Remember Bottom of the 9th or NBA In the Zone? They’re forgotten relics for most, early PlayStation sports games from Konami, a company not well known for their sporting endeavors. Most gave up on the studios simulations after something like NFL Football on the SNES, an unplayable Mode 7 disgrace that never should have seen release.
But, there was something magical once they hit the PlayStation. This was an era where attitude was everything, where game designers wanted their games to have both a visual and playful edge. In comes the XXL series, and off we go.
NBA In the Zone, long before it became a hilariously blurry mess on the N64 (and took a turn for the simulation crowd that never connected), was the epitome of that style. While out of touch with the most basic of physics, In the Zone had a rigid drive and furious dunks that had a rare power behind them. Even the venerable NBA Jam didn’t carry so much weight, and the peppy jump shots felt right. You could feel the 3D era seeping in between the flubs while salivating over visuals that for the time were mind boggling.
Bottom of the 9th? Despite some lack of pop off the bat, Konami’s baseball outing was a revelation in the batter/pitcher duel. Where as few 16-bit era games even tried to evolve from the one-button batting system (where contact was a given just on timing), Bottom of the 9th required cursor-based aiming. Pitch placement became crucial, and a risk/reward with a power hit lessened the contact area potential. This was the next generation, with idea that would carry through and seem passe now. Konami’s XXL series made it into normalcy.
Konami wasn’t perfect. They did issue yet another football dud titled Full Contact (PlayStation Museum has a nice rundown of that one) and each series would find itself floundering against better produced competition. After all, it’s hard to bump against a sports giant like EA when you’re a company known for action titles. Still, I can safely thank those two sports titles for helping a transition that could have been bumpy from a Nintendo-based kid. They blew me away, and because of their arcade base, still have their charms against the mind boggling realism of today.