Well, at least they got the title right. NBA Unrivaled truly may be without rival…as the worst basketball game ever made. Bizarre animations. Idiotic player AI. Ugly visuals. Unresponsive controls. Annoying sound effects. Developer ACRONYM Games has run the table here, screwing up so much of this Xbox Live Arcade game that it is virtually unplayable.
At first glance, the game does seem appealingly retro (well, aside from the price, which at 1,200 Microsoft points would be too much even if it were good). You can either team up with or take on a buddy either from the comfort of your couch or over the Net, though the online community is paltry at this point, which makes sense given how awful this game is. All 30 NBA clubs with their current rosters are included. Rudimentary controls handle passing, shooting, jumping, and reaching in, so you can sit down to start playing immediately despite the animations being so awful that it's difficult to get a handle on your movement.. There are even some minor frills. You can't set up a league, but you can take more control in games as a coach and do things like set up specific defenses. Momentum matters, too. Go on a run and you pump up the momentum meter, which boosts player attributes for a short while.
Not that any of this really matters. What looks like a reasonable design doc and feature list on paper has been executed abysmally. Controls are mushy and unresponsive. Occasionally players even take a couple of extra steps in one direction well after you've started pressing the left stick in another direction. Players are also maddeningly slow even on a full-out rush. The pace becomes even more tortoiselike when a defender is nearby and your player starts automatically guarding the ball. Such sluggishness is across the board, too. Speedy shooting guards play a lot like lumbering centers. Save for their scoring accuracy, you can't tell the stars from the schlubs, which erases the differences between teams so much that you could almost mistake the Raptors for the Lakers. Artificial intelligence is barely there. Your own players just shuffle back and forth on offense, while on defense, they sit back to play a soft man to man. Opponents don't seem to know what they're doing at all. They take odd shots, including occasionally ridiculous ones falling out of bounds behind the backboard, and they don't have a clue about what to do near the end of a game. You can just run the clock out with a two-point lead without worrying about being fouled, for instance.
Graphics problems exacerbate all of the above. Animations are so jerky it seems like somebody went into the game and pulled out every other frame. Players twitch and stagger around the court like some kind of sci-fi special effect gone horribly wrong. Visuals are dark, murky, and devoid of detail, except for the odd jarring moment when somebody pulls off a monster jam and the game turns into a 1970's game show for a few seconds. It is tough to keep track of who has the ball, whether or not you should go for a steal, or even when to leap up to try to block a shot and score a rebound. Making matters worse is the low camera that gives you a view of the action from the best seats in the house, a la Jack Nicholson's traditional perch at a Lakers games. This angle, which cannot be changed, puts players on the same level around the key, so whenever you get into heavy action, you can't tell who's who. Everything turns into a confusing mash of multicolored blobs. You're basically in the dark, listening to the annoying squeak of sneakers and irritating faux funk music that are the game's primary sound effects while watching the clock like a fifth grader waiting for recess.
What's most surprising about NBA Unrivaled is that it made it out to the public. Regardless of how you feel about basketball and retro basketball arcade games, you should avoid this game at all costs.