Genre: Sports Developer: Midway Publisher: Flying Edge Players: 1-2 Released: 1992
Sometimes, you don’t want to play by the rules! You want a quick, uncomplicated game of ball, without needing complicated strategy, no offsides – or no fouls. Yeah, a game on one-on-one or two-on-two tends to become a little rough. There’s tugging, shoving, and even the occasional punch, but sometimes that’s even more fun. You can vent your playful rivalry and have a lot of fun at the game you like, street-style. So, some programmers thought it would be a great idea to transfer this idea to the arcades and made a great video game out of it. That game was NBA Jam, and it rocked! However, years earlier, the guys at Midway had already toyed with the same premise. Among the first wave of Genesis games, there was another title that took the idea of playing basketball two-on-two, without any rules, with an added emphasis on fouling the opponent as a means to win. That game was Arch Rivals. It was god-awful!
The first thing you’ll notice is the sound. The main theme consists or only two notes and one beat in between, repeating over, and over, and over – dull and monotone, like an acoustic equivalent to Chinese water torture. The sound effects – including some barely understandable voice samples – are also of a very low quality. And then there’s the fanfare sound you hear every time you score. Yes, every single time! In ice hockey it’s understandable to hear a ditty after a goal, but we’re talking basketball here! There’s a slight difference between a five goals of about fifty baskets per game! Talk about dragging things down – but more on that later.
Then there’s the graphics. Since Arch Rivals fancies itself to be, quote, “a tongue in cheek tribute to the great American sport: basketball,” it’s understandable that they decided to go for a more cartoonish appearance. However, it looks as if the developers decided to use no more than sixteen colors at most, out of the sixty-four available. The court is huge, but the character sprites – thin and stretched as they may seem, like walking carrots, are pretty small in comparison. There’s hardly anything going on in the background as well, which makes the entire screen seem pretty empty the whole time. The supporting sprites – audience, referee, coaches – seem to have no more than two or three frames of animation, and the player sprites are also move pretty jerkily. It all just looks so awkward, and the comic appearance fails entirely. The game is simply no fun at all, neither to look at nor to play.
Speaking of gameplay: What is one of the main qualities of basketball? That it’s fast! If you remove any rule, you would expect that it becomes even faster! Sadly, this is not the case here. The characters move sluggish, a thrown ball seems to fly even slower (and in a very strange arc). By the way, this is one of those games where you can easily score by throwing the ball across the entire field. It is possible to win rather easily by constantly fouling the opponent, picking up the ball and immediately throwing it, wherever you stand (if you can bare. And remember the ditty you hear every time a basket is made? This is accompanied by a little “comic” sequence, meaning that every time someone scores a basket, the game is interrupted and you have to look at one of four different pictures. Fun! Nice to see that the game can be slowed down even more!
So, Arch Rivals is a horrible basketball game, no doubt about it. There are “teams,” but the existence of those is irrelevant since you only have a roster of eight barely distinguishable characters available, and you’ll only get to pick one, whom you’ll control the entire game. Still, we still got the rough, edgy gameplay with its focus on fouls right? Well, yeah, there’s that: You can flat-out punch your opponent in the face (again, with no more than two frames of animation for that), or you can jump after him and – if you manage to hit him (which is kinda hard to do due to the jerky controls) smack him on the ground (which makes both sprites look like roadkill) or, if you manage to hit him quite right (hard to pull off), you can pull down his pants! Admittedly, that last thing made me giggle a bit the first time I saw it. But considering everything else – controls, sounds, graphics – this doesn’t save the game from being nothing more than a gigantic load of crap!
So, granted: Four years can make a lot of difference, especially technology-wise. While Arch Rivals was released carrying only 4 Mega Power, the NBA Jam cartridge was six times bigger. And boy, does it show, because everything, and I really mean everything seems at least six times better as well! But even without comparing this game to its younger cousin, Arch Rivals doesn’t really shine in its own right at all. Besides the “pulling down the pants” bit, this games has nothing to show for. Even for an early launch title it just comes off horrible, and it compares badly to contemporary NES games in about every single aspect! In the arch rivalry between the Genesis and the SNES, Sega’s Arch Rivals loses – badly!