending sequence. The player can even continue such a streak via a password unlocked with each victory, a worthy addition for a basketball game on the NES.
This is actually a decent-looking game, with colorful sprites for the athletes, differentiating them individually more than most NES basketball sims. The court has an urban setting viewable in the background when under the rim, definitely giving this game a legitimate streetball atmosphere. The cutscenes for dunks are very well done, animated in a stop-motion, frame-by-frame format like Double Dribble, rather than the fluid flow of Ultimate Basketball, but managing to achieve a nice, satisfactory effect. The menus are plain but clear, and there are definitely less slowdown and flickering issues than the usual 8-bit basketball simulation.
The background music on both the title screen and during actual gameplay is, unfortunately, very repetitive and generic-sounding, but at least it is somewhat well-rendered, taking advantage of a few of the NES sound channels, despite the title track being humorously long-noted at first before a fun lilt down the scale. The sound effects are oddly de-emphasized, having very little appearance except the “swish” for made shots and dunks, then the whistle for fouls.
Among the NES basketball games, this is among the most creative, though it does follow the basic outline of Roundball 2-On-2 Challenge, but with much better execution, adding the selectable characters like Arch Rivals. The slightly more genuine feel of the streetball setting is a nice tweak as well.
But what really sets this cartridge apart, and enhances its replay value, is the password setting. Perhaps once the arduous 15-game streak is attained, the only challenge left to repeated the same lengthy tournament over with all possible team combinations, but playing with a friend is fun as well. Otherwise, this game truly could have benefited from a more hip-hop sound in its music, with thumping bass and quick-cut notes, or at least had more powerful sound effects. Also, one slightly annoying issue is that after a game finishes, it shows the password then skips back to the title screen, making the player take the extra step of choosing the continue option; rather than, much more simply and less aggravatingly, seamlessly continuing the tournament play. Nonetheless, this is a fun game with plenty of possibility, worth a shot – especially for basketball fans. Hoops nets three and a half stars out of five for a well-rounded experience.