One of the first products to be released as a result of Konami, Disney Interactive, and ESPN's multiyear development and licensing agreement is ESPN NBA 2Night for the Dreamcast. The game offers healthy doses of recognizable ESPN-style presentation, but its familiar look and feel can't hide its glaring graphical and gameplay limitations. The game suffers from jerky animation, frequent instances of mindless AI, bland commentary, and a lack of options such as a franchise mode and online play.
NBA 2Night's most significant problem is in its animation, which is choppier than the waves George Clooney battled in The Perfect Storm. The game flow speeds up and slows down at will, and dribble drives and dunks are glaringly missing frames of animation. For example, the player will go up for a throw-down on the left side of the lane, and as if by magic he'll disappear and finish the dunk on the other side of the rim. Players will initiate dribble drives and finish off layups without ever really reaching the basket - the ball automatically floats to the rim in these situations. However, there are some bright spots. Players move realistically and effectively when they go for rebounds and when they play defense, and the post-dunk celebrations are understated and believable. Animation issues aside, the game's faulty AI compounds the game's flaws further.
Basketball games demand intelligent computer players in both the single- and multiplayer games. Because of the importance of teamwork, the sport inherently emphasizes smart play from all five players on the court. Disappointingly, the AI in NBA 2Night doesn't quite comply with that general theory. On the offensive side of the ball, the computer players are overly eager to get the ball in the hoop. So, instead of setting up even the most simplistic pick-and-roll moves and executing back-cuts, they almost always launch the shot after the first or second pass. On defense, computer players have the overreaction syndrome, where they fall for virtually every pump fake and go for shot blocks at every opportunity, instead of playing position defense. Presumably, to compensate for this lack of defensive skill by the computer-controlled players, the developers severely toned down the effectiveness of the dribble moves on offense - you will hardly ever beat your defender with dribble moves in NBA 2Night, which make them virtually useless in the game. Given the game's on-court flaws, perhaps Konami felt that its ESPN-licensed presentation would compensate for any gameplay flaws.
NBA 2Night is thick in ESPN iconography. From the commentary of the Brent Musburger and Stuart Scott announcing team to the intro video that shares its look and feel with the television show, NBA 2Night's presentation should be recognizable to most sports fans. Unfortunately, all the ESPN-specific bells and whistles do very little to enhance the game's amusement value. In fact, certain aspects, such as the gallingly repetitive color commentary from Stuart Scott, detract from the game's enjoyment. When you've heard essentially every call by the first half of the first game, you know that the virtual Scott isn't working with a broad range of audio samples.
The game is also lacking in its range of options and features. Naturally, it has the standard gameplay modes like exhibition, season, playoffs, and practice, but this year's version is missing a much-needed franchise mode, the ability to create a player, and online options - which is especially noticeable when compared to its direct Dreamcast competitor NBA 2K1. The game does have several customizable options, including three difficulty settings and the ability to turn things like the five-second back-to-the-basket option and three-second violation on or off.
NBA 2Night is an admirable first effort, but the game feels unfinished in almost every aspect, particularly on the court. The animation and game flow is disjointed, and the AI makes glaring mistakes, which if replicated in real life would have the team's coaches lining up at the unemployment line. NBA 2Night serves its purpose in providing an alternative to Sega's own basketball game, but it has a long way to go before it can compete on even ground with NBA 2K1.