Review: Dunk Dream (Neo Geo CD)

Dunk Dream was released in Japanese arcades and on SNK's Neo Geo hardware in 1994. It is known as Street Hoop in North America and Street Slam in Europe, and is one of the few Neo Geo games to have a unique title in each of the three territories. Released a year after Midway's excellent NBA Jam, it's hard not to compare the two games. So how does Japan's answer to NBA Jam hold up? Read on to find out.

Dunk Dream is a 3-on-3 basketball with an emphasis on action rather than realism. In the American version, you get to choose between 10 teams spanning various cities in the United States. In the other versions, you select between 10 world teams, spanning 10 different countries. After selecting a team, you then compete against the other 9 teams. You win the game after beating all of the other teams.

Each team is differentiated by unique colored uniforms, and 4 different attributes: speed, defense, dunk, and 3-point. With the US teams, the colors vaugly resemble their real world counter-parts. The Chicago team has red jerseys and shorts for example. The players on all the teams are generic and look the same, just with different skin tones and hair colors. There are no numbers on the jerseys.

The controls are extremely simple, utilizing just two of the action buttons. On offense you can shoot or pass. On defense you can jump or grab at the ball. There are some situational variances in the controls, sometimes you will swat at the ball, and sometimes you will shove the opponent, but it's still the same button that does both. There is no turbo button. The controls are fast and responsive, as you would expect from a Neo Geo game. The pace of the game is a little slower than NBA Jam, but the action still moves along at a good clip.

Dunk Dream took a while to grow on me, because it feels very different than NBA Jam. The courts are a little smaller, the characters a bit bigger, and the fact that there are 2 extra players on the court made things a little more crowded than I was used to. But after sticking with it for a while, I started getting the flow of the title and starting winning games.

The defense in Dunk Dream is fairly aggressive. Opponents will steal the ball if you stand still even for a moment, and they always seem to be in a position to snatch the ball out of the air. The key is to get down the court quickly and pass often to catch the defense off guard. Depending on your team, you are either going to set yourself up for 3 point shots, or drive down the center for a dunk. The defense can knock you down mid-dunk, so you need really need to pay attention to what they are doing. It's all rather overwhelming at first.

After making 5 shots, you fill up your "Super Shot" meter. When this is full, you can perform an over the top slam dunk, or an unblockable 3-point shot, complete with flames. This is really the only gimmick with the game-play. As I mentioned before, there is no turbo, and you can't go "on-fire." Dunk Dream has it's own unique feel.

After an hour or so I started winning games on the easy mode, and eventually played through the tournament twice losing less and less often. The difficulty really ramps up with each mode (4 difficulty levels in all), so there is plenty of replay value after beating Dunk Dreams on easy. The Neo Geo CD version offers unlimited continues, so you don't have to start over when you lose.

Graphically speaking, Dunk Dream is a good looking game. The backgrounds are detailed, colorful and animated, and reminded me of some of the better fighting games out there. The players themselves are fairly large and move along very fluidly. There are a few different courts that you play on, including a beach, parks, and alleys, which add some variety to the game. While it's not gorgeous like Top Hunter or Metal Slug, it's still a step above what the Genesis and Super Nintendo have to offer.

The music deserves special attention. Dunk Dream features some wild hip-hop tracks that could only come from Japan. The lyrics and rhymes are outrageous (classic Neo Geo Engrish) and feature record scratches, piano's, guitars, and wind instruments all at the same time. It's cheesy ("magic on the blacktop, work that ball!") and excellent, and takes advantage of the CD medium. The rest of the sound is good as well. The basketball sounds like a ball, the announcer shouts out one-liners throughout the game, and the players even taunt after impressive dunks. I also love how the announcer shouts "half-court shot" anytime you shoot the ball inside the 3-point line, which makes no sense at all.

The load times in Dunk Dream are not annoying at all. After the initial load when first firing the title up, there are just quick 5-second loads between matches. If you have both the Neo Geo AES, and a Neo Geo CD, it's probably worth picking up the CD version for it's crystal clear sound track.

Dunk Dream definitely has some similarities with NBA Jam but does a good job standing on it's own. I like how the game has more variety in the music, and different locations. The 3-on-3 game play offers it's own unique challenges. I really dig this game, and with few exceptions, I don't care for sports games. So that says a lot.

Overall Dunk Dream is a good game. It shows off some of the power offers by SNK's Neo Geo hardware and takes advantage of the CD medium. The game play is fast, smooth, and challenging. Even non-sport fans should find plenty to like here. Dunk Dream is fairly cheap by Neo Geo standards, and is easy to find. Neo Geo CD owners looking to add some variety to their collection and fans of over-the-top sports game should look no further.

Game Play 7/10 - Solid controls Graphics 7/10 - Bright and colorful, good animation Sound 9/10 - Wonderful soundtrack Overall 7/10 - While not as great as NBA Jam, it's still very fun