This is the first instalment of a new series where Miguel and I look at the games that both changed our lives and their respective genres. This time I take another look at one of the key sports games of its era and one that spawned a best-selling franchise that continues to this day… Electronic Arts’ strong relationship with Sega during the early 1990s saw them release various iterations of the Madden and FIFA franchises on the Mega Drive/Genesis. The considerable success of John Madden Football in particular is often credited with boosting Sega’s market share and making the Genesis a must-have console in North America. EA’s support for Sega machines continued during the Saturn era but that console’s failure to gain traction in the American marketplace saw disappointing sales. Indeed by 1997 Sega were already hard at work on the Saturn’s successor which was to become known as the Dreamcast. Major developers were uneasy, however, about another Sega console so soon afterwards and Electronic Arts and Square decided not to support the new machine. Sega knew that the Dreamcast would struggle in North America without sports games and so they formed Sega Sports in order to fill the void and NBA 2K was one of the first games developed by the new studio.
Ironically, the NBA itself had a major void to fill at the time. Michael Jordan’s retirement after his sixth championship with the Bulls in 1998 had seen TV ratings dip but younger players such as Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan were gaining recognition and stalwarts such as Gary Payton and Karl Malone were still growing strong. But the man of the moment and the obvious choice to be the game’s cover star was Allen Iverson. Possibly the greatest natural talent to ever play the game despite playing on a relatively mediocre 76ers squad, A.I. was a joy to watch and even better to play as (and a cultural icon – check out the Reebok commercials he did with Jadakiss on YouTube). An inspired decision to have him introduce a new series to gamers then.
The graphics were remarkable for the time and the players were more recognisable than any other game to that point (I will never forget Bo Outlaw’s goggles). The commentary was pretty realistic too and the whole presentation of the game was fairly believable as a TV broadcast. The gameplay was where 2K really stood out, though. The teams’ tactics in the game were true to their real-life counterparts and it was incredibly satisfying laying the ball up after a fast break or completing an alley-oop to someone like Kevin Garnett. Even the infamous glitch which saw you land buzzer-beaters from inside your own paint nearly every time didn’t spoil things at all.
I remember being engrossed in the game for a good couple of years in the early 2000s. The Celtics were my team of choice as I loved the Paul Pierce-Antoine Walker tandem though I’m sure the Hornets and of course the Sixers got some burn, too. I’m not actually sure whether 2K1 or 2K2 were ever released in Britain – I certainly never saw them for sale at the time though I did see them both reviewed on IGN. The next NBA game I ended up buying was actually 2K3 for the Nintendo GameCube after Sega became a multi-platform developer (and later sold the series to Take-Two Interactive). Even though I don’t play basketball games anymore, part of me feels pleased to see the continued success of the franchise now that it is a sales phenomenon on the PS4 and Xbox One and I will always have very fond memories of the very first NBA 2K game on Sega’s final home console.