In what represents perhaps the greatest meeting of black and white since Aerosmith and Run DMC recorded “Walk This Way,” Jordan vs Bird offers the chance to play as one of the two 80’s basketball heroes in a handful of b-ball related challenges. The highlight is, of course, a one-on-one match between the two. In reality, I would expect 80s Jordan to smite 80s Bird, but as far as the game is concerned, the two are on roughly equal footing. Some additional modes round the game out, and end up offering a surprisingly enjoyable game, for a short period of time.
The game has three distinct modes, and a few options for each. The main one, is of course, a four-quarter half-court game between Jordan and Bird. You can play as either star against the computer, or in a solid two-player mode. Rules are in full effect here, readily charging you with traveling or blocking if you slip up. I have yet to bring down any others, and I wasn’t even going to try goal tending, but I’m sure more are there. The half-court setup allows you to toss three point shots, or work within the paint, with Jordan and Bird switching places after each successful goal. One interesting point is that only Jordan can dunk the ball, but Bird benefits from better shooting. An interesting, authentic touch.
The game controls well, with the B button used to block your opponent, and the A button to make a shot. Holding down B has your character stand in place and flail their arms around. Though this rarely stops them, it does seem to make any shots they take somewhat more inaccurate. It also gives you a seemingly random chance to steal the ball away, so if your opponent is dancing in your face, you’d better move or shoot. Holding A will make your character jump, and releasing at the peak of his flight will result in the most accurate shot. If you wait even a second longer and he starts falling back to Earth, you’ll get called for traveling. Dribbling is automatic, so at least that won’t be an issue, and lay-ups function the same way as jump shots. Your options for this mode are to play for the full four quarters, play to 15, play to 11, or practice. These are self-explanatory. Practice just gives you a chance to shoot baskets and get a feel for the game, and can actually be pretty useful to newcomers, or those trying to get into their jump shot groove.
The next mode is a three point contest. This is exactly what you think. You have five “stations” around the goal, five balls at each station, and 60 seconds to make as many three point shots as possible. The controls are a bit different here – A will still send you jumping into the air, but you must quickly tap B to make the shot. This actually helps keep the challenge high without being artificial, and every time I missed a shot, I felt what I had done differently in the controls, instead of having misses seem to be purely random. This mode also allows for a 4-player tournament, and is a good choice for one.
The final mode is a slam dunk contest. Now this is pretty cool. You’ll get a choice of ten dunks, from the windmill to Dr. J’s signature slam, and then hold A to fly up and release to sink the ball. You choose your dunk before each round, and some require specific setups, like running down the side of the court and crossing toward the basket, before they can be triggered. Another practice mode helps you get the feel of these. The dunk contest has you doing these dunks before a panel of judges, who score you on your setup and proper execution. You can have up to four players in the contest, each taking a turn to select and perform their dunk. The one with the lowest score gets eliminated each round.
The other variation to this is Follow The Leader mode, where one player will make a dunk, and the rest have to execute the same dunk. This is a good way to learn how to perform each of the ten. The dunk challenges are a nice addition to the game, and an excellent choice for a supporting minigame. Even after the main game has worn out its welcome, the dunk challenge can still be a little enjoyable, especially if you get a true tournament going.
J vs B isn’t a great looking game by any means. Still, despite some really rough animations, undetailed characters, and ugly menus, the game underneath works well. Physics for the ball seem especially well-designed, and Jordan’s dunks inspire proper amounts of awe. The game won’t win any presentation points, but what’s underneath is solid. Similarly, the music and menu themes for the game are pretty common, but the effects work perfectly. Squeaking shoes, bouncing balls, and the satisfying “swish” of a shot that finds its way home, are all here and all sound nice.
Jordan vs Bird is a surprisingly strong basketball title, with fair controls and graphics that accurately represent what’s going on down on the virtual court. If I had but one complaint, it would be that the quarter stops when the clock runs out, even if a ball is hanging in the air. I tied my first game because of this, despite the fact that game-winning shot was on its way to the bucket. Also, the game can get boring quickly, and offers little replay value, especially if you’re playing solo. Perhaps this would be solved by having Jordan and Bird take on some supervillians, or a battle royal, such as Jordan vs Bird vs Mothra. With these simple additions, the game would be unstoppable.
Nice one-on-one basketball title, with some fun additional modes. Cool title as well – glad they didn’t go with “Mike n’ Larry”
Best when played against another player, still not a game that’s likely to last very long.