This cartridge is a port of the Midway arcade hit, which can be described as the predecessor to NBA Jam. Basically you compete in a two-on-two game of basetball with a twist: there are no fouls, meaning the players on both sides can really go at it with each other, punching, shoving, doing whatever it takes to win the game. The NES received a port of this title and while it doesn't make the playoffs it still turns out to be a good b-ball contest.
When you begin the game, you have a choice of one of four teams, which have no real difference among them other that jersey color. You then pick one of eight players to control, each with different skills such as better shooting, better defense, and so on. The computer randomly picks your partner for you, after which your team takes to the hardwood for some no-holds-barred hoops against the other team. For the most part it's standard basketball fare; you play four three-minute quarters and have the standard scoring with 3-point shots, slams dunks, and so on. During the action you only control your player while the computer controls your partner, but you can tell your CPU teammate to pass you the ball or go for a shot. Don't forget there are no fouls in this game, so you can attack the other team when you're on defense. You can throw a punch to deck the opposing players or you can take them down with a flying tackle. If you're feeling especially mean, you can take a flying lunge and actually pull the other players' shorts down, embarrasing them while you grab the ball. There are other hazards, such as debris on the court that can trip you up.
The graphics do decent job of trying to match the coin-op. The sprties aren't very detailed except for some small touches to differentiate them, but they do have good animation, especially after you nail them or grab their shorts. Some flicker does pop up when too many sprites bunch together, but it's nothing serious. This port does feature the still scenes from the arcade original that show up after every score, and they look pretty good. The background music only has one tune that sounds like the coin-op, but it is pretty nice to listen to and never gets old. Some of the cut scenes have snippets of other basketball tunes which are also fun to listen to. The sound effects aren't as good, sounding more like generic NES FX heard in other games, and none of the voice clips from the arcade game made it over.
For the most part the gameplay in Arch Rivals is pretty solid. The action flows at a pretty good pace and never really slows down. The controls may seem a little complex at first, but once you get them down it's a breeze to control your player. Switching between offense and defense is no problem, and doing the special flying lunge is not hard after some practice. For the most part, your teammate can handle himself okay, and communicating with him is no problem, though he sometimes doesn't make the plays he should. Of course this game is more fun when two players go at it. As far as the challenge level goes, the computer players are not that difficult to beat. They may seem hard at times, but most of the time you'll have very little trouble with them. Also while this is a very good port, serious b-ball fans may be disappointed at the lack of depth. There's no season mode, no tournament, and very little strategy, just a quick 15-minute jam session with two players. Once the final buzzer sounds, that's it, the game's over.
Overall Arch Rivals is a very faithful translation of the arcade game as well as a decent 8-bit basketball title. Rare was able to fit much of the arcade into this game pak, sacrificing only a few things like the detailed graphics and voice clips. This cartridge is a fun fast-paced contest that's easy to play and get into, as well as fun to watch. Plus it's just fun to knock your opponents around with out having to put up with fouls. The lack of replayability and depth does hurt the game somewhat, and you'll mainly get enjoyment playing this game in short spurts with a friend. But for quick b-ball games with a lot of mayhem, Arch Rivals still makes the cut. Arch Rivals isn't a champion but it still does the sport proud.
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