The Game: One or two players can set a budget and begin recruiting a top-notch basketball team (or, alternately, recruiting from who’s left after someone else has recruited a top-notch basketball team), and then it’s time to hit the court. Each player controls a team of three with offensive and defensive moves; the player can control any member of his team. (INTV Corp., 1987)
Memories: Several of the “Super Pro” sports games released by INTV Corp. – the entity that took on the task of continuing software support for the Intellivision long after Mattel Electronics had given up on the system in the face of the then-looming video game industry crash – began life as re-coded single-player versions of existing Intellivision sports titles. Slam Dunk is an example of a game that diverged completely from the code of its two-player-only predecessor (NBA Basketball).
The budgeting/recruiting phase of the game is a sign that the INTV Corp. programmers were trying to keep up with the stat-keeping trend in sports games in the late 1980s. The Madden series had debuted, along with other player-stats-heavy titles like Earl Weaver Baseball. Though these “players” and their statistics don’t affect the game in a huge way – arguably, they affect it even less than, say, the personnel management element of older games like Project Space Station – INTV was clearly trying to keep pace with what was “in” in console sports titles.
But that doesn’t mean that Slam Dunk fouls out. It’s actually a very good video basketball game, with passing, offense, defense and, quite frankly, more nuances of the game than anything that had come before it. The Intellivision controller is both a plus and a minus here: its multi-directional disc control is ideal for aiming a well-timed pass; it’s just a shame that the controller is so uncomfortable to hold for long periods of time. It’s very smooth, however, and it successfully pays off the control-any-player-at-any-time selling point of the game.
If there’s one gripe, it comes back to the budget-keeping element of the game; it’s something that pops up repeatedly, like Microsurgeon‘s patient status screen. Unlike Microsurgeon‘s patient status screen, however, it’s not an essential element of the game: sometimes, I just want to sit and play basketball.