Publisher: Milton Bradley
Total time played: 1.5 Hours
Short review: A primitive basketball game featuring 2 of the NBA’s all-time greatest players.
Interesting links related to Jordan Vs. Bird One on One
An Interesting Work Around
Old video games always were always trying new things to portray sports in a way that hid the limitations of the primitive hardware. Many of the early NES sports games were pretty bad with stiff controls that only followed the very basic rules of the sport. Jordan vs. Bird knew they couldn’t do a full 5 on 5 basketball game the way they wanted to and decided to make it a 1 on 1 game that freed up some processing power to make the game more fun.
In my opinion it didn’t work and the faux variety of game modes didn’t help. All of this is just me speculating. It is also possible the developers just wanted to do something different to stand out from the pack of other NES basketball games. In that way, they succeeded.
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird
Without a doubt, these two guys are 2 of the best NBA players of all time. In my opinion Jordan is the best NBA player ever (although my limited sports knowledge makes my opinion worth about as much as an NES copy of Jordan vs Bird). Larry Bird is a legend but still doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I saw an infographic a few years back that showed that Larry Bird actually had better stats at almost every point in his career than Lebron James.
Jordan was his own brand and rarely lent his likeness to sports games. That is why in many games of the 1990’s and 2000’s the Bulls would have a generic player wear #23 who happened to be the best player on the team. I wonder if Jordan got a bad taste in his mouth from the mediocrity of this game he gave his name to?
3 Game Modes
In Jordan Vs. Bird there are 3 game modes and all are pretty much just not a lot of fun. You can chose to play a full game of basketball, a shortened game to 11 or 15 points or just shoot around and warmup.
You can choose to do a slam dunk contest against another player, practice dunks or follow the leader where you must do the same dunk as the other player.
You can choose to participate in the 3 point contest or just practice shooting.
One on One
In this mode you take control of either Michael Jordan or Larry Bird and play half court basketball. There are a few options to choose from including if you want to play a full game or just play to 11. You can also choose the length of the quarters and the difficulty. I played on multiple difficulties and didn’t notice any difference.
There isn’t much to this game. A shoots if you are on offense and B swats at the ball if you are on defense. When shooting the ball the goal is to hold A and release it towards the top of your jump to release. If you wait too long the invisible referee will call traveling. I believe the closer you release the ball to the top of your jump the better chance it has to go in. If you are close to the basket and hit A you will perform a dunk.
It took me a few tries to win for some reason. The computer AI is not that smart so it should have been easier than it was. I played as Jordan and 90% of the time I could just run around Bird and dunk for an easy 2 points. I struggled more on defense. Most of the time I could just tap the left or right button and run Bird into the bottom corners of the screen and swat the ball away from him. But, a lot of times he would just launch a shot and it would go in. He hit a lot of 3 pointers which meant my 2 point dunks weren’t enough to beat him.
Anyway, after a few games I bested him. I didn’t play as Bird and I didn’t play best to 11 or 15. I just did the straight 2 minute quarter full games
Slam Dunk Contest
In this game mode you have the option to play against the computer or with up to 3 friends. I played against the computer and we competed in a Jordan vs Jordan dunk contest. That’s right, only Jordan dunks so no matter how many players are in the contest they are all Michael Jordan.
There are 10 dunks to choose from and some look pretty cool for the NES. The problem is that they are hard to do. This is more of a timing game than anything. You need to know when to release the ball during your jump to make the dunk and score the most points. The computer is really good at this and you basically just need to practice for a while to get the timing down and also get really lucky. Many times my dunk would go in and I’d get 4’s and 5’s from the judges. The computer would do a dunk that looked identical and get 8’s and 9’s
There are judges who score your dunks, the highest score after 3 rounds of play wins. I’m unsure if the winner is determined by total score over the 3 rounds or if the winner is the person who wins 2 of the 3 rounds.
After learning that you can only be Jordan in the dunk contest it probably comes as no surprise that you can only be Larry Bird in the 3-Point Contest.
This one took a minute to get the hang of. There is a rack of balls set up in the right corner of the floor and you hit a button to grab a ball and then tap A to jump and at the peek of your jump tap B to release the ball. This is different than how you shoot in the other game modes. You get 1 point for each ball that goes in the basket and 2 points if the last ball of each rack goes into the basket.
After shooting the 5 balls in the first rack a new rack appears which you must run to and shoot again. You have 60 seconds to shoot 30 balls. Highest score after 3 rounds win the contest. Again, I’m unsure if it is a cumulative score over 3 rounds or just the person who wins 2 fo the 3 rounds.
There is a pretty big glitch here. If you shoot a ball and pick up another ball before the first ball goes in then your first ball disappears. So, you have to wait for every shot to go in or miss before attempting another shot.
Be Careful When Pausing The Game
On more than one occasion while I was playing someone would come into the room and say something and I’d go to pause the game. Muscle memory tells me that Start pauses NES games. On rare occasions Select pauses a game, this is one of those times. In most games where Select pauses the game the Start button does nothing, but not in Jordan Vs. Bird. The Start button takes you back to the menu of the game where you select which game mode you want to play. There is no “are you sure” message or anything, if you accidentally hit start it is basically the same as pushing the reset button on the console. Who thought this was a good idea?
This felt like a game that everyone knew some kid who had it. I remember playing it as a kid but I don’t really have many memories from it. It is a bit different than other basketball games from the same time and I feel like it is one of the first games people remember when it comes to sports and the NES. After playing it in 2021 I’m pretty sure they remember the game because of the 2 superstars attached to it and not because of the fun gameplay.
This is not a good game. It was ambitious but there just isn’t enough meat on the bone to make it fun to play. It is glitchy and somehow it is both too hard (dunk and 3 point contest) and too easy (regular game) at the same time.