Although as a child this game was really my only exposure to this idea, for some reason there were numerous sports game made in the 80s and 90s, most notably Super Baseball 2020, where futuristic robots (some of the art makes them look like cyborgs or something, but in game they look like robots) played instead of humans. With little explanation as to why he is the only human hanging out with a bunch of futuristic robots, this game used basketball bad boy Bill Laimbeer to legitimize the combat elements of the game because apparently this was his dream of how basketball should be played or something. Bill Laimbeer was a star player for the Detroit Pistons known essentially for being a dick. He frequently fouled other players and fought with referees. So Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball brings violence, (if you can call robots pushing each other over violence) robots, and celebrity together in a way that I don’t know has ever been done before or since.
My first exposure to this game was playing it at my friend Wes’s house. He got a SNES before we did and along with it a few games Super Mario World, some weird game with the superscope and Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball. Since we only had these handful of games to play and eventually we got bored of Super Mario World, we ended up playing a lot of Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Baskebtall. I was so excited to be playing the SNES during those times and part of my love of this game is relieving that excitement.
However, it goes beyond that too. Much overlooked in its terrible gameplay, Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball had interesting strategic elements in its campaign mode where you started with a team of lousy robots and as you won more games and won more money, you got to upgrade to better robots. This part of the game was fairly simple, but I remember loving this simple combination of strategy (you had to decide what kind of robots to buy-faster ones, good shooters, etc.) with the addictive ability to gain incremental progress towards making your team better. Although it has a ridiculous amount more depth, Out of the Park Baseball, one of my favorite game series of all time, has similar core elements where you are trying to strategically improve your team.
I guess it’s mostly nostalgia, since I generally have little tolerance for such terrible games, but something about this game speaks to me. It’s bad, but with a strangeness all its own. I like the fact that you are playing something so unpolished where you have to figure out how to win despite the glitches and awkwardness. Much like many people like to watch old, campy science fiction movies with silly looking special effects, I like that Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball contains such a bizarre combination of elements and has that same kind of rushed, shoe-strong budget feel of these campy old movies. I see so much potential in all of this quirkiness as if, in some kind of alternate universe where this game was well polished with better graphics, it would have been a cult classic talked about for years to come. Instead it is something more on par with Yor Hunter from the Future. If only you could also play combat basketball with cavemen . . .