Genre: Sports Developer: Hitmen Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-4 Released: 1995
When you set a bar that high, it’s hard to top. That’s the thing that will make people ponder about NBA Live ‘96. Releasing late in the Genesis’ run in late 1995, it had big shoes to fill. I’m of the opinion that Live ‘95 is the top basketball game for the system, but this iteration is pretty solid. You’re getting a few refinements in about every aspect. Without any new additional content however, it’s a step below ‘95 and even the next year with ‘97.
Getting into the meat of the game, Live ‘96 has the same modes seen in its predecessor. There is still the exhibition where there is every team at the time to choose and immediately get into the action. Only two save files are allowed instead of three and the choice in number of games played is still there. The playoffs option is virtually the same in terms of games played and choosing any teams. New is the ability to auto-simulate the playoffs if you don’t want to play them yourself. Also, season mode has changed a little bit. You can play as one to four teams of your liking and dictate how you want to season to conclude. The season mode still allows simulation, trades, and looking up stats.
NBA Live ‘96 features all 29 teams, which included the then-new expansion Toronto and Vancouver (now Memphis) teams. Each team is ranked in several categories and overall rating. New is a team report with some history on what some of these franchises did, even going back to the sport’s debut. Up to four players can play a game together. Once you have your options and team selection, it’s onto the court. Controlling is virtually the same. Offensively, you can use a speed burst, shoot, and pass. This game does take advantage of the six-button controller to allow you to pick certain plays, which we’ll get to in a bit. On defense, you can speed, jump, and switch players along with picking plays. Get more points in four quarters and you win.
While the graphics are mostly the same, it’s the little details that make it a little better than ‘95. It’s stuff like the team names in the out-of-bounds areas, more detailed logos and promos on the court and scrolling screen near the crowd. There are more animations, especially with dunks. Other than that, it’s mostly the same player models and animations along with the crowds and a darker-looking court. The audio still goes for that hip hop and rock approach in music. It fits well, and a bit of music is even played when a turnover or foul happens, which again is part of the little details. The sound effects are mostly the same but with a few different grunts from players and an air horn. The crowd is better in how they cheer and react to baskets and players being knocked down.
The options are pretty much the same as before. You can play arcade-style like NBA Jam and knock players to ground. The ability to customize the rules is back, and playing simulation rules is like an actual game. They got just about every rule in the game, from fouls to goaltending. The rules can be adjusted at any time in the options menu before and during the game. Aside from that, there aren’t many options and what’s there is mostly the same as previous versions. You got the same choices for music, slow dunks, and player ratings. Three difficulty modes are given again, and quarter length is back (a typical game will take 15 minutes to maybe just about or over hour depending on the options chosen). Pausing the game on the court, you can change strategies with schemes on both sides of the ball, along with calling time-outs and watching instant replays. Team selections still allow creating names to show how good or bad you are overall. The only thing that’s really new is the create-a-player. Unless your battery dies, the rosters shouldn’t have to draft players to Toronto and Vancouver. If it did, either you must deal with it or open the cart to replace the battery.
Like ‘95, this edition plays very well. It’s smooth, and there is a lot of freedom compared to several basketball games on the Genesis. Free throws are button-based to where you need it to hit the middle twice. On the court, find the sweet spot and you’ll be draining buckets all day. I really don’t have any complaints about how Live ’96 plays. There was some flicker during gameplay, but that isn’t a huge problem. Some slowdown was also seen, but it was very rare. Both these complaints are really just minor nitpicks.
The difficulty is a little harder depending on the difficulty chosen, but there’s a good balance here between being fun and challenging. There is just enough to make you think about getting Live ‘96, but the lack of additional features does hurt it a little bit. You’re still getting a solid game overall, though. I’m not fully recommending NBA Live ‘96 but do check it out. Like the rest of the series, it’s pretty common and inexpensive. While I would put Live ‘97 over this iteration, since it does play things a little safe, that’s not always a bad thing. Live ’96 is still a clutch game you can get plenty of enjoyment out of.
Score: 7 out of 10