The Game Gear Directory: (N)

Eight sports games. I brought this on myself.

NBA Action Starring David Robinson (1994)

Well, the NBA part is right. I suppose it is technically NBA, but action? You can barely tell what's going on! The small sprites are a very noble endeavour; it must be very difficult to get team sports like this to work on the tiny Game Gear screen and the players themselves are well drawn, nicely suited for handheld balling. Unfortunately, the slowdown and sprite flicker is unbearable, as in it's pretty much constantly happening. If you want your "NBA action" to be slow as molasses, then this is the cart for you. If you would prefer something at least somewhat in key with the pace of actual basketball, I would strongly advise you to look elsewhere. There are plenty of teams and otherwise-decent presentation, but the flickering really does make it completely intolerable - I could barely see who I was passing to! A genuinely valiant effort that looks great in still screenshots, but in "action" this just doesn't work in the slightest. *

NBA Jam (1994)

An almighty seven logos and interstitial screens full of copyright information stand between you and actually getting to play some b-ball in this bare-bones port of Midway's iconic NBA Jam, here robbed of its most enjoyable feature by becoming a rather sad, isolated single-player game. I mean really, okay, this isn't a bad version of the game in terms of mechanics, but what's the point if you can't play against a friend? We're not talking Mortal Kombat port levels of cynicism here, but who wants to play against the computer in NBA Jam of all things? Please feel free to shout me down if, in fact, it is you who wants to do just that. But even if that were the case, you'd probably not want to do it on the Game Gear, eh? I'll be fair, though - this is alright. It looks fine and plays pretty well, it's just unfortunate that the Game Gear lacks buttons to the point that the "Turbo" feature is on Start. Never a great feeling! Still, you've got a bunch of teams and a decent clutch of options here, letting you play like the arcade version or via passing off control of the ball when you, er, pass off control of the ball. It's just sort of wasted on a single-player only sports game. This doesn't suck, but it does seems pretty pointless to me. ***

NBA Jam Tournament Edition (1995)

Oh, never mind! Tournament Edition, released the following year, resolves the issue of the original version being single-player only by (touches earpiece) what's that? This is single-player only, too?! But it's called Tourna- (nods) right, yes. Game Gear. I forgot that nothing makes sense. Alright. Thanks. Okay, so, you heard the man, this so-called "Tournament Edition" doesn't let you play with friends either. Oh, but you can save your records in the form of a password and play on "a friend's" Game Gear, if you are insane and your friends hate you, I guess. Right, right, the actual game. It's fine, you know? It's basically the same as the last one but with better options screens (and more options), thought the presentation overall seems a little weaker to me. Unfortunately it's all in service of a game named Tournament Edition that doesn't feature the capacity to play in a multiplayer tournament, so... (flails hands) I got nothin'! You'll never want to play this, but if you did, I guess it could be a hell of a lot worse? ***

NFL '95 (1994)

Oh, this is just dreadful. What did I do to deserve all these bleedin' sports games, eh? No, no, I mustn't grumble. I brought this on myself. But sheesh, even someone like me who knows next-to-nothing about American football can see they're being mugged off by this utterly sub-standard effort. It's unbelievably slow and choppy, possibly because of the fact that there's a bizarre attempt at a sort of semi-3D effect on the field. It's completely unnecessary and if it is indeed responsible for the game's performance then it should be relegated to history's dust-heap along with whoever programmed it. The players move in such a faltering, intolerable way that not even once did it feel even remotely enjoyable to control; the previously-reviewed Madden NFL '95 may have been similarly incomprehensible, but it was presented a whole lot more enjoyably and it ran about ten times better. Hell, it was momentarily enjoyable! This, though? I doubt even a pigskin-obsessed fan who was obsessed with the pigskin to the point that they'd had themselves professionally flayed and replaced their human skin with pig's skin "to feel more like a football" (their words, direct quote) would find anything to enjoy here. Rotten. *

NFL Quarterback Club (1994)

This is vastly superior to the above, but still not really up to much. Madden remains the standard bearer as far as this godawful sport is concerned, at least on the Game Gear. The menus and graphics are pretty great, with reams upon reams of "plays" that mean absolutely nothing to me but are all available for your perusal. Again, sprite flicker is an issue, with my losing a bunch of progress at once point because the player holding the ball turned invisible. Like I said, though, I don't really know the game - maybe that actually happens at the Superbowl or whatever. Oh great, I've just seen what I have to write up next. Brilliant, can't wait. **

NFL Quarterback Club 96 (1995)

Other than a perspective change - you now go vertically rather than horizontally - this is almost identical to the previous year's game, all the way down to the little music cues. It is, however, worse, because the screen scrolling is all arsed up meaning you can't really see what's ahead of you. It's worth noting that when your viewing is more compromised than it would be if you were on the field in real life, you've probably made some kind of error with your football game. So it's a bit rubbish, though still far from the worst I've tried. I really hope I'm done with these football games now. I'm sure they'll find a way to release more, but I feel like I'm letting you wonderful readers down with my inability to understand them. Crucially though, my own personal enjoyment matters to me more than "informing" or "fulfilling", so I'm happy to move onto... hockey?! Oh, give me a break! *

NHL All-Star Hockey (1995)

The feel of gliding around the ice is pretty well done here, and it's extremely funny when a player gets cold-cocked and slides away on their back, senseless. Just thought I'd note that first because it was the most striking thing in the game, by my experience. This is fast-paced and arcadey, in a good way, though it's also ugly and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Which is bad. I think hockey is a sport that translates decently well to video games, and they made an okay effort here - it fits the Game Gear screen nicely without flickering extensively, despite a fairly busy and fact-paced hockey game. It's not without its problems, as gameplay around the goal is extremely messy - I guess that's probably true of actual hockey matches, too. Options are plentiful, teams are licensed, the music is horrible but it does play the "Charge" anthem so I have a soft spot for it. This is far from bad but nonetheless seems inessential. It's a sad fact that most sports games come to life in multiplayer and while some Game Gear games offer it, this one doesn't seem to, and even then why would you not want to play on a TV? ***

NHL Hockey (1995)

Oof. Nice visuals, shame about - you guessed it - the bleedin' flickering. This is a fast, smooth game of hockey that feels even better than All-Star, but it's plagued with visual glitching that makes any kind of busy moments very difficult to enjoy, and ice hockey seems like a game that's almost always busy. Thus, we have a gamer that's almost always bad, but I don't want to knock it down completely - there are tons of options to tinker with and modify the rules to your heart's content, and it all feels very polished. It's clear that this game was cared about a good deal, which is surprisingly rare on Game Gear, but that doesn't make the annoyances it presents not annoying. A shame, because this could have been a stonker if it had just run a tiny little bit less crappily. **

Ninja Gaiden (1991)

Oh thank god, it's not a sports game. Indeed, you couldn't really ask for a sharper relief from the world of competitive exhibitions than Ninja Gaiden. To my surprise, this isn't a port of the Master System title, but rather a brand new game. It maintains the fast-paced gameplay of the NES titles but the visuals are a little awkward, specifically Hayabusa's sprite; it looks... odd, in a way that's difficult to get used to, but once you get into the game you'll have trouble finding fault. There's fantastic variety to the visuals and the level design is very strong, built cleverly around the Game Gear and lacking dodgy flicker while still presenting speedy enemy sprites and larger boss characters to defeat. It isn't perfect - the third level is a dumbass climbing stage that should have been cut - but it's a very good game and a pretty decent competitor to Sega's (GG) Shinobi titles - though it doesn't exceed them. Still, a thoroughly cool Game Gear exclusive and one you should definitely get hold of. ****

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