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Posted on Jul 7th 2017 at 08:00:00 AM by (MetalFRO)
Posted under Jordan vs Bird, One on One, basketball, michael jordan, larry bird, game review, game boy

Box art scan shamelessly stolen from GameFAQS.
Larry and Michael better watch out, lest they fall into the red abyss below!

I've mentioned before in other reviews, but I'm not really a sports fan.  I don't hate sports, but I'm just not invested in them.  I fancied myself more of a sports nut when I was a kid, and even had a few favorite athletes, including one basketball legend, Larry Bird.  I suspect it was because he was a less than movie star looks average dude who just brought skill to the table, and I'm sure my dad had a bit of influence in terms of probably commenting to me here or there that he was a talented player.  I never geeked out about stats or anything, just enjoyed the game as it was being played.  My fascination with basketball was relatively short-lived, unlike my enjoyment of baseball, and my still-burning love of college football (Go Huskers!).

Box art shamelessly stolen from MobyGames.
This was the edition my parents bought me. I still have the 5 1/4"
floppy disk, though sadly, the packaging and manual are long gone.

However, I did enjoy a basketball game as a kid, on our trusty IBM PCjr.  That game was One on One: Dr J vs Larry Bird.  It was a simple, arcade-style, half-court basketball game.  It was simple, no-frills, and I loved it.  Sure, the PCjr joysticks left a bit to be desired in terms of precise control, but the simple, two-button scheme worked for me, and I had a lot of fun with it.  I can't say I put nearly as many hours into it as, say, Paperboy, King's Quest, or even the helicopter shooter/rescue game Striker, but as the saying goes, beggars can't be choosers.  Despite my meager interest in the sport, it felt like I was playing the same type of basketball I would play with kids in the neighborhood around one person's driveway hoop, and that was enough to keep me occupied.

As much as I appreciate that EA tried to replicate the box art on the
title screen, it's hard to make low-res pixel art look like these superstars.

I haven't shot hoops in years, and until I drop a few pounds, I probably won't be very eager to do so any time soon.  But the appeal of this kind of game is obvious, since the rules are less stringent than your typical full-blown basketball game.  It's far more casual, you can shoot a few hoops, and just have some fun.  Thus, the appeal of a simple one-on-one contest is there to draw in both dedicated basketball fans, as well as those looking for a lighter experience.  This is the kind of game that would have appealed somewhat to me as a kid, back when I first had my Game Boy, because of the quick, pick up and play nature of it.

Seems like a fair bit of content. "Seems" being the operative word...

Jordan vs Bird One On One is a relatively simple game.  There are 3 main game modes to choose from: One On One, Slam Dunk Contest, and 3-Point Contest.  For the One On One mode, you can play a full, 4-period game, a short match to either 11 or 15 points, or play a warm-up game.  For the Slam Dunk Contest, you have the main contest mode itself, a Slam Dunk Warmup mode, and then Follow The Leader, which involves watching Michael Jordan dunk the ball, and trying to mimic the same pattern.  Finally, with the 3-Point Contest, you have the actual contest mode itself, and like the other modes, a warm-up mode to go alongside that.

"Winner's Outs" is something I wouldn't enable unless I
became an absolute wizard grand-master of this game.

In the main One On One mode, there are a number of options.  You can choose to play as either Larry Bird or Michael Jordan, of course, and you can also choose the computer's skill-level.  Level 4 is the default, and is the lowest skill level, with level 1 being the highest.  You can choose whether or not to enable "Winner's Outs" ("No" means you alternate turns after each basket, "Yes" means the winner of the last basket gets the ball again.), and whether or not you want to enable fouls.  You can also choose the length of the periods, from 2, 5, 8, or up to 12 minutes.  With that, you can knock out a very fast game, or play for an extended period of time, and potentially have a very high score game going.  The "15 Or 11" mode is just what it sounds like - you play against the CPU until one of you reaches either 15, or 11 points, whichever you choose from the options screen.  Oddly, the One On One Warmup mode allows you to set all the options, but the only one that makes a difference is which player you choose to practice with.  It's simply your character on screen, allowing you to practice the game.

Larry struggles to catch Michael, on the next
episode of "Keeping Up With The Jordans".

The Slam Dunk Contest is a relatively simple affair, with you pitted against the CPU for a 2-round contest where you can choose from a list of 10 different signature dunks.  The CPU plays first, and you watch it pick, then perform, a dunk of choice.  At the end, you see the dunk rated on a scale from 1-10 from 5 virtual judges.  After that, you get to choose your dunk, and then execute it, and are judged/scored in similar fashion.  Repeat that process again, and if you can dunk flawlessly, you'll beat the CPU.  If not, it's back to the locker room with your sorry, sweaty self.  Also, because dunking is Michael Jordan's thing, both you and the CPU play as Jordan for this contest.

At least I'm not dragging Walton and Lanier
up and down the court for 48 minutes.

In the 3-Point Contest, you play as Larry Bird, since 3-point shots are kind of his signature.  You're pitted against the CPU in up to 4 rounds of 3-point shooting, from 5 different spots on the court, with 25 total balls available to you to shoot, 5 in each spot.  Each possible round is only 60 seconds long, so you really have to hustle to get to each grouping of basketballs, and fire them off pretty quickly.  I said "up to 4 rounds" before, because, if you don't keep up with the CPU and don't match them ball for ball, you automatically lose.  So if the CPU has a perfect round, you have to be able to match that level of skill before you can advance, and try to take them all the way through 4 rounds.

Watch in amazement, as Larry stands helpless against the
incredible dunking onslaught of Michael Jordan!

Controls are simple.  You use the D-Pad to run around the court, which you see in a sort of 1/3-overhead perspective.  When you have the ball, the A button jumps, and the B button shoots.  When you're on defense, A still jumps to block the ball, and the B button can be used to steal the ball.  In 3-Point Contest mode, you'll need to use B to pick up the ball from the basket, A to jump, and B again to shoot.  As usual, the start button pauses the game.  In the initial menu screen, you press the D-pad up and down to select which mode you want to play, and in the modes where you can set options, you use the B button to change the option itself, and press up and down on the D-pad to move between the different options.  The Start button then begins the selected contest mode.

Hey, guys! This is me, Larry Bird, jumping helplessly toward the
screen, because I forgot to stop before pressing the A button!

Graphics are reasonably good for the handheld, and though a touch sparse, make good use of the handheld's monochromatic shades.  There's a nice crowd in the background with tiny animation, and both main character sprites move and animate reasonably well.  The scoreboard is clean, and easy to read, if you're on either side of the court, and the shot clock ticks down clearly in the bottom-right corner.  There's also the nice touch of the old-school EA logo shown along the stands.  The game's graphics won't blow you away, and are fairly utilitarian, but for this game, they work, and are clean and pleasant.

I feel like there's a donut pun waiting for me here. I can't think of it
right now. That's okay, I'll circle back to it later on.

Sound, on the other hand, is incredibly minimalist in nature.  The title screen has a peppy tune that plays, and tries to get you pumped for the game, but it's rather repetitious, so you probably won't dwell there long.  The only other music on offer here is the short ditty that plays when he round or game is done, and you either win or lose.  Sadly, I never got to hear the winner's jingle, but the loser's jingle makes it pretty obvious as to what the outcome was.  Otherwise, it's basic sound effects for dribbling, shooting, the ball hitting the backboard or rim, the ball going into the next, bouncing on the floor post-basket, and so on.  The most annoying sound is in the beginning, when you hit the Start button to bypass the title screen, and again when you hit Start to choose your game mode.  I suppose it's meant to mimic a coach's whistle, but it's quite loud, high-pitched, and unpleasant.  Otherwise, the audio design is inoffensive, but ultimately nothing special.

I managed to get around Mike long enough to jump for a shot.
Notice the anatomically accurate shadow on the floor beneath.

I found a couple basic strategies worked well enough.  First, when you jump to shoot, you want to press the B button at either the top of the jump, or either just prior to that, or just after that, in order to have the best chance of the ball going through the hoop.  Also, rather obviously, if you can get around your opponent and start your jump before they catch up, chances are good you can score every time, if you master that first technique.  Also, though I wasn't overly successful with it, using B to steal the ball from your opponent can work if you get in close enough, and if they're facing you or you're coming at them from a 90 degree position from them.  Also, when I first started playing, I continually got a "Clear Ball Violation" penalty, when I would grab a rebound from my opponent's unsuccessful shot, and immediately try to score with that ball.  I wasn't able to find any official rules for half-court basketball that laid it out, but I did determine that if you grab a rebound, and run the ball down court past the free throw line, then you're golden to run back up and take a shot.

Good, one less point Michael Jordan will be spanking me by!

Another thing I learned quickly is that, when you're covering the other player, you have to be careful not to steal or jump too early.  Stealing stops you dead in your tracks, and if you're unsuccessful, the other guy can stop and shoot, often before you have a chance to recover.  Stealing is definitely a risk/reward strategy that I recommend using somewhat sparingly.  As for jumping to block, you have to make absolutely sure that your character has come to a complete stop when you hit the A button to jump.  If you don't, you'll be jumping in the last direction you were headed, and have enough hang time to ensure that your opponent will have no problem getting around you and taking their sweet time to score a basket.  The biggest obstacle to this is the relatively random patterns the CPU throws at you, in terms of how and where the character moves before they make an attempt.

As you can see, my dunk attempt was not rated very well. There
seems to be a disparity between the judges. One rated my dunk
at an 8, and two at a 5. I'm not sure who thought I did well...

While it seems like there are a number of game modes here, the amount of content is actually pretty light.  The full One On One game has the most potential, especially if you set 12-minute periods, because then you're getting a longer, more full-featured experience.  Of course, some of the other modes, and shorter periods in the full game, give you that nice bite-sized play style great for pick up and play sessions that you can burn out in a few minutes, and then put away when done.  Despite the slim amount of things to do in the game, that works in its favor, because it can become one of those titles that you just pick up for a few minutes, play, then put away and come back to when you only have a few minutes to spare.  Every other game mode outside the full mode is either a very short experience, or in the case of the 2 warmup modes or the slam dunk "follow the leader" mode, can be as long as you need or want them to be, since the practice modes are pretty much open-ended.  That said, unless you really enjoy moving a character around the screen shooting baskets with no competition or goal, those modes can become monotonous pretty quickly.  One thing I did note that is a bit of a downer is that both characters play essentially the same.  There are no real discernible differences I was able to determine between the two, which is disappointing, considering that they were both living legends around the time of this game's release.

Here's my scoreboard for a full contest with the CPU playing as
Michael Jordan. I stuck with the defaults, so only 2-minute
periods, and otherwise default settings.  I won't share what
the CPU's scores were. Suffice to say, I need more practice!

Ultimately, your mileage in the game will vary.  If you're a big basketball fan, or you enjoy retro sports video games, this might be the thing for you.  For me, I had some fun with it, but it didn't do much for me, since there's just not all that much to do in the game.  In terms of skill required, the game does take practice, because the CPU automatically sets itself at the lowest difficulty for each contest, and playing on the highest difficulty showed me how much I would have to play and practice the game to really reach that level.  In that sense, there's some value to be had, as long as you don't get bored with the limited number of game modes, options, and things to do.  I don't remember how much I paid for this game, though I think it was around $7 or $8.  That's reasonable, though these days it seems to be going for over $10 loose.  I'm not sure I'd spend that much, unless you're a die-hard fan of either player, or just can't get enough 8-bit b-ball action.  Having not played any other basketball games on the handheld yet, I'll reserve even a casual recommendation and just say that if you can "try before you buy" this game, spend a few minutes with it and see if it gels with you.  My initial reaction was kind of lukewarm, but after about an hour with it, I began to see how it could be a fun game for a fan.  If it can bring me around in that time, who knows?  Maybe it will score for you as well.

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