Double Dribble NES: The Ultimate Gamer Guide
Title: Double Dribble
Release Dates: July 24, 1987 (Japan) / September 1987 (North America) / 1988 (Europe)
Players: One or Two
Originally released in Japanese arcades as Exciting Basket in 1986, Double Dribble was Konami’s second attempt at bringing the nuance of the basketball experience to arcades.
The first was a dud, Super Basketball, which left Konami’s video game developers wanting much more out of their next foray onto the (arcade) hardwood.
Double Dribble fared much better and became a solid arcade hit throughout the world, providing a more true-to-form basketball playthrough while adding some impressive animation quirks – most notably, the slam dunk cut scenes which zoom close up on your player as your soar towards the rim.
In addition, Double Dribble also upped the sports presentation ante by serving as the first arcade game of any kind to feature the United States national anthem.
The game itself was fluid enough and fun enough to lead to concerted public interest in a Famicom/Nintendo port.
By mid-1987, the Famicom/Nintendo had many of the world’s major sports covered with a game or multiple representative games in its library.
However, basketball had yet to find its way onto the system in the four years since the Famicom’s release (and two years since its release in the United States as the Nintendo Entertainment System).
Konami rectified the glaring omission by releasing its Famicom port to Japanese consumers in late July of 1987 as Exciting Basket. North American Nintendo lovers would only have to wait just over a month for the game to hit shelves as Double Dribble.
While the Nintendo/Famicom port isn’t arcade perfect and has its flaws, Double Dribble is still usually the first game on retro gamer’s tongues when talking about basketball games on the system.
Whether that’s due to pure nostalgia or just the simple fact that it was the first basketball game released for the console, Double Dribble’s historical cache cannot be denied.
From a presentation standpoint, Double Dribble was well ahead of its time for a 1987 Nintendo release.
The cinematic lead-in to the game is extremely impressive for the limitations of the hardware and extra touches like goofy dancing mascots and the appearance of a Konami blimp (!) give this game a unique gravitas which holds up to this day.
Avid NBA fans may be disappointed by Double Dribble’s lack of a proper NBA license, but they’ll also likely be amused by Konami’s blatant attempt to skirt copyrighting issues with the inclusion of the red-clad Chicago Ox in lieu of using the actual Chicago Bulls name.
In fact, the other three included teams all use similar color palettes to the NBA teams they’re intended to mimic.
So, you’ll know who you’re playing with as the Boston Frogs (Celtics), Los Angeles Breakers (Lakers), or New York Eagles (Knicks) without actually playing as those teams.
There is really no customization to be had except for setting quarter lengths anywhere from five to thirty minutes and dictating the computer skill level.
Furthermore, playing against the computer will limit your team choices to three as it appears the AI is the biggest Boston Frogs fan of them all and always picks them.
Thankfully, Bostonians can get their Frogs fix in two-player mode which is truly the gem of this NES port anyways.
The gameplay, however, hasn’t aged with the same fine wine kind of feel.
The game has some canyon-sized holes for you to navigate around, and that’s putting it with a bit of mild sauce on top.
Slam dunks are nearly impossible to pull off with regularity.
In addition, the two-second lag between starting your dunk in game and the animated cut scene of your dunk will start to grate on you as you play longer.
In fact, there’s really no use shooting the ball anywhere except from the free throw line and the upper/lower corners of the screen from three.
Shots from anywhere else range from impossible to hit to random flips of a coin.
Shots from the free throw line and upper corner go in almost automatically.
That would kill the challenge of playing against the computer if this game didn’t hate your guts and decide that you should never have nice things ever (especially on level 3).
Your punishment for taking a relatively healthy lead on the computer is the appearance of a CPU juggernaut which steals the ball at will and makes shots from everywhere.
Perhaps this was Konami’s way of making up for the gameplay’s hackable shot patterning, but the problem is the computer’s revenge tour won’t let up once it takes the lead.
You’re screwed unless you can hit your spots without fail.
The two-player game is much more satisfying, but there’s still not a ton of meat on the bone from a gameplay perspective.
The simple button controls for shooting and blocking are nice enough, but oftentimes it feels like the game is playing you instead of the other way around.
This is never more apparent than when you take control of one player in the frontcourt and your teammates either come along or decide to heck with it and stay in the backcourt being useless.
And while the animation of the players is well ahead of its time for a 1987 release, the sprite flickers with all ten players on the screen can be a bit of a struggle to play through.
In truth, Double Dribble’s gameplay experience is flawed even for its time.
It’s buoyed by the cinematic presentation and impressive graphical experience overall, but the meat and potatoes of things may leave you wanting some three decades or so after its NES/Famicom release.
Interesting Codes and Glitches
If you want to cause some good old-fashioned structural damage, start a one-player game as Chicago and work to get possession of the ball. Once you do, stride over to the foul line and press Start to pause the game.
With the game paused, press A, B, A, B, Start, Start. Afterwards, quickly execute a dunk or a normal shot. If you time this right, the backboard will completely shatter in a YouTube highlight moment before the age of YouTube.
We’ve already enumerated on the shot glitches within the game, but there’s also an easy way to get possession of the ball at tip off. When the tip is thrown up, let your opponent go up for the ball and gain possession. While they’re still in the air, jump up and you’ll easily steal the ball away from them in midair.
For those using the Game Genie cheat peripheral in its original form or via emulator, there are a couple of unbeatable codes for those looking to get a leg up on the computer. They are as follows:
Computer score never increases – KNEKPKEN
Each computer score adds to your score – KNEKPKEY
Reception and Legacy
For all of its flaws, the Famicom/NES port of Double Dribble still captured the zeitgeist in a way that most other sports games from the time can’t exactly claim – so much so that Family Guy even spoofed the game’s automatic corner three-pointers in a cutaway which also included Tecmo Super Bowl.
In addition to being one of the first NES or arcade games to include true cut scenes, Double Dribble is also one of the first Nintendo Entertainment System titles to use speech. While garbled, you can still make out the computerized recitation of the game’s title and various other speech affects throughout the game.
Double Dribble’s success as an NES/Famicom release led Konami to release three home computer ports in 1990 for MS-DOS, the Commodore 64, and the Commodore Amiga.
The game’s first portable version came in 1991 with the release of the okayish Double Dribble 5 on 5 for the Nintendo Game Boy.
1994 saw the release of a next-generation sequel of sorts for the Sega Genesis, Double Dribble: Playoff Edition. The Double Dribble name is absent for European and Japanese releases of the game, however, as it’s simply dubbed Hyperdunk for releases outside of the North American market.
The last Double Dribble release is its first and only for mobile devices (so far). Double Dribble Fast Break appeared for iOS devices in 2010 and was met with mixed reviews and little fanfare.
If you want to play the original NES Double Dribble but don’t want to mess with emulators or find the original cartridge, you can download it off the Nintendo Virtual Console. It’s a good port of the NES/Famicom version without the pervading slowdown issues of the original.
Our 60 Word Review
First doesn’t mean best, and that’s pretty apparent with Double Dribble. The nostalgia factor can’t be denied, but the gameplay itself is broken at worst and flawed at best.
Sports games rarely age well with a handful of exceptions, and Double Dribble falls in line as a title which was passable in its time but should be passed on nowadays.
Overall Score: 4.5 out of 10