When it comes to management games, basketball has long been the sport which has suffered the most surprising neglect. There has never been a consistent franchise with the following or the funding of a Football Manager or an Out of the Park Baseball. Basketball fans instead have endured through sporadic releases from an array of small American and European developers. Often these products have been raw, ugly, outdated and lacking in depth.
However, in recent years Wolverine Studios has broken the deadlock. The series has entered a realm that few sports managers can reach after putting together a string of consistently high-quality releases. Last year’s Draft Day Sports Pro Basketball felt like the moment the series truly ascended; ditching the old interface and putting a slick design on a product which was already a deep, realistic, and intuitive experience. This year’s effort has built on that experience and refined it, making DDSPB 21 one of the best management games going around – a messiah for armchair basketball GMs.
When first running the game, you will notice there are four gameplay modes in the main menu: League, Matchup Maker, Multiplayer and Tournament. Matchup Maker allows you to pit any team against another, choosing from a catalogue of squads ranging back to the 76-77 NBA season. Tournament allows you to make a knockout bracket out of those same teams. Both are supplementary inclusions to DDSPB 21’s main experience, the league mode.
There is an impressive suite of customization options available to users when it comes to creating their own personalized league. Different lottery formats, financial models, trading restrictions and scouting limitations – Wolverine makes its game world flexible. These options are incorporated into the four types of leagues that you can run in DDSPB 21. First is the default league which mirrors the NBA and comes with real player names, accurate ratings, and details straight away. There are user mods readily available through the Wolverine Studios forum to give the game all the official logos, team names and images of the NBA as well. All of this makes it quick and easy to setup an authentic NBA world. The second type is a fictional league, giving you fictional players and the ability to choose the number of teams and structure of the league. Then there is the Historical Replay which allows you to begin your career as a manager using any team since the 76-77 season with accurate rosters. Finally, there is the custom roster option where you can take advantage of any rosters created by users.
The Right Combination
Wolverine Studios have managed to create a GM experience that keeps the user heavily involved with building a winning team while not forcing them to make an overwhelming number of decisions. You will quickly find after beginning your GM career that running a successful team in DDSPB 21 is about finding the right combinations of players and play styles. I took control of a talent filled Brooklyn Nets roster in my first season. While winning came about relatively easily during the regular season, I still found I was constantly busy trying to find the right line-ups to take into the playoffs. Fortunately, there are plenty of play styles and strategies to choose between.
DDSPB 21 demonstrates excellent understanding of the sport it is attempting to emulate by affording users the right in-depth statistical knowledge that is needed to make decisions, rather than forcing them to watch every game play out. Under the Insights tab users can see various statistics measuring the performance of every line-up permutation that they have played during the season. I had all the answers to the key questions I was asking myself. Would promising young center Jarrett Allen run better with the starters than veteran Deandre Jordan? Could I play Levert at Point Guard with my bench? Was Dinwiddie’s lack of shooting hurting the starting line-up’s offense? Did playing Harris and Irving together too much hurt my defence? I learnt how to conceal my players’ weaknesses and accentuate their strengths using the tools the game gave me. Injuries will occur throughout the season which provide a challenge to your management skills and test your creativity with personnel. All of this made managing the day-to-day operation of the team an engaging experience and a rewarding one.
The gameday experience in DDSPB 21 is less hands on than the management aspect of the game, but it still provides an effective way to watch games play out, make important decisions, and track how your team performs. You are provided a 2D view of the court with the movements of players roughly mapped out. It’s not a complete real time simulation of each and every action the players take, but in combination with the play-by-play text, a vivid picture of what is occurring on the virtual court is apparent. During games I found myself closely managing substitutions, altering defensive matchups, and occasionally calling set plays in key contexts. There weren’t as many strategic options as I would have liked, but I felt like I had control where it was necessary. For example, in a cross-town matchup against the Knicks I noticed opposition Point Guard Elfrid Payton was having too much success against Kyrie Irving while the rest of the Knicks struggled. In response I changed Payton’s preferred matchup to a bigger and better defender in Spencer Dinwiddie – Payton barely scored for the rest of the game.
Sleek Design 2.0
DDSPB 21’s user interface has continued to improve after making a leap last year. The menus are neat and effective, presenting large amounts of information without cluttering the screen or sacrificing visual flair. The dashboard screen gives you a polished overview of your roster, team performance and news – all while using the color scheme of your chosen organization. Logos are glossy, made large, and often utilized to give various screens a more vibrant look. The same approach is given to the draft night screen which includes images of a mock coverage program with text bubbles conveying the story of the night. During matches you’ll see notifications mentioning player milestones or performance highlights which pop up briefly and elegantly down the bottom of the screen. Wolverine is persistent in consistently providing the user with significant data to keep them engaged.
A Brilliant Simulator
Perhaps the most impressive part of the game is its ability to accurately model modern basketball and the NBA. Everything from three-point attempts to points per game, league leaders and standings. There were rarely immersion breaking results being produced while still allowing for unpredictability. The dominant teams in my first season were mostly expected except for a rampaging Atlanta Hawks team led by Trae Young who would go on a run in the latter half of the year, winning the championship with a bit of injury luck.
The AI was intelligent when it came to trading and building its roster. I struggled to swindle teams when attempting to bolster my squad after an early playoff exit in my first season and was forced to focus on tinkering with what I had. Free agency was challenging, with teams making strong offers to the top players. Mid to low value players would begin with initially high demands, meaning that you would have to risk waiting it out if you were looking to get them at a fair value. Wolverine leaves few cracks in its game world for the user to exploit.
DDSPB 21 is a rare but brilliant achievement in the context of sports management simulations. This is the best way to run your own virtual basketball world and to take the role of manager within it. Fine-tuned AI and effective use of data reward the user for being constantly engaged and making decisions. Meanwhile, the sleek design keeps the experience vibrant and helps maintain replay value.
Wolverine understands the quirks of the sport and this shines throughout, making DDSPB 21 an excellent savior for armchair NBA GMs around the world. Leave a comment or talk about DDSPB21 with us on reddit…