Sometimes video game developers go through awkward phases, and the NBA Playoffs series is a classic example. Before they established the NBA Live series and never looked back, EA Sports developed and released four basketball games that focused on the excitement of the NBA Playoffs, and one which solely featured international play. The final game in the series, NBA Showdown (1993), incorporated all NBA teams. It was when Andrew Anthony began to declare “it’s in the game.”  It was also when EA Sports realized their way of making basketball games was “in the past.”
The simulation is what makes this game a relic. Showdown doesn’t improve much over Bulls vs. Lakers, the first game in the series, released in 1991 on the Sega Genesis. There is a variety of shot makes and misses, and even some hook-shots from the “bigs.”The mad slam-dunks are a good idea, but even those look like an intern’s first effort at stop-go animation. Player movements are choppy and slow, and there’s no sprint button to be had, making quicker players a premium. Clearly, this game was made before the time when it was thought fast-breaks were possible to reproduce in video games. Showdown gives the game of basketball an overall lethargic feel I never associated with the NBA in the 90s.
On the other hand, from a strictly visual perspective, the graphics hold their own. The player likenesses are evident, especially for such iconic teams as the Chicago Bulls, giving high-stakes match-ups from the era a classic feel. Much effort was put into giving the court realistic appeal. Fans rave in the stands, players sit on the bench, a jumbo-tron hangs above center court and coaches do hilarious hops on the sideline throughout the game. The hardwood shows game-day sheen and displays the home team colors. Throughout the NBA Playoffs series, EA Sports showed a knack for adding the “extras” to gameplay, even as they ironed out the brass tacks.
Another way EA Sports takes advantage of the extras is by implementing the EA Sports Desk. Ron Barr, the “face of NHL 94”,  and fictional announcer KC Darty put in their two cents every match, usually laying in a corny joke to boot. Earlier games in the series are commentated by Bing Gordon, who at the time was the Executive Vice President for EA Studios . While lines like “Again, the final score is…” show weaknesses in the script writing (a shame that, being in the third grade, they didn’t ask for my help), creating a sports network solely for multiple sports game series was marketing genius. It was a way of saying, “these sports experiences are brought to you by us, the experts.”
The trade-off for a less than stellar simulation experience is the ability to play with any team in the NBA for a full season, or playoffs only. You can skip as many of your 82 season games as you please, a particularly helpful aspect once you’ve clinched a playoff berth. Stats are tracked for major categories, but good luck leading the league if you only play 2 minute quarters like me! A fun winkle is a trade feature, where you can exchange starter for starter with any team during the season. Want Michael Jordan, Isaiah Thomas and Shaquille O’ Neal on your team? Knock yourself out. Or for variety you can comprise a team of short players, tall players, elite stealers, rebounders, etc.
Playoff mode will warp you to Spring b-ball when legends are made. Pick from any team and be entered into a 16-team tournament, where the Western and Eastern Conference Champions face off for the trophy. Just like in the NBA, the first round is best-of-five, while the final three rounds are best-of-seven. So you must win a minimum 15 games to be declared champ, and no skipping this time! Although the same old gameplay tricks work for sure-fire success in the playoffs, the competition does seem to stiffen as you near the prize.
During gameplay the controls should be simple, but aren’t. On defense, A/Y jumps and B switches to a defender near the ball. On offense, A/Y shoots and B passes. The B function is muddled by not being able to choose exactly who you want to change or pass to. As if all players lack proper motor skills, pulling down a rebound is difficult, and not helped by how congested with bodies the key can become. “Who’s got the ball?” After a rebound I have to tap B a few times to even see if I have possession. Other than a responsive directional pad, there is not one element of the controls that leave much to be desired.
All that said, the most frustrating aspect of this game, bar none, is the collision control. It’s all too easy to bump into a defensive player and be hit with a charging foul, which also gives the ball to the other team. Since defenders stick on you like glue, I’ve taken to the habit of dribbling around until a teammate is stationary enough for me to use him as a pick, then peal right off for an open lay-up. Generally, the man guarding you won’t even try to fight through the pick, but remain next to your teammate dazed. AI issues occur when you’re defending as well, as an offensive player can be paused in his tracks if you place your body in front of him.
In sum, the NBA Showdown series is not easy for the casual SNES fan to jump into. But if you enjoy reminiscing about the NBA stars of the late 80s and early 90s, Showdown could be your cup of tea. Where there is lack of fluid simulation, there is no lack of character. Showdown does have a way of making me nostalgic for the days when the Chicago Bulls overcame all obstacles. Those were truly inspiring times for a boy growing up in the rural Midwest.
Three Stars out of Five
 For a humorous tutorial on how to say this phrase like Anthony, watch:
 An interesting interview with Ron Barr:
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