NES game review: Magic Johnson's Fast Break

By Justin Rybinski

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The magic of emulation has made old video game cartridges essentially worthless. However, now anyone can play any game at any time on the computer, without spending any money. This means that whenever you're in the mood to play a certain type of game, you have an entire library of games at your disposal. For example, if you say to yourself, "I want to play a game I can beat in an hour where I shoot cartoon robots, gain their power and kill a lunatic scientist," you'd probably play Mega Man 2.

What all this means is that I was in the mood to play a terrible, outdated basketball game, preferably for the NES (the original Nintendo Entertainment System, for those living in a cave since the Carter administration). I perused my NES game collection on my computer and came across something I'd never played before: Magic Johnson's Fast Break. I've always been a Magic Johnson fan, so I figured this game might actually be a little too good for the mood I was in. Nevertheless, I loaded it up and began what would be one of the worst experiences of my life. Yes, worse than the time I was kidnapped by pirates and forced to raze ye mizzenmast.

I actually have the real cartridge for this game, so here's what the box looks like. It promises "Slammin'-Jammin' Basketball ACTION." That's a hard promise to back up. I love how they had to alter Johnson's jersey on the box cover to say "Magic" instead of "Lakers." They also retarded up Magic's number 32. See?

Why are there two clouds of dust coming from the player making a lay-up? One for each leg? That doesn't make any sense. They seem to come together at the end, so maybe he conjoined with his doppelganger. There's more boasting on this side of the box.

If you can't read that blurry mess (stupid camera), it says "'Fast Break is awesome! It's like a 3-pointer at the buzzer!' -- Magic Johnson." Of course Magic is going to say that. I don't think the company would have printed "Holy Christ in a convertible, this game licks hairy balls." Either way, this game is far from awesome.

There's the title screen. Why Magic is wearing teal Keds is beyond me. This screen actually doesn't look too terrible, especially when compared to typical NES standards. This is as good as things get, my friend.

The first thing you do is pick the difficulty level. Since I had never played before, I picked "C Advanced." I don't understand why Professional is harder than Expert. Or why Average is clearly NOT average in this game.

Remember the game Double Dribble, also for the NES? No? Well, this game is essentially a less-fun version of Double Dribble. The main flaw with Double Dribble was that stealing the ball was waaaaaaay too easy. Essentially, all you needed to do was press A when you were next to the dude with the ball. Here, in Fast Break, as long as you press A when you're on the same half of the court as the ballhandler, you steal the ball. However, this seems to work a lot better for the computer than it will you. At the end of the first quarter of play, the computer team had more steals than attempted shots. Seems reasonable.

Before each quarter begins, Magic is kind enough to shout some idiotic catchphrase while telling you how great you are, even if you're losing by 340 to another player with no arms. See?

Magic keeps the same countenance, even when he's yelling at you for committing a sinful act, such as a backcourt violation. These happen about once a minute, as you'll accidentally re-cross the half-court stripe with the ball while still cramming on the A button to steal.

Oh, right, offensive fouls. I played two games of Magic Johnson's Fast Break and six offensive fouls occurred in all. That's not too terribly strange, but when you also only commit one defensive foul in the two-game series, it seems odd. Have the programmers ever seen a basketball game before?

It was actually fairly difficult to get good action shots of this game. Everything moves so fast, and very sloppily, I might add. When there's all sorts of nothing taking place at a brisk pace, it's hard to reach over and press the F9 screenshot key. Players also don't exactly "shoot" the ball at the hoop; they kind of whip it as fast as they can with no arc. Of course, the computer makes well over 70% of these line drive shots, where you will take your 40% and shut the hell up and be happy.

I soon realized I had an equal chance of making a three-point shot than I did a lay-up, so I just started chucking the ball once I crossed half-court. For those unfamiliar with basketball, a three-point shot is worth nine and a lay-up is worth six and three-eighths. I really didn't score any more points using this method, but I did get plenty more Magic Johnson slogans tossed my way. Here:

Playing WELL, Magic. And I am going for the three-point shot, you…you…AIDS victim.

Eventually, I learned how to cheat, which is the only reason I was able to keep playing this disaster of a game. Basically, if you cram on A all the time, no matter where you are in relation to the other players, the ball will magically appear in your hands more often than not. If you do this right under the hoop as the computer is passing the ball out, you can steal it and perform a really sad dunk, all in the same quarter-of-a-second span. I'm sure that's all sorts of possible to do in real life.

Well, that's not really me dunking. It was the only good shot I had of someone doing that. Remember, like I said above, most of my screenshots ended up being horrifically boring shots of someone walking down the court. I figure I can only use so many of these shots while still keeping a somewhat-alert audience. Oh well, here's one anyways.

Another great way to cheat is to stand in the corner, face away from the court, and do nothing. You'll hold onto the ball in a comical football pose (where your teammate waits and cheers queerily) and the computer won't be able to steal it from you, probably because it's too busy adjusting its virtual jock strap. Once the shot clock runs down, just chuck it up, and there's a more-than-tangible chance it'll go in. Hell, you miss almost half of your dunks, so why not?

In the end, thanks to my rampant cheating, I pulled out a victory over the helpless computer. Solid defense and good shot selection be damned, there's honestly no way in hell to win this game without pounding on the steal button non-stop. Here's the final stats:

Clearly, I rule. There were 166 steals combined in this game, which is basically how I imagine most wheelchair games end up with. Note how neither team attempted a free throw. What a dumb game.

Feeling full of pride and cheap vodka, I decided to take on the E Professional squad. For some odd reason, they were actually easier to beat than the C Advanced team. Looks like someone needs to double check their COBOL! (Note to COBOL/video game programmers: please do not email me telling me why NES games don't use the COBOL programming system. It was a joke, much like the ones Steve Guttenberg told in the Police Academy movies. Get over it.)

Anyways, this time, I cheated for the entire game and won easily. It takes a special kind of man to cheat to beat a machine at children's games. After I won, this strange screen appeared, showing my salary for the game. (??)

What? So, when I feel like getting another job, I should use this figure on my resume? Whatever you say, Mr. Video Game. Also, what the hell is the FIRE button? This isn't Space Invaders on the Atari 5600 for Christ's sake.

Okay! All right! Shut up already! Jesus. You suck, digitized version of Magic Johnson. I'm taping over all the episodes of your early-'90s late-night talk show with those Tony Little infomercials. I'm also immediately selling my cartridge copy of this crapfest on ebay. Bid high or don't bid at all, kids!


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