The 1980s were a Golden Age for cartoonish super villains. Consider the brutish evil of Dolph Lundgren as Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, the greed of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. Yet both pale in comparison to Bill Laimbeer as portrayed by himself on the Detroit Pistons.
Consider: Bill Laimbeer was on the Pistons with Dennis Rodman and still managed to be the most hated member of the team. He holds the distinction of having been punched by such luminaries as Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Charles Barkley. Bill Simmons once referred to Lambier as “the anti-Christ” and “the dirtiest player of his era.” Such was the legacy of the man known as “His Heinous” and “The Prince of Darkness.”
Now, try to imagine the kind of sports video game that such a figure would bestow his name upon. It couldn’t be a normal competition. Fortunately, Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball for the SNES is no ordinary game.
Gameplay is set in the future. How far into the future? The year 2030. Given that we are now a mere 12 years from that date, our technology needs to begin improving rapidly if we hope to prove the game prophetic. In this Orwellian nightmare of a future, Bill Laimbeer has become commissioner of basketball. As such, he has decided to fire all referees and to eliminate fouls from the game. Not content with eliminating the law, Laimbeer’s version of allows players to punch, tackle and shove each other without reprisals. As an added twist, the crowd can throw weapons and mines onto the court during the game. There are missiles and saw blades. Fortunately, players are heavily armored so the court is not constantly awash with blood.
The back of the game box has Laimbeer delightedly exclaiming, “This is basketball my way! No wimps, no wussies! It’s not just basketball. It’s Combat Basketball!”
Once you’ve bought into the premise, there are a few nitty gritty details to get out of the way. The game is played from a top down perspective. Games are five on five. The directional pad moves your player and the B button does everything else: shooting, passing, jumping, and shoving. Problematically, this occasionally means might jump when you really wanted to assault someone.
In the league mode, you could build a team by buying and selling players. You received money for each game you played, $50,000 for each win, $25,000 for a tie, and $10,000 for a loss. You work your way through multiple leagues of increasing difficulty, sort of like working your way up from the developmental league to the pros. Each season lasts 14 games, and the top two teams at the end of a season advance to the next league. As an aside, all teams have very intense sounding names like, “Brothers Grim” and “Danger Dudes.”
It’s hard to know how to write a proper review of such a game. In terms of mechanics, there were significant issues. However, the concept is so bizarre that focusing on these technical details almost seems to miss the point. It’s like watching Sharknado and worrying about a few minor plot holes. Beyond that, overly criticizing the game seems like an invitation for the very real Bill Laimbeer to track you down and beat the ever living tar out of you.