RETRO REBOOT - Jordan Vs. Bird: One-On-One (NES)

As the teams clashed a lot throughout the 80's, the rivalry between Larry Bird vs Magic Johnson was incredibly heated. The feud between Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, however, seemed way more of a marketing tool, mostly to sell McDonald's in the early 90's. I didn't watch basketball that much, so my introduction to these guys was in the form of a really crappy hoop-based basketball game. So lemme get this straight, Jordan didn't want his likeness featured in NBA Live for ages, but signed off on bullshit like Chaos in the Windy City?

Developed by Electronic Arts and published by Milton Bradley, Jordan vs Bird: One-On-One was released in 1988 for the NES, along with various ports that ended up on the Sega Genesis, Commodore 64, Game Boy, and DOS. It's...pretty self-explanatory as to what you'd be bearing witness to, you can choose between Larry Bird and Michael Jordan in several game modes of the basket of ball. I'll cut it a little bit of slack, while primitive, this was fascinating for its time. Beyond the names involved with the product, very little about this holds up, even just several years after its relevance. This is a BAD basketball game that makes me long for 8 hour sessions of Magic Johnson's Fast Break. 

Talking graphics, the sprites for Jordan and Bird are mere pallet swaps with slightly different colors and their respective numbers, dueling it out on the Lakefront Elementary gym court in front of a crowd of PLAYMOBIL figurines. Most of the animations are fine, and the hue choices compliment each other, there just isn't really much that catches the eye. With flat menu screens and no fanfare, Jordan vs Bird on NES is merely acceptable, while Double Dribble offers more to take in.

The controls are putrid, and it starts with the menu screen. Yeah, a game with controls so god-awful, it becomes apparent before you even get to actually PLAYING THE GAME. Simply selecting what mode you want feels like a chore, as the D-pad seems to stick when navigating the cursor. 

Regarding the game modes, the one-on-one can be considered passable, but a touch generic and a little stiff. Foul calls feel inconsistent, and general defense mostly involves just trying to get the ball-handler stuck on you. The jumping, be it for a rebound or an attempt to block a shot, comes off rather delayed. More often than not, the shooter can make an attempt, miss, and have time to grab the offensive rebound if you mistime your block effort. Frankly, Basketball on Atari 2600 has more intuitive gameplay. 

The other modes, the 3-point shooting contest and the dunk contest, are a little more entertaining to mess around with, in a "so bad, it's good" way. The dunk contest, good luck getting a read on how it actually functions. Without an instruction manual, you don't even get a proper demonstration on how to properly execute the dunks in question, and that's saying a lot for a controller with only two buttons.

The best way to describe it, you run to the hoop from the given angle, press and hold on to "A", then when in the general area, press "B" to stick the dunk. It's very weird, and I don't know what the judges are grading. I say, crack open some beers, get buzzed, you might find some genuine amusement. And both players one or two can only use Michael Jordan. What, Larry Bird can't dunk or something? Some of the dunk names are easy enough to comprehend, but what the hell is a "Skim the Rim"?

Jordan vs Bird was a fun rental in our house, but it's also one of those games that we knew was pretty lame. Fits nicely into that Karate Champ category, but more playable. It's got some pretty well orchestrated 8-bit chiptunes, so the music is very catchy.

If you have Double Dribble, Arch Rivals, or a Sega Genesis nearby with ANY given basketball game on it, it has more appeal than Jordan vs Bird: One-on-One. Plodding controls that even at its best, is more milquetoast than genuinely engaging. Perhaps the other versions are better, I've only ever played this one. 

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