The Best NBA Video Games Revealed

May 17, 2019

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Photo by bensomarket / Public Domain
Caption: NBA Jam took the cartridge gaming world by storm

The world of NBA is becoming transfixed with the 2019 playoffs. As we reach the climax of yet another fascinating season, millions around the world are having their say on who will prevail and win the finals. It’s this time of the year when NBA basketball enters the psyche of popular culture.

The Milwaukee Bucks have been one of the most entertaining sides in the playoffs thus far. Given the way that Milwaukee steam-rollered their way through the first round and semi-final stage, most NBA previews and predictions will almost certainly place them as favorites to go one further and claim the Eastern Conference final against the Raptors, sealing a place in the overall final against Golden State or Portland.

It’s always around the time of the NBA playoffs when video gamers are inspired to take to their games consoles and try to replicate the achievements of the likes of Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks. If you’re something of a nostalgic video gamer, we thought it would be a good time to make you aware of the best version of NBA video games ever released to the masses. NBA’s video games have long been designed and built by EA Sports, just like Madden NFL and FIFA soccer, but which versions offer the most accurate depiction of the helter-skelter on-court action?

NBA Jam: Where it all began for the franchise

It would be totally remiss of us not to list NBA Jam in the list of the best ever NBA video games. It’s where it all kick-started for the franchise on games consoles, rivalling Arch Rivals on the Sega Genesis. The game was developed by Midway and released some 26 years ago in 1993 to significant fanfare among b-ball followers. It became the number-one basketball arcade game, with its end-to-end gameplay making it a go-to game for visitors of coin-operated arcades.

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Obviously, the gameplay of NBA Jam was anything but realistic. Players were about to fly across the screen and even perform outrageous stunts mid-air en-route to a slam dunk. Players also had the propensity to go “hot” or “cold”. So-called hot players were easier to score with as they had enhanced short-term abilities. Despite its arcade nature, NBA Jam did successfully capture player likenesses even in 16-bit mode. So popular is NBA Jam that reports have suggested a remake of this original is in the offing.

NBA Live 2000: The first Live game featuring Michael Jordan

The turn of the new millennium was a crucial time for NBA video gaming. The launch of NBA Live 2000 was the first “Live” edition from EA Sports. It was also the first to feature the then-retired superstar, Michael Jordan, who was a playable character in the unlockable NBA 1990’s all-decade team.

One of the most likeable facets of NBA Live 2000 was the introduction of in-game music, helping to create an authentic atmosphere of being courtside. With tracks from Run-DMC, Naughty by Nature and Rahzel, this was a real step-change from the midi-style “funk” soundtracks of older NBA versions.

NBA 2K11: Jordan the key selling point once again

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Michael Jordan: Still the poster boy for the NBA
hoto by bfishadow/ CC BY 2.0

It’s fair to say that EA Sports went big with their opening intro to NBA 2K11, once again harking back to the most memorable moments in Michael Jordan’s iconic NBA career. The MJ theme continues throughout the game, with players also given the option of controlling Jordan in a historic scenario-style game, appearing in his first NBA Finals for the Lakers.

It was also possible to play as Jordan in the modern-day version of NBA. The in-game commentary was more realistic and off-the-cuff than ever before; while EA Sports successfully improved its Association and “MyPlayer” modes, allowing you to create yourself and put your virtual character straight into the deep end in an NBA roster.

NBA 2K19: Truly life-like gameplay

When you look at how far NBA’s video games have come, from NBA Jam to the latest NBA 2K19 offering, it’s like night and day. With a fantastic array of game modes, super-slick presentation and hugely immersive gameplay, NBA 2K19 is about as close to physically playing basketball as it gets – without having to leave your comfy sofa, of course. The AI is super-intelligent, creating a genuinely stiff test for gamers who normally head online to play other human gamers due to the inadequacies of the CPU.

Whether it’s the vibrant, life-like arenas, the on-point apparel of the authentic high speed of the gameplay, there’s no denying that NBA 2K19 is in a league of its own for basketball gamers. With Virtual Reality (VR) gaming fast coming up along the rails, the idea of transporting yourself quite literally into a basketball court could be the next breakthrough for NBA fans.

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