By xanadu 6 Comments
I woke up this morning thinking about The Jordan Challenge and NBA 2k11. This was a mode that put you directly in the shoes of Sir Airness himself with a task of challenges and feats to complete in many of his most famous performances. Can you score 47 points against the Bad Boys Piston roster and their ruthless "Jordan Rules" (let anybody but Michael shoot the ball) tactics? Can you beat the dynamic Jazz duo of Stockton and Malone while suffering from the flu in the '97 NBA Finals? From Jordan's first year in the playoffs ('86) to his last appearance in the '98 finals, NBA 2k11 lets you relive basketball from one of its greatest era's and players.
If you were a #90'sKid (I'm sorry about that) like me, you might be familiar with how popular basketball was at the this time. It was a tougher sport, the hand checking rule was still in play, and getting to the basket posed a real physical threat to your body. The 90's was a decade to host some of the all time legends to ever play the game. From Ewing, Stockton, Barkley, O'Neil, Miller, Pippen, Robinson, Olajuwan, and so much more; these players made watching Basketball so much fun with almost every team having a "threat" of a player who could shut down any game. And of course despite all that, we had Jordan reigning supreme over everyone. Half of the fun from the Jordan Challenge is not just playing as the legendary Bulls but also playing against the other greats from this time.
Another aspect that made this mode stand out so much for me was the presentation. 2K took the time to make the games look and feel like watching a sports broadcast from the past. The character models looked incredibly realistic and authentic to their appearance. Jerseys and arenas were altered just for the challenge mode. Additionally, classic visual effects were added like film grain, sepia, and washed out colors. It definitely had a negative effect from how good and crisp the regular game looks, but it is extremely effective at drawing you into the past and presenting these historic events as accurately as possible. And of course, the sprinkles on top of this delicious cupcake was the excellent commentary from the regular 2K crew. Obviously getting the commentators from the actual games would have been amazing but impossible. Taking the time to record comments and fact stats for some 10 games alone is a testimony to why NBA 2K has the greatest commentary system of any sports game.
NBA 2K11 on its own was a revelation at the time. Breaking away from an era when sports games were arcade like and played fast and loose, 2k11 was a griddy no nonsense simulation of basketball. For better or worse, you had to understand the fundamental concepts of basketball to not get your ass handed to you by the CPU. If you tried to play it like NBA Live or even 2K10 things are going to go bad for you. Given the utter destruction of NBA Live and their abysmal attempts to refresh the series, time has proved that 2K has won the argument on what basketball fans want. Maybe Live should just go back to what they did best and stop trying to catch up to NBA 2K's hardcore simulation style (but that is a story for another day perhaps)...
This is all why I have found it so disappointing that NBA 2K has never really expanded on this idea since its conception. Outside of 2K12 which simply let you play against rival match ups from the past, the mode has been all but forgotten. I'm guessing they had some kind of statistical analysis to suggest the time/effort of development to played hours ratio was not worth it. Or maybe a more cynical thought is that they couldn't find a way to monetize the mode like they did with MyPlayer and MyCourt modes. Never the less, I would LOVE to see a return of this mode featuring new players other than Jordan. Imagine replaying Reggie Miller's infamous game against the New York Knicks and Spike Lee where he scored 8 points in 9 seconds for a comeback win. Or how about a lengthy career highlight mode featuring greats like Bill Russel, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, or even Kobe Bryant? A what if mode could be really neat as well (I'll finally be able to rewrite history by having the '93 Bulls taken out by my sweet, sweet Suns and that beautiful Barkley boy in the Finals).
Alas, I fear if the mode has been dormant for so long we will never see its return. At least I have the great Jordan Challenge Mode to fall back onto when ever I get the nostalgic itch. Who else has love for this mode besides me? Or anything similar? What games broke your heart by taking out something you loved the most in its sequels?