NBA Live’s lifespan may prosper while living in the past

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It’s been sitting in my modest office/gaming area for the past five weeks. Not long enough to collect dust – at least a visible layer, which is surprising because I’m a horrible housekeeper – but still an awfully long time for a purchase I just *had* to make. I popped it in my PlayStation 4 just to dump the data onto the hard drive on the day I purchased it, but with my job and in recent dealings to find myself after a not-so-great August and September, it sat there.

Even through October as I regained myself and started finding joy in life again, it chilled patiently along with my copies of NBA 2K18, NHL 18 for the PS4 and the recently snagged Super Mario Odyssey for my Nintendo Switch.

Eventually I’ll play it.

Hopefully it’s good enough that I’ll be forced to play the hell out of it.

I don’t need it to be some kind of unforgettable gaming experience, I just need it to be good.

The “it” in question is NBA Live 18. It’s a rebirth of sorts for the once-proud pro basketball series from EA Sports. After not releasing a console game for the 2016-17 season, EA gave the world a second NBA gaming option in September.

Competition with console sports titles … What a novel concept.

While NBA 2K18 is pulling lower-than-normal Metacritic scores from gamers – presumably out of anger over its gratuitous (ab)use of micro transactions; the underdog NBA Live is chugging along with outlooks for the franchise that are optimistic for a continued upward trend. It’s by no means the Goliath that 2K and Visual Concepts gives gamers every year with NBA 2K, but EA has seemingly given consumers a viable second option for their NBA gaming dollars.

It’s nowhere near as deep as 2K18, which is also in wait to get some run on my PS4 and Nintendo Switch, but Live at least proves to be capable enough to seemingly not rot in my game cabinet throughout the season. 

(OK, backtracking a second: I know it’s weird to call anything linked to Electronic Arts an underdog, but here we are)

NBA Live as an underdog, though … It didn’t used to be that way.

Taking it back

At a time when I found myself gaming the most, NBA Live was THE basketball title; and in an oversaturated world of 16-bit NBA games, there was plenty of competition. Plenty of good and memorable games, too. But NBA Live was the game that likely logged the most time in my Super Nintendo console every winter and for most of each spring.

Maybe it was the 35-degree camera angle that did it for me. It certainly gave the game a smoother feel than its predecessor “NBA Showdown” on the SNES.

(OK, NBA Showdown was an amazingly fun time because any game that allowed you to trade Shaquille O’Neal for Felton Spencer straight-up needs a nod of approval. But it wasn’t winning awards for visuals … Even in 1993)

Maybe it was the ability to play a straight sim with modestly inflated results one game before trying to score 300 points the next, just because the Shawn Kemp I controlled needed to break records, spirits and backboards.

All I know is that NBA Live’s annual release date was an early Christmas in my house.

NBA Live 95

When I was a teenager spending prime social hours cooped up in my house playing on the SNES, there was a weird draw I had to NBA games. Sure, the most recent iterations of NFL and NHL games found their way to my SNES, too. But the teenaged version of this writer was an NBA guy through and through. Weird when it’s considered that my closest major market hadn’t been home to major pro basketball team since 1972. Even that franchise – the Pittsburgh Pipers/Condors – was an ABA team. Since ABA Live wasn’t a thing, my licensed pro hoops options were limited to NBA-only titles, though I held out hope in 1997 that WNBA Jam would be a game to coincide with the launch of the new-at-the-time women’s league.

(Admit it, you’d play WNBA Jam)

But – as many other gamers my age will confess – using those mid-to-late-90s Seattle Supersonics teams was akin to experiencing religious epiphanies.

For the longest time, the last full-season conquests on a video game in the non-football division happened on NBA Live titles.

Scaling it back

But as my 20s hit, my love of hockey rekindled and the NBA carved out a slightly smaller piece of the pie. I still loved those NBA Live games on my PlayStation or PlayStation 2. I just found myself spending less time on those and more time with the Maddens, NHLs and NCAAs, 

Somewhere along the line, EA NBA titles just stopped being good.

Not in the way where a person hitting his 30s outgrows video games. No. This was in the way where the games were just awful.

NBA Live – or the ill-fated NBA Elite 11 that never got launched by EA – just lost its fastball.

(OK, can’t have a baseball metaphor in this. Let’s try again.)

NBA Live – or the ill-fated NBA Elite 11 that never got launched by EA thanks to things like the “Jesus Bynum” glitch – just couldn’t find its range.

Bynum Glitch

(Better)

What wasn’t better was EA’s standing in the eyes of hoops gamers. NBA Elite 11 had pretty much handed 2K a forfeit victory.   

Bringing it back

In the dawn of the PlayStation 4/Xbox One era, NBA Live returned. It was adequate in the eyes of some and had its fans, but it was dwarfed in every way imaginable by NBA 2K. Like Shaquille O’Neal posting up on Muggsy Bogues.

Sure, Live tried, but the dunk on EA by 2K was horrifically gruesome and disrespectful.

EA got better with later tries at NBA Live, but it still wasn’t NBA 2K and that carried a lot of weight in the perceptions of many. At least EA got a hand up before 2K came with the tomahawk this time.

There is still a screencast somewhere on my old iPhone 5 of a night on NBA Live 16 where I shot 33 of 100 with the Bucks, with a scorching 1-of-24 clip from 3-point range. To say that the shooting mechanics on Live 16 were maddening would be a gross understatement.

This year’s version of NBA Live came with more optimism. It came with more buzz.

It came with a nice little preorder bonus of $20 off the $60ish price tag.

It just came with more to offer than many expect or remember.

Gamers and critics have supposedly noticed. 

Again, this is not the effort that will overtake NBA 2K. To think otherwise is silly. But there will be players that find that NBA Live is plenty good for what they need.

Again … I just need it to be good to know that I didn’t just imagine the joy from all those hours spent playing NBA Live while planted in front of a 19-inch bubble-screen TV. 

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