The NBA Live series has produced basketball's proverbial "game to beat" since the days of the SNES and Genesis. While the 32-bit offerings have been good, they haven't really captured the fun of the old 16-bit versions. This is EA's first N64 version of Live, and the result is a pretty good game with a lot of options.
Like previous Lives, you can customize just about every feature, right down to which fouls get called and which are ignored. So you can make the game as complex as the real thing or strip it down to the basics and play it like a five-on-five version of NBA Jam. An arcade setting turns on superhuman dunks, burning hoops, and incredibly stupid cartoon noises to accompany gameplay. Aside from the usual exhibition, season, and play-off games, there is also a three-point shooting contest, reminiscent of the one found in EA's classic Jordan vs. Bird: One on One. On the managerial side, you can trade and release players, making them free agents, to build your own superteam. You can also create players at will to place on your modified teams.
The gameplay is standard for the genre. You can play it with two or three buttons, but every single button on the controller does something. So if you want to pull off advanced maneuvers, they're reasonably easy to execute. Icon passing and defensive player selection are in the game, and you can call different offensive and defensive sets. You can, of course, leave the play calling to the computer if you wish. The AI of your teammates is pretty good. They'll shuffle around the court in an attempt to get open, and they'll defend the basket pretty well, though they aren't aggressive enough to get many steals. The opposing team AI ranges from moronic (rookie) to "just set the controller down, because you don't have a chance" (superstar).
The graphics in Live are nice, although the animation looks a little jerky. Sound-wise, Live is great, with the exception of the (thankfully) easily disabled arcade mode sounds. The cartoon running and bouncing noises are incredibly lame. The commentary is sparse, but well timed, and is about par for the course considering the limitations of the cartridge format.
NBA Live 99 has enough options and tweaks to allow anyone to play it. New players can pick it up, learn a couple of buttons, and do reasonably well against the computer, while longtime fans of Live can pick this one up and fall right into their old ways. The NBA season may be in jeopardy, but Live is open for business and always ready for a game.