Overall Rating: 1.5/5
In the early 1980’s, the National Basketball Association was going through a slump. Television ratings were down, the ABA had folded and partially absorbed into the NBA to create a bloated league, and some of the most popular superstars, such as Julius “Dr. J” Erving, were now retired.
But then entered a few key players onto the scene; namely Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. This trio single-handedly renewed interest in the lagging NBA, and their fierce rivalries drove some of the greatest play-offs of all time. Seeking to capitalize on their fame, Nintendo released a little game for their NES called Jordan Vs. Bird One on One, pitting Michael Jordan and Larry Bird against each other in playable one-on-one, along with offering two other events that showcased their talents: Bird in a three-point shoot-out, and Jordan in a slam-dunk contest.
Simplifying the tried-and-true formula of other basketball-based games, such as the arcade hit Double Dribble or specialty titles like the Harlem Globetrotters cartridge, Jordan Vs. Bird sought to cater to all the couch potatoes who had an interest in the two names on the box. Thus, the three-point contest only required one button and was simply a matter of timing, while the slam-dunk contest was just a simulation of one dunk at a time with easily learned positioning required. They also only pit the player alone, just trying to reach a high score. The highlight is the one-on-one against a computer version of whichever player you did not choose. Jordan can dunk, Bird can shoot threes better, and that about sums it up.
The effects are crude and underdeveloped, as noted by the flat “swishing” sound of any shot that goes in, whether a dunk or lay-up or jumper, it all sounds the same. The soundtrack is irritating, as though the background music were blatantly designed to be below-average in every regard. It is repetitive, annoying, and only serves to detract from the overall playing experience, which is not saying much to begin with.
It is a bitter pill of unfortunate circumstance that the only way you can tell Jordan and Bird apart is the color of their jersey and the color of their skin. Otherwise, their jumping, dribbling, and other animations are precisely the same, with the exception of Jordan’s dunks, and even their faces have no unique personality to them. The court is basic, the contests lack pizzazz, and this game made virtually no effort to disguise its intent as a promotional, make-a-quick-buck ploy.
Creativity and Innovation
Jordan Vs. Bird certainly had potential: It had a three-point contest years before NBA Live would reintroduce it, and a proper Slam-Dunk contest is extraordinarily difficult to implement. This is actually the one area where the sports simulator shines; although it is not executed very well, it did have a bright idea or two, that might be worth another look for present-day developers.
Overall though, even the originality of the in-game events cannot save the overall flat-out bad quality of the game. This is one for hardcore NES gamers only, or Jordan/Bird collectors. The originality saves it from a more putrid rating, but it still sits low at one and a half stars out of five.