With NBA Courtside 2002, Nintendo is first out of the gate with a hoops simulation on the GameCube. Much like the previous games in the series, Courtside 2002 has intuitive controls and fast-paced gameplay, but on the GameCube it is now complemented by some rather impressive visuals. However, despite the fact that it's a solid first-year effort, Courtside 2002 isn't without its flaws and is generally a step behind more seasoned competing products.
NBA Courtside 2002 features essentially the same modes of play as its Nintendo 64 predecessor. They are quick play, season, skills, and arcade. The quick play and season modes are rather self-explanatory. The quick play mode lets you take part in a single NBA game, while the season mode lets you take an NBA team through an entire season with the ability to trade, sign, and release players. The lack of a full franchise mode is disappointing, but that oversight is certainly forgivable given the fact that Courtside 2002 is a first-year product on the GameCube.
Aside from the season and quick play modes, the skills and arcade modes of play warrant further analysis. The arcade mode is very much like the ones that appeared in previous games in the Courtside series and is similar in style to the NBA Showtime series of games. In this mode, all the physics are exaggerated, as players can perform outlandish dribble moves and jump to unrealistic heights to throw down monster dunks. There are also hot spots that appear on the floor, and shots taken from these spots count for more points than regular baskets. The inclusion of these hot spots means that rather than trying to score based on defensive openings, you'll can simply wait for a hot spot to appear shortly before the shot clock expires and take four-, five-, and six-point shots. A proper street mode would have been welcome, but in and of itself the arcade mode is certainly entertaining. The game's skill mode features a three-point shooting contest and also gives you the ability to practice. The three-point shooting mode would have been a great addition if it weren't entirely too easy. Frequently, we found ourselves making more than 95 percent of our threes with solid shooters like the Kings' Peja Stojakovic--there is hardly any challenge in this mode.
The controls, which are an essential aspect of any simulation sports game, are solid in NBA Courtside 2002. There are two buttons for dribble moves, one for simple crossovers and another for more complex moves. Additionally, the game's developers have put the analog C stick on the GameCube controller to excellent use by giving the player the option to use it to pass. You can still use the B button to pass the ball, but the C-stick passing opens up the possibility performing a wide array of no-look dishes. The only problem is that the position of the C stick makes it difficult to use for quick passes, but it works well when you have time to plan out your dishes. The gameplay in general is also quite entertaining. Players will fly up and down the court, and the general pace of the game is on par with the rhythm of actual NBA games. Still, there are some problems with NBA Courtside 2002 that detract from the overall gameplay experience.
The most basic issue with the game is its AI on both ends of the court. On offense, the computer-controlled players have a one-track mind, as they relentlessly try to get the ball to the basket for layups and dunks. Offensive players will only pass the ball around for the purpose of driving to the hoop and will often pass up open jumpers. And since your AI defenders will make boneheaded mistakes, generally they'll be able to get to the basket even if you're playing solid defense. Basically, the only instances where AI teams will usually attempt mid- and long-range jumpers is when you get them to run the offensive play clock down by playing tight defense. The flaws in the defensive AI for the computer team are a bit more subtle and aren't as detrimental to the single-player games. Essentially, it is a bit too easy to get to the basket in NBA Courtside 2002--a couple of dribble moves, and you're free to fly in for a layup or dunk. These AI issues compromise the game's simulation aspects and are quite apparent even on the hardest difficulty settings.
However, AI isn't the only concern in NBA Courtside 2002. For starters, there are nagging problems like minor control issues. In the game, you can box out and crouch on defense using the right shoulder button. However, the player's lateral movement slows to a crawl when you're facing up on an offensive player, making it all too easy for him to blow right by you. This problem is further magnified in two-player games, which, partially as a result, turn into dunk-fests. The steal animation is also a bit too exaggerated. Most times when you go for a steal it leaves you hopelessly out of position, so you have to use turbo to catch up, and a few precious seconds pass before you can recover. If you like apply full-court pressure and go for a lot of steals, you'll have a tough time doing so in NBA Courtside 2002. Another problem is the lack of team-specific plays. The game lets you call offensive and defensive plays on the fly using the directional pad, but the teams in the game don't have their own identities in terms of play calling. For next year's game, we'd like to see the inclusion of the Lakers' triangle offense and the Spurs' high-post game, for example. The final, and perhaps the most perplexing, problem is the lack of zone defenses and the defensive three-second call. Both are now an essential part of the NBA game but have simply been ignored by the game's developer.
Gameplay aside, where NBA Courtside 2002 truly shines is in its visuals. The game has, bar none, the most accurate player faces ever seen in a basketball game. When the players are introduced at the start of every game, their real-life team photos are shown alongside the virtual models, and the similarities in terms of facial features are uncanny. The rest of the game's visuals aren't too shabby either. Courtside 2002 features virtual replicas of all the actual courts in the league. Every arena, from the MCI Center to The Pyramid in Memphis, is faithfully re-created in the game. There are some flaws in the graphics department--for example, the players can look disconnected from the court itself at times--but generally the game's graphics are on par with those of competing products. The animations are almost equally as good. There are a variety of dribble moves, ranging from simple crossovers to more complex crossover and spin combinations. There are also a number of new dunk and layup animations in the game.
In terms of audio, Courtside 2002 features commentary from a professional announcing crew and ambient crowd noises and sound effects. Unfortunately, there is no player chatter, which would have been a great addition to the series in order to further immerse the player in the NBA experience. The announcing is usually spot-on, but like many hoops simulations on the market, it lacks any sort of pizzazz and can get repetitive after a while.
NBA Courtside 2002 is solid in terms of gameplay and spectacular in the graphics department. However, the problems with its AI, the lack of zone defenses, the control issues, and the generally bland presentation keep it from achieving hoops simulation greatness. Still, Courtside 2002 is currently the only basketball simulation available on the GameCube, and, as such, it deserves a close look from basketball fans.