Genre: Sports Developer: Malibu Interactive Publisher: Sega Players: 1-5 Release: 1994
The king of 16-bit basketball belonged to Electronic Arts, especially when NBA Live released, though most companies sought to get an audience with realistic games with few exceptions like NBA Jam. Sega was one of the early companies to try its hand at a few like Pat Riley Basketball and David Robinson’s Supreme Court, both of which had no impact. It didn’t give up when its next title was NBA Action ‘94 in early 1994. It is an attempt at realistic basketball, and a good one.
NBA ‘94’s graphics are pretty mediocre. The few bright spots are the animations around the basket and the movements of the players; however, they are a bit small and the home courts look weird in certain colors. Some of them have a few distinguishing features that resemble their real life counterparts. The court looks bland, and nothing happens with the pixelated crowd. Overall, any other basketball on the Genesis trumps this.
NBA Action ‘94’s audio is good. The music has that ‘90s approach, as if you’re watching a game on television, especially regarding its intro theme. The sound effects are basic but expected for a basketball game. There’s the dribbling of the ball, along with crowd reactions in regards to passing and shooting. Voicing, however, is the biggest surprise. Similar to other Sega Sports games, NBA Action ’94 features commentary. Marv Albert provides it, and they managed to make a number of his phrases sound clear. It is one of the best aspects of the game.
As mentioned, NBA Action ‘94 is a realistic attempt at basketball. A few modes include exhibition, season and playoffs, with different lengths in the last two modes. Four quarters of play determine which one of two teams wins unless a tie forces overtime. Controlling the players is pretty easy to grasp. You shoot, pass and pump fake on offense. Speed bursts work both ways in that it allows you to drive to the basket or run into trouble with a charging foul. Defense allows the player to jump, attempt to steal, and switch to whoever is closest to the ball. One of the unique features is its ability to have a certain amount of defensive aggression to get the ball back, which is similar to the speed burst function.
There are 30 teams in this version. All 27 teams at the time are here with 10 players on each team. This is based on the 1993-94 season, so you’ll see players like Isiah Thomas on the Pistons, James Worthy for the Lakers, and any players that had or hadn’t been traded prior to the deadlines for this game. There are also three Hall of Fame teams, which give the player the opportunity to play as Pete Maravich, Julius Erving, Bob Lanier, and other legends. It is a one to five-player game, which offers a boat load of ways to play the game when a multi-tap is put in. Even crazier is all five players being controlled at one time, something that wasn’t seen back then.
As far as pertaining to the rules, NBA ‘94 follows the basics for running a game. Clock violations depend on how long one holds the ball. Certain scenarios of fouling may result in just a team foul or having the shooter go to the free throw line. Charging can occur, but you can’t go out of bounds, so forcing anyone off the court is not possible. Also, no injuries can happen, which with only ten player teams, is understandable.
In a way, this game feels like a successor to David Robinson’s Supreme Court (Sega and Malibu under Acme Interactive, 1992). Some of the core features are here or improved, and defense really plays a vital role compared to most basketball games. As mentioned, one feature is allowing a certain amount of aggression to the defense. Every player has their hot spots and weaknesses, so timing is one of the big keys. It can lead to either more attempts to score or someone fouling out on both sides. Certain players can sustain fatigue very early in a quarter or late in one, with substitutions forcing you to rethink how to attack opponents. It requires a lot more focus than any basketball game on the Genesis, but feels like a big improvement over Supreme Court.
That being said, the only complaint I would have with NBA Action ’94 is the graphics. Other than not looking good, it’s hard to determine when you get fouled, mostly if it’s a charging one. You can’t tell when it happens, since there are no notable animations. Other than that, it’s a pretty fun game with a few options to mess with quarter lengths, turn off fouls and fatigue, and listen to a sound test. It’ll take a while to get games played depending on the quarter length, but check out NBA Action ‘94. While not the best replacement of playing it over an EA Sports game on the system, it is a respectable one that plays better than you think.