Even as a young upstart, Kobe Bryant looked like a superstar in the making. It is not much of a surprise then that the former Los Angeles Laker already had a video game to his name at the tender age of 19. In 1998 Nintendo released the Left Field Productions-developed Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside when Kobe was just a sophomore.

Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside isn’t perfect although it does have a great soundtrack. It is actually far from the phenomenon that is NBA Hangtime, which is one of the most successful Nintendo 64 titles of all time. In fact, Old School Gamer Magazine gave it an A+ rating in a previous review. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside received generally favorable reviews upon its release, and even sold more than a million copies.

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Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside is a basketball simulation game, one that features 5-on-5 gameplay. Players could play one of three modes: Pre-Season (Exhibition), Season, and Playoffs. Games in Season and Playoffs modes could be simulated, with players having the option of playing only the games they want to play. These games had varying difficulties depending on the player’s skill level: rookie, pro, and all-star. Moreover, all 30 NBA teams were featured and they reflected the 1997–1998 season rosters, sans one Michael Jordan (due to licensing restrictions) and Latrell Sprewell (because of the infamous choking incident).

The graphics, obviously, are what you’d expect for a N64 game, but then again, that’s a given considering the era when the game was made. But it was still ahead of its time back then, and Left Field deserves plenty of credit for that. Blocky graphics aside, the gameplay is actually quite solid for a 5-on-5 basketball game. It is easy and intuitive, which makes it easy to master (the C button on offense is fantastic!). The music rocks, too, with the combination of hip-hop and rap that has become standard fare for basketball games.

Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside was a success, and that compelled Nintendo and Left Field to release sequel in 1999 titled NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant. Kobe was more involved in this game, even performing its motion capture. Like Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside, NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant received favorable reviews, and sold just as many copies.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the both titles featured Kobe’s name. At the time of both games’ release, Kobe was the straight-from-high school star making a name for himself. He was ultra talented, with an undeniable charisma and a megawatt smile. In Kobe Bryant in NBA Courtside, Kobe proved he could be the face of a (non-basketball) franchise; then in NBA Courtside 2: Featuring Kobe Bryant, he proved to be a top brand ambassador.

Kobe, of course, would go on to win 4 NBA titles, establishing himself as one of basketball’s very best. He retired in 2016 after spending 20 years with the Purple and Gold, a franchise that fell into irrelevance without their Hall of Fame main man. Kobe, though, remains invested in his former team; in fact, he is positive about the Lakers’ future thanks to the arrival of LeBron James, an all-time great like Kobe. With LeBron now leading the Purple and Gold, bwin’s NBA listings have given the Lakers long odds to win the championship. But that is unlikely to happen given the immense talent of title favorites the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors. Still, Kobe is unfazed, and is actually defiant — a trait he has displayed since his NBA Courtside days. And looking back, Nintendo and Left Field Productions couldn’t have picked a better basketball player to carry the franchise.

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