Many thanks to James Swift for stepping in and reviewing this sports game!
What a time to be alive.
PLAYERS: 1-2 simultaneous
PUBLISHER/DEVELOPER: Electronic Arts
GENRE: Sports (Basketball)
RELEASE DATE: 12/90 – (US), 10/91- (EU)
This game’s title is weird, and not just because it’s clunky and verbose.
Lakers Versus Celtics… was released after the 1990 NBA Championship was decided. And despite the title, that year’s finals featured neither the Lakers nor the Celtics. Instead, it featured the Pistons and Trail Blazers, a fact the back of the packaging even acknowledges. Technically, this title is a port of a DOS game from 1989, which came out after the 1989 NBA Playoffs, which concluded with the Pistons beating the Lakers. Granted, the Lakers and Celtics had the most memorable NBA rivalry of the 1980s, but the title is the equivalent of EA today renaming their series Warriors vs. Cavaliers and Oh Yeah, Like Six Other Teams You Can Pick But You Probably Won’t.
Pack it up, pack it in.
For those of you expecting to hit the paint with the likes of the Atlanta Hawks, Utah Jazz and New Jersey Nets, prepare to be disappointed. The game only features eight NBA teams: the Lakers, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Suns in the Western Conference, and the Bulls, Celtics, Pistons and 76ers in the Eastern Conference, plus two East and West all-star teams; the latter two include several players such as Dominique Wilkins and Hakeem Olajuwon who don’t play on any of the eight normal squads. While it’s undeniably weird to only have access to one-third of the NBA, you can’t complain about the star power here. This is one of the few NBA games ever made to feature Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley as playable characters on one cartridge. Definitely appealing to nostalgic NBA fans.
Team Discovery Channel!*
You can play a solo game against the computer/second player, or participate in tournament mode. In solo mode, the difficulty spans from preseason (easy) to regular season (a little bit harder) to “showtime” (controller tosser mode). You can also choose to play the game in arcade or simulation mode, although there really isn’t much of a difference between the two. In fact, the only difference I noted was that, in sim mode, more fouls are called.
Tournament mode – in which you have to beat three teams in succession for the NBA Championship hardware – is one player only and preset to simulation and “showtime” mode. Before every game you get intermissions from the Electronic Arts Sports Network running down the strengths and weaknesses of each team and some relevant player stats. Of course, this presentation is pretty humdrum now, but back in the day, it was downright revolutionary.
“Sports are good. Watch them!”
The gameplay itself is straightforward. When you’re playing offense, A shoots the ball and B passes it. One of the game’s cool little intricacies is you actually have to hold the A button down to aim your shot, then lightly release it to fire towards the bucket. This makes slam dunks a cinch; as long as you’re in the paint and no defenders are in the vicinity, all you have to do is tap A and rock the rim. And the slam dunks in this game are awesome, with the signature slamma-jammas of stars like Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley all beautifully animated. You can also pull off alley-oops, but your timing has to be pinpoint perfect. While you can tap the A button to dribble around defenders, eight times out of ten it results in your man getting called for charging.
“Points for everyone! We’re all winners!”
The offensive controls are pretty good, but defensive play isn’t as sound. A is used for blocking shots (which seems to only happen once or twice a game), B is used to switch to the player closest to the ball and C is used to steal and swat away the ball (which, on “showtime” difficulty, happens maybe once a game). There’s a considerable lag when switching players and it’s very difficult to play aggressive D without drawing a foul. In fact, the defensive controls are so clunky that it might be easier for most players to just let the CPU take free shots with the hope of maybe securing a rebound. The AI of your teammates is practically nonexistent as well, so don’t expect your team to do much besides stare at their shoelaces while Scottie Pippen is on a fast break.
Graphically, there are some nice small details, like the players on the sideline in their warm-up regalia and the coaches pacing around shaking their heads. Outside of the slam dunks, however, the animations are mediocre.
Please sir, may I take it to the hoop?
Lakers Versus Celtics… is an alright basketball game, but the pace is just way too slow, with lackluster defensive play. What really hurts the game, though, is the lack of modes, particularly season mode. Unless you think playing a seven game series against the Philadelphia 76ers over and over again for the rest of eternity is the definition of evergreen, there isn’t much replay value here.
Thankfully, EA’s later installments in the strangely worded series upped the ante and made vast improvements across the board. As a prototype, Lakers Versus Celtics… is fairly decent, but as a standalone game, it’s little more than average at best.
*thanks to MobyGames for the screenshot