Double Dribble - Retro Reflections

Double Dribble by developer and publisher KonamiNintendo Entertainment System retro reflection written by Nick.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Double Dribble represents the first basketball video game I ever played. It was an incredibly basic title too, which is what you’d probably expect from a sports game from the 80’s. As a product of its time, Double Dribble is a serviceable take on the game. It’s traditional five versus five gameplay where you pass, shoot, steal, block and rebound. It covers all of the basics, even if it has few of the frills found in the more modern basketball games.

Now I remember this game incredibly fondly. It was a gift from two of my grandparents the year I got my NES (also a Christmas gift). I guess that would make this a holiday edition of Retro Reflections. Now, I’ve talked about a few of the other games I got to play right off of the bat that year, having received Elevator Action and Dragon Power from my parents as well. I was only just starting to get into sports around this time, most notably basketball and football, and I enjoyed some snowy days off of school learning my way around Double Dribble.

For one, it’s not a licensed product. That leaves us with four teams that are meant to resemble their real-life counterparts without running afoul of the actual NBA. The Double Dribble teams are the Chicago Ox, Los Angeles Breakers, Boston Frogs and New York Eagles. These fictional teams leverage the colors of their real-life counterparts (green for Boston and red for Chicago), but that’s really about as close as we get to the real thing. There’s no recognizable players here, you’re not getting Larry Bird from the Boston team for example. In fact, your players don’t show any distinctive traits at all, and you have no roster or substitution control here. 

The gameplay is similarly simple. That makes it easy to pick up, but the lack of nuance can make things feel a bit finicky as well. You only have two buttons on the old NES controllers, so Konami did what they could with the game. Fouls happen early and often as I figured things out, but once I got the hang of things, I was able to keep that to a minimum. Your AI teammates are pretty erratic as they move around, with little to no rhyme or reason to their on-court movement. But, like the fouling, I learned my way around it and was able to win far more often than not, even at the higher levels of difficulty once I got a feel for things.

The game starts off well enough, with some garbled ‘Double Dribble’ spoken, fans filing into the stadium and a quickly shown anthem to set the stage. From there though, the presentation gets dramatically more spartan. There’s no in-game music, just the sound of a repeatedly bouncing ball and some squeaking sneakers creating a sort of repetitive backdrop that does very little to excite after the first five minutes or so. 

The visuals aren’t a whole lot better, with one exception. The characters look fine given their age, but the arenas are pretty dull and lifeless. Perhaps the worst part of the presentation is that the NES was not known for being able to handle tons of sprites on the screen at once and by having ten total players on the screen, there was a lot of flickering that occurred. The only time Double Dribble’s visuals really come to life is in the sort of close-up cutscene-like dunking animations when you jump close enough to the hoop to trigger one. These look pretty great and add a cinematic touch, though with only a few variations to play out, they can lose their luster after a handful of games. 

Despite all of these flaws, there’s an undeniable charm to Double Dribble. Does it hold up to more modern basketball games? No, not in the least. However, I have some rosy tinted holiday glasses I can put on and comfortably enjoy this title despite it’s flaws. Heck, flaws doesn’t really feel fair to say – but limitations. Double Dribble is a product of its time, and I spent a lot of hours enjoying it. Even if that first night, while the family was gathered around in the living room as I played it, I recall them asking me to turn it off or at least turn down the sound because the sound effects were kind of driving everyone bonkers. I opted to turn down the sound, at least until they all left. Then I turned it back up and went back to enjoying my first sports video game.
Article by: Nick


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