Sports games are typically made obsolete when the following year's update hits store shelves. Thus, a 20-year-old basketball game for the Nintendo Entertainment System had better be amazing to warrant the 500 point Virtual Console download fee. Unfortunately, Double Dribble is far from amazing.
The game gets the fundamentals of basketball right. Each player controls a five-man team, the refs make out-of-bounds or foul calls, and shots attempted close to the hoop are more likely to go in than those tossed up from long distances. Simple, two-button controls allow you to pass, block, shoot, and change the active player.
Once you rack up a few minutes of play time, you'll start noticing some nasty design quirks that ultimately force you to play the game a certain way. Slam dunks rarely go in and most of the other shots tend to bounce off the rim. However, shots made from the free throw line and three pointers launched from the upper corners of the screen will go in nearly all of the time. Very soon, you'll find yourself exclusively attempting shots from these hot spots.
There's also the matter of the CPU's unfair ability to catch up to you. If you manage to gain a modest lead, the CPU will start to steal more frequently and land shots more often. That wouldn't be so bad, except the game isn't programmed to ease up when it's walloping you. When you're down by six points, your dunks will still twang off the rim.
Not that you'd find much to sink your teeth into even if those aspects had been nailed down. There's only the one play mode and four different teams from which you can choose. The only options you can change are the quarter length and CPU skill level, but the game does offer a two-player versus mode at least.
When Konami originally ported Double Dribble from the arcades to the 8-bit NES, people were more tolerant of the sketchy gameplay and lack of features because they were impressed by the graphics. Indeed, the large players, realistic court sound effects, and animated dunk cutaways were bleeding edge in 1987, still packing a fair bit of nostalgic charm today. There isn't a whole lot of shot variety, but the half dozen different shots you will eventually see do look nice. Of course, apart from the nostalgia factor, the graphics look crude by today's standards, meaning you won't be able to overlook the game's shortcomings as easily as you might have been able to 20 years ago.