Remember NBA Elite 13? No? Well, sorry for reminding you. I still have the demo on my Xbox 360 harddrive as a staunch reminder of how terribly EA Sports ruined a franchise I personally hold so close to my heart.
I'm not quite sure I can even forgive the company for that. Back in 2010 I discussed how NBA Live was finally starting to make up ground on the dominating NBA 2K series, only for it to all come crashing down with NBA Elite 11. I'm still truly lost as to why such a direction was taken with the game -- I'm strongly of the opinion that it had one of the worst control schemes OF ALL TIME! -- especially after the very solid NBA Live 10.
Now, after a two-year layoff, NBA Live is coming back. I know I should probably be happy about that, but it frustrates me more than anything because it all seemed like a massive waste, and a true failure of a rebranding. To say that EA waved the white flag is probably the understatement of the century: the fact the publisher is returning to NBA Live at all is a massive inditement on its initial decision to ditch the brand in the first place.
The NBA Live franchise had been part of my life since 1995. I always acknowledged that the NBA 2K series was probably the better simulation, but I had become accustomed to NBA Live, and have never truly been able to become as attached to 2K Sports' series as I was with EA Sports'. I guess you could call me an "NBA Live fanboy", but it's not like I'm sitting here saying it's better than NBA 2K, because, as of right now, it's most definitely not (obviously, right?), and it wasn't from the moment NBA Live 06 was released.
Can EA Sports win me over again with NBA Live 13? I hope so. But there are some pretty basic fundamentals the development team needs to adhere to if it wants to win back its fanbase.
Don't Try To Reinvent The Wheel
NBA Live 10 wasn't perfect, but it was an improvement on the year before, just as NBA Live 09 was on the iteration before it. NBA Elite 11 simply wasn't NBA Live: it was a completely different package, and nothing more than a wannabe NBA 2K game.
However, it failed so miserably that it single-handedly ruined EA Sports' reputation when it came to basketball games. No amount of awful NBA Live glitches could have done that, which goes to show just how bad the NBA Elite 11 demo was.
It was bad because it simply tried too hard. The control scheme was awful, the passing system was broken, animations were off, and the experience was just a massive cluster of awfulness and incoherentness.
Stick To The Basics
Keep the gameplay basic. It really is as simple as that. "Basic" is certainly a vague way to describe gameplay, especially when it comes to a basketball game, but complicating things for the sake of making it feel more "realistic", as NBA Elite did, does nothing to enhance the experience. Don't mix things up, keep the passing and shooting mechanics mapped to standard controls that basketball fans know and understand, and build a game around that.
The gameplay doesn't necessarily have to be so basic that mechanics are mapped to a single face-button, but don't, for example, map a pass to the right shoulder button. Gee whiz was that a bad design choice.
Give Gamers The Full Package
I hope that this game behind a reboot isn't justification for a stripped-down package. You can't have a basketball sim without full franchise features -- including a working trading system and managerial options -- and extras (like online league play) and expect people to play your game.
EA Sports has done that before -- NBA Live 06 on Xbox 360 brings back awful memories -- so hopefully it doesn't go down that road again.
What do you think EA Sports needs to do to challenge NBA 2K?
NBA Live 13 is set for release this October for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC
By Gaetano Prestia - Tweet @Gaetano_Prestia