There’s a lot of things that can be said for Bill Laimbeer. He was one of the main reasons the late 80s Detroit Pistons were considered the Bad Boys. They were some of the roughest defenses teams like the Celtics, Bulls, and Knicks had to deal with. Some of their playoff series against the Celtics were very crazy, but in the end, Detroit got two championships out of this era. For the Genesis, there were plenty of sports celebrity endorsed games from the likes of Joe Montana and Pat Riley. I’m curious as to why Hudson Soft got Laimbeer to endorse Combat Basketball. Lofty expectations for one of the very first SNES basketball games, I guess.
To explain this, there aren’t too many games we can discuss. This seems to be inspired by Arch Rivals, the predecessor to NBA Jam. That had two on two basketball where punching and knocking out players was allowed. This was around the time where Combat Basketball and Sega’s attempts with Pat Riley and David Robinson created basketball games that barely used the names of their players.
However, they try to put a reason why the 2030s have a different change to the sport on the back of the box; the idea is that Laimbeer becomes a commissioner and decides that it should be a no rules style of play. It fits with how he tangled with actual players back then.
As far as gameplay goes, it’s very simple. It not only feels like an Arch Rivals game, but also is similar to future games like the Mutant League set of sports. It’s a five on five game of basketball from a top down perspective. The only other game I can think of that was like this for the 16-bit era was NBA Action 95 for the Genesis. You try to shoot baskets and fight the opponent for the ball. That’s about it. There are no rules, but there are a few exceptions. Since it is on a basketball court, there is out of bounds and a backcourt violation. Otherwise, there’s no fouls, goaltending, three in the key, none of that. Pure balls to the wall basketball with plenty of knockdowns.
The graphics are plain and very minimal. Nothing to showcase the hardware that couldn’t be done on its other 16-bit rivals. It does have some okay colors and it isn’t ugly. However, the animations are lacking due to the top down perspective despite some nice scaling of the basketball when bouncing.
As with the case above, the audio is minimal, too. There is music, and while it fits with the futuristic theme, there’s only a few tracks. Then again, not many sports games had much music. Only a couple sound effects exist in the game. You will hear mostly grunts when knocking someone down, the bouncing basketball and when it hits and lands in the basket. For presentation, it’s okay, but not the best way to show off the SNES.
The controller for this system, when used right, can give you plenty of inputs to support what the developers envisioned. For example, NBA Live has different button inputs for shooting, passing, speed. Everything in Laimbeer is relegated to the B button and it’s also strange. What I don’t like is that similar to Joe Montana II on the Genesis where you have to be still when throwing, you have to stand still when attempting a shot. However, it is something you can get used to. That same button when moving allows you to knock out your opponent temporarily. There is also power-ups that help or hinder your progress through the game. I don’t know if playing with a friend would ruin a friendship, but it can be played with two players.
One thing I’ll give Hudson credit for is having a league mode and playoffs. The only other feature is the exhibition mode. For that one, you can play on one of four difficulty modes. I would advise to play it on one of the first two easier modes, as the computer on the harder two are way more aggressive than they should be. Although, none of the difficulty modes is a walk in the park. You can’t pick a team, but you can in the league mode. It’s similar to what the NES would have not long after this came out with Tecmo Super Bowl. You can play as any team in your division. One ridiculous part is editing the teams names and their uniform color. That was a thing you didn’t see often, if not, ever.
There is a bit of depth to the league mode. You start on the lowest of four divisions and a set number of games in that. As you do well, you will be able to progress and not only get to the better divisions, but also earn money. No matter how you do, you get funds for your team, though the amount varies on wins, ties, and losses.
There are also money pick ups when playing the game. Your team will consist of players with varying stats, similar to most NBA teams. If you want better players, save up, trade some of your weaker guys, and get the ones that fit your philosophies on offense and defense. This was long before games like NFL 95 and NBA Live 95 where you could upgrade or downgrade teams, so it feels somewhat innovative, though not to the level of those examples because of free agency in those.
At first I thought this was as horrible as some said it was. But it grew on me. This is one of those games people don’t put the effort in to realize how the mechanics are and to get used to it. It’s surprisingly decent. Sure, the controls are relegated to the B button, but I don’t see it as a huge deal-breaker. It’s like any game that might seem hard at first, but once you’re used to it, it plays quite well. The only other negative is the presentation being minimal.
Besides that, Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball is playable and I dare say decent. This doesn’t even come close to being one of the worst games or worst sports games ever. Would I recommend it? Not really. However, considering the system’s lineup of basketball, this is an alternative to EA ones, the NBA Jam series, and Tecmo Super NBA. It’s at least worth a try or two.
Three stars out of five.
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