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NBA Live ’97

Genre: Sports Developer: Hitmen/NuFX Publisher: Electronic Arts Players: 1-4 Released: 1996

Whenever a system lasts for a long period, you can count on EA Sports games to release its yearly installments. For 16-bit systems, there were still golf, football, and hockey titles coming for them for many years after newer hardware had arrived. Of course, there’s NBA Live and its ’97 edition late in 1996. Live ’96 played things well but safe. The next installment expands on a number of ideas and new features that gives it a better experience. It doesn’t top ’95, but it comes very close.

Just like before, Live ‘97 has 29 teams at your disposal. The same kind of rankings that showed how well or bad they performed are still around. You still have a team report about the franchises and their accomplishments during their tenures in the NBA. The game has the same feature letting of up to four players play together. NBA Live ’97 has the same modes as the previous two entries. There’s exhibition, season, and playoff modes. You can still play as any team and with the season and playoffs, as well as pick from one to four teams. There are also still two save files via battery backup. All of that is well and good, but what helps put this sequel over Live ’96 is the additional features, including some all-star stuff and basic pick-up street basketball. You can do two-on-two or three-on-three, do a three-point contest, or have a one-on-one shootout with any players or teams you want. The game is not trying to compete with any of the NBA Jam-style games, but it’s a nice break from having the usual simulation basketball game be your only option.

A criticism of these late-release games is the lack of any graphical changes. Live ‘97 still looks nice though, and the details to certain players and courts are fantastic. The only changes outside of the different uniforms and logos are the menus and the scrolling promotions on the court. Otherwise, EA mostly recycled the same animations and most of what we saw in ‘96.

The audio is both new and recycled. The music has been revamped and places less emphasis on a hip-hop style this time. There’s more of a rock style in the menus and when any turnovers or fouls are committed. The effect comes off more as a telecast at times or like being at an actual game. Nothing changed with the sound effects and grunts. The only thing new I can think of is a couple of voices for when a three-point shot is taken or the three-point bonus ball is shot. Still, the audio is top notch at providing a good experience.

After choosing your mode and team, it’s time to play a little b-ball. If you know the controls from the previous year’s entry, then you will have no problem getting the hang of it. This title is yet another that takes advantage of the six-button controller. On offense, you still shoot, pass, use speed bursts, and call plays based on what strategies your team has. When playing defense, you can switch players, jump, use speed bursts, and call plays. As usual, have more points through four quarters and win.

Typical of the series, Live ‘97 is still a smooth experience with a great pick-up-and-play feel to it. You can do many things on the court without being restricted. The T-meter for free throws is still here, where hitting the middle twice is a successful shot. Figure out the player’s best abilities and you will reign over your opponents in a matter of minutes. Live ‘97 has the same features as before. It can still be played like an NBA Jam game in arcade mode with no rules or anything, while having a realistic simulation mode for playing authentic basketball. The rules can still be tweaked to allow or disallow stuff like shot clocks or three in the key. These settings can still be changed before and during a game.

As with previous games, there aren’t many options, and what’s here is recycled. There are still options for things like slow dunks and computer assists, and changing the length of quarters and options for difficulty are still the norm for Live. The season mode still lets you play an entire season and allows trades, as well as provides statistics for all the players. In-game, we can still access instant replay, change strategies in both facets of basketball, and call time outs. Also returning is the create-a-player feature. Overall, none of these options needed to be fixed, so they weren’t.

There is still a good balance in the difficulty. I didn’t notice any huge issues with Live ’97, and it feels like a big upgrade, something you wouldn’t think of for an aging 16-bit console at that time. The developers fixed some of the shortcomings of ‘96 and crafted a much better release. Live ‘97 can still take 15 minutes to an hour for a game, but definitely check it out. As I said, it doesn’t surpass ‘95, but it comes very close. Give the developers credit for giving Genesis sports fans a phenomenal basketball game in the console’s twilight days.

Score: 8 out of 10.

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