Nintendo's first attempt at capturing the magic of professional basketball, NBA Courtside, was a meager one at best. This time around Nintendo hasn't held anything back, and Courtside 2 is simply a much better game that not only looks and plays better than the original but offers players so much more, with goodies like its NBA Showtime-style arcade mode.
Of course, the game features the full NBA license, which lets it include all the teams and players from the NBA. The game has the usual modes you would expect, like exhibition, season, three-point shootout, create-a-player, and arcade. Courtside 2's arcade mode is a huge surprise and is really what an arcade mode should be - an over-the-top, crazy-dunking, rim-rocking good time. The arcade mode throws out all the normal rules of basketball. But unlike other arcade modes, NBA Courtside 2's gives you some crazy new rules that make it a bit like MTV's Rock 'n' Jock B-Ball Jam. For example, hot spots that appear on the floor are worth five, ten, or 15 points if you can shoot a basket from the spot. In addition to the hot spots, the game features a momentum meter that builds in your team's favor with every shot you put in the basket. Once a team fills its side of the momentum meter, the team basically catches on fire, NBA Jam-style. The ball leaves smoke trails, and you can land three pointers more regularly. Last but not least, you can dunk from the three-point line. There are a few other features like sonic boom dunks, which make all the opposing team players fall to the floor. It's really a whole lot of fun, especially with two or more players. The gameplay and control are decent and responsive. The players do, however, have a bit of animation time that you must take into account when playing. The two control schemes for advanced and basic play make it easy to get into the game, while still giving you more to learn. The AI on the hard-difficulty setting is remarkably bright. The computer will force you to move the ball around and wait for an opportunity to score. Sure, you still have transitions where the computer won't get its defense set up in time, and you'll be able to sneak in a quick field goal. More often than not you'll be strapped to find an easy two. On the lower settings, the computer makes stupid mistakes and fails to capitalize on the ones you make. You can literally leave a CPU-controlled man unguarded in the paint after he receives the pass and he'll just hang out for awhile and not realize he's got an open shot. Once you do get a feel for the game and the advanced control scheme, bump up the difficulty setting, and most of the stupid mistakes the computer makes on the lower settings will disappear.
Graphically, Courtside 2 is a whole lot better than last year's game. The game this year runs in a nice, high-res graphics mode - even without the expansion pak. If you do have the 4MB expansion, the game will use its extra memory to show longer replays. The players' faces this year are a lot more detailed and defined than they were in the last game. Each head uses 2000 polygons, making each player look a lot more like his real-life counterpart. The animation of the players on the court looks a lot smoother this year. The players all run, dunk, shoot, and perform the rest of their moves quite naturally. Kobe Bryant and Jelani McCoy were motion captured for the game, so when you see Kobe go up for a dunk in the game it really is Kobe doing the dunk. The only graphical issue the game has is the collision detection and clipping that seems to have problems when the players are close together under the net. You can see some of the players' arms pushing through one another, but even this is extremely minor since you only really notice it during the replays. During the instant replays and free throws, you can see facial expressions changing. While this is a nice touch and does look pretty good, you can only appreciate them during the close-ups. All the action in NBA Courtside 2 can be seen from just about any angle. The game includes nine preset camera angles, and each angle also has a zoom setting that lets you move the camera closer or farther away from the court.
While Courtside 2 gets the job done in the audio department it certainly doesn't go the extra mile. The play-by-play announcing and color commentary provided by Chick Hearn and Stu Lantz are fair. Their comments are limited but have enough variation to keep the announcing tolerable well into the season. The sound effects, while adequate, seem a little flat.
In the end, Kobe Bryant is a solid basketball game that any fan of the sport will enjoy. The arcade mode is a huge bonus that by itself is almost worth the price of the game. If you're a fan of both traditional basketball game simulations and over-the-top arcade-style basketball games like NBA Showtime, Courtside 2 is the game for you.