We all have that one friend. The friend who has a Sega instead of a Nintendo or a Colecovision instead of an Atari. This friend tends to lean towards the obscure and likes to talk about “alternative” versions of mainstream titles. Deciding on which game to play with this friend can be a total pain in the ass but don’t worry, Versus Mode is here to help.
Arch Rivals is a basketball themed beat’em up which was ported to the NES in 1990. The game includes all the parts of a standard basketball game with one exception. In Arch Rivals, the player is encouraged to smack down opposing players in order to steal the ball or block shots. Players choose from four teams consisting of two players with skill descriptions that include “A real champ” and “A great player”.
Gameplay is frenetic and brutal, literally. Player animations are a bit choppy and include moves such as punch, block, push, and what looks like a body check straight out of Blades of Steel. If your timing is right, you can shatter the backboard during a slam dunk. A cutscene is played after each score which gets annoying after a couple of quarters.
The game is best played with a friend as playing against the computer is difficult and frustrating in typical NES fashion. I found myself down 30 points by halftime. The opponent AI is good but could be beatable if the control was more precise. Court sounds are minimal with the swish of the net and bounce of the ball. A bass heavy hip hop beat plays throughout the entire game session.
Basketbrawl is also a basketball themed beat’em released on the Atari 7800 in 1990. In similar fashion to Arch Rivals, the goal is to use any means necessary to defeat your opponent but with a couple of twists. In Basketbrawl, the game takes place on outdoor streetball courts. Punching is the primary attack which can be boosted by power-ups that appear randomly during gameplay. Players take damage and can eventually be knocked out. Teams can be set to one-on-one or two-on-two.
While the brawler action of both games is similar, the vibe is very different. Gameplay in comparison to Arch Rivals feels much more dark and violent. Arch Rivals comes off as cartoony and campy while Basketbrawl feels like it takes place on disputed turf between the Rogues and The Warriors. Instead of bouncy cheerleaders and pissed off coaches, Basketbrawl has a ref that throws knives at players in order to keep the action moving.
The game’s AI is not as relentless as in Arch Rivals but this could be attributed to the fact that the control in Basktbrawl is much more responsive to player input. The in-game music has a similar hip hop theme but the sound effects are jarring and dreadful thanks to the 7800 sharing the same sound chip that was found in the original Atari 2600.
In this Versus Mode matchup, the winner is Basketbrawl. While Arch Rivals has better graphics and sound, the gameplay and vibe of Basketbrawl kept my interest piqued for a much longer gaming session.
On a side note, if you are interested in a hands-on experience with the Atari 7800 it would be wise to scrap the ProLine controller and pick up the CX78 joypad. It has a proper D-pad and two button configuration that feels just as comfortable as the NES controller.