NBA In The Zone '98

Konami's basketball game has arrived, but will it satisfy basketball fans?

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Genre: Sports
Origin: Japan

Konami's NBA In The Zone '98 is the second basketball offering so far for Nintendo 64 and unlike its only competition for the console, Midway's NBA Hangtime, the game strives to be a basketball simulation and not a sports-arcader. In other words, Konami has attempted to re-create the sport of basketball with as much emphasis on realism as possible. If you're looking for arcade-goofs like players on fire and sky-dunks then be warned: In The Zone won't deliver.

The Facts

  • 1-4 players simultaneously
  • Rumble-Pak support
  • Full NBA licensing, including real teams and players
  • Four gameplay modes: Exhibition, Playoffs, All-Star and Season
  • Full player and team stats, including an up-to-date roster
  • Team play schedules
  • Team info
  • Game options (difficulty, player display, quarter length, etc.)
  • Fully configurable controller-scheme
We don't know exactly what happened here, but we wish the development team could somehow make it un-happen. OK, so it's not quite that bad, but there are a number of problems, the first and most important being that the game is simply boring. It's generic, formula-basketball, with no thrills, no spills and no real excitement.

Players move slowly around the court, with sluggish response times that become frustrating at times. The ball rolls to a dead-stop after one bounce and feels as if it is filled with sand, but none of this matters because players will be too busy mashing buttons in an attempt to figure out what's going on to ever see the ball, anyway.

And while a number of options and moves are available, Konami's original control-scheme is ridiculous. It's as if the development team studied the very best way to set-up the controllers for a perfect gaming experience and then did the opposite. Changing players is done with the C-Down button and shooting a free-throw is done with the analog stick. Luckily, the game's control-scheme can be modified to a player's liking, but we're still left to wonder what Konami was thinking with the original setup.

The artificial intelligence for players is dead-on sometimes and totally clueless others. For example, players can easily get away with running the same play over and over again -- the computer will never pick up on it. Throw the ball down the court and then slam dunk it. Throw the ball once more down the court and slam it again, and again, and again, and again, all the while asking yourself if the computer has gone to sleep. On the other hand, team coverage is automatic as soon as a player gets the ball, and it's often hard to lose a guard on the half-court after stuttering.

All of this sounds terribly bad, but it's not: it's mediocre. Chances are you won't hate how the game plays, but you may not particularly like it, either. And when compared to other basketball games which sport the added extras, you may downright hate it.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner and new title-holder for "Most Blurry Game on Nintendo 64." Everything, from the grayed-out, barely discernible crowd right down to the Vaseline-smeared court are filled with glorious blur, courtesy of unnecessary bi-linear filtering and anti-aliasing, not to mention a low-resolution.

Animation is better; players move realistically and with a steady fluidity. When an athlete passes the ball behind his back it looks as if he's really doing so. Cross-overs are done seamlessly and also look as if the player meant to do it all along. There framerate is consistently high, but it's not as if the game is highly detailed or extremely fast. And there is a total of ten camera angles and nine of them are useless, as they block players from viewing the action.

However, in the end smooth animation cannot deter us from the fact that the game is a blurry mess and an insult on the eyes.

Once again, Konami shines in the sound department. Crowds cheer in full surround sound, baskets swoosh, the announcer occasionally calls the plays with a full echo -- it's all there. The only problem we found here was the game's music, which is repetitive, but no biggie considering the storage format.

Four players can play at once against one-another or on the same team. The multiplayer option is the best part of the game, despite its few minor annoyances. Once again the camera angle prevents players from seeing all the action at once and often a group of athletes will pile up against each other, making it extremely hard to figure out what's going on.

The final word
Believe it or not, we cannot recommend this game over Midway's NBA Hangtime. Both games are flawed, both in gameplay and graphics, but at least Hangtime offers players a few laughs now and again and keeps the action coming.

Hard-core basketball fans looking for the end-all simulation are sure to be disappointed, but those seeking the bare essentials of the sport may find it to their liking -- if they can get past the blur.