Genre: Sports Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1-2 Released: 1989
Sports games are a staple of any console library, and basketball has always been a favorite worldwide. During the 8-bit era, it was too perhaps too much to expect titles to have fully licensed NBA teams and players. and the Master System made no attempt in that area (not even a celebrity endorsement, until Pat Riley Basketball was ported). Pickings were quite slim for Sega’s 8-bit fans, and trust me, Great Basketball didn’t cut it.
I grew up in the U.S., so I had no idea that there was another basketball game on the Master System. In fact, it was only a few years ago that I learned of the existence of Basketball Nightmare, a European and Brazilian exclusive. Here was a game that not only offered me an alternative to the sole North American b-ball release, but it did something entirely different; it incorporated monsters!
That puzzled look on your face? Yeah, I feel that. That was exactly how I looked upon reading about Nightmare Basketball. I’m as open-minded as anyone can be about game plots, but basketball-playing vampires and werewolves? Not only did it seem completely random, but it also sounded awesome. There were visions swirling about my brain of playing as a Nike-wearing creature of the night – headband and all – roaring with fury as I mercilessly dunked on a fear-stricken team of mummies. HELL YES.
My enthusiasm quickly began to wane as I read up on what Basketball Nightmare was actually about. Players didn’t get to actually be the monsters; they competed against them. As the captain of the Hometown High Home Boys (yes, that really was the name), your senior year was your final chance to achieve greatness. After a blitz through three consecutive tournaments, the Home Boys were finally in the All-American High School Championship. Your opponent was going to be a standard, boring ol’ group of humans. Ugh. So, the night before, you went to bed early. Hopefully, a solid eight hours might calm your nerves and sharpen your senses.
Unfortunately, the night offered no comfort. Tossing and turning, your unconscious mind drifted. You dreamed that the Home Boys were playing a cadre of monster teams, each hell-bent on taking a win… and your teams souls! The deal was that if you could beat all your ghoulish opponents, the All-American Championship would be a cake walk. Ok, not the mummy-thumping monster bash I had hoped for, but there was definitely potential for some fun.
Potential there was – missed potential. Though Basketball Nightmare had a cool premise and some decent presentation, it was about as substantive as a fangless vampire. I wasn’t not overly concerned with the simplistic gameplay (pretty much only the basics of shooting, passing, and stealing are there, and there are fouls), but the overall repetitive nature was Basketball Nightmare’s biggest flaw. The single-player mode pitted the Home Boys against six rival monster teams that included some typical types: wolfmen, cyclopses, vampires, and witches; as well as some odd choices like turtlemen and Japanese river spirits called Kappa. The monster league was an eclectic bunch, but these baddies came to ball!
Basketball Nightmare had a continue option, though it probably wasn’t needed. It didn’t take long to beat the six teams, and I think the developers knew this, as they included a two-player mode as well. Only human players were available – the international teams that were competing in the All-American Championship – and it’s not all that different from Great Basketball. I can’t see why anyone would play this mode unless Basketball Nightmare was their only way of playing against a friend. The real attraction here was against the six teams, although there wasn’t that much more meat on that bone.
Don’t get me wrong. Basketball Nightmare was fun while it lasted. The visuals helped a lot (the same can’t be said for the grating soundtrack of a single tune), with varied stages for each team and cute, super-deformed sprites for the players. There were also some cool closeups when players on either team dunked the ball. It was nice to soak it all in the first time, but that feeling kind of dissipated afterwards.
In the end, Basketball Nightmare didn’t set the world on fire, but it did have a solid foundation upon which to build. I would have liked to see it turn into something greater, with more teams, player stats, and more complex gameplay. The monster sports genre finally showed what it could do with 1993’s Mutant League Football, but that franchise’s basketball title never saw release. Maybe someday someone will revisit the concept in the future. Until then, Basketball Nightmare remains an example of a decent game that failed to capitalize on a great theme.
SCORE: 5 out of 10