Suburban Basketball is one of those games where I’m completely uncertain if the developer, Quinn Tonelli, intended it to be art, but that’s how it ended up. You’re probably either going to look at the below screenshots and either scoff and assume I’m daft, or you’ll say, “Oh golly, this sings to me.”
It’s a Doom mod that escaped from the shallow grave where we left Web 1.0. It’s the sort of dream that dial-up modems wake up screaming from. It brings me back to the days of exploring the filthy, disease-ridden alleyways of the ‘90s and early 2000s. That’s how I know it’s art: it elicits a reaction, even if that reaction is flashbacks of fever dreams caused by a combination of heat stroke and researching how to catch the Pokegods.
It’s not a very good game, which is fine. I don’t think it’s trying to be, and don’t we have enough of those already?
Take my advice: after you unzip Suburban Basketball, don’t mess with the settings. I tried to tailor mine to my gaming rig, and it broke everything. I lost hours of company time trying to get everything to display correctly, and in the end, I just unzipped a fresh copy.
Suburban Basketball is built on Freedoom Phase 2, which is itself built on the bones of 1993’s Doom. It looks the part. While there is a decent amount that is original in Suburban Basketball, many of the textures and some of the audio files were deliberately ripped from other sources, edited badly, then pasted in a distorted manner. The result is what looks like an exaggerated representation of what you’d get from random wads you might download from horrible-looking websites in the ‘90s.
The level design itself looks like something I would have put together in the Build Engine Editor sometime after the release of Duke Nukem 3D. There’s an attempt at replicating the real world, but it’s so slapdash and badly done that it’s almost offensive. Basketball City is an absolute abomination of garish colors and nauseating geometry. It’s how you make an urban planner cry. Make no mistake; it wants to hurt you.
Shoot some dunks at the beef-ball ring
There’s a game here, but only barely. Oddly for a Doom mod, there’s a jump button. Moreover, if you jump again while next to a wall, you’ll “parkour” and do another hop. The only enemies here are guards who will take away your basketball if they catch you. Most of the objectives just involve going to places, talking to people, or shooting some hoops. Like Skyrim with more ups.
Progress is tracked through a journal system that is hard to read. For that matter, the main menu is also hard to read. Dialogue windows are a bit better, but they often extend over the choice windows. It’s like Suburban Basketball wants to murder your eyes.
The story involves our hero, John Basketball, as he, uh… goes to school and then becomes a lackey for Netcoin’s supreme chancellor. There are three endings, and none of them are actually endings. I don’t want to spoil it but prepare to be very confused, extremely perturbed, and slightly aroused.
The meaning of art
It’s weird to talk about the value of Suburban Basketball. It’s something of a Cruelty Squad situation, where a lot of it is designed to offend your sensibilities, but I find it strangely engrossing. As I said at the hop, it speaks to me, and I’m not sure I can recommend it to someone it doesn’t speak to.
I’m probably overthinking it. If I’m being honest, Suburban Basketball scares me. It’s a ball of Christmas lights forgotten in an abandoned garage. As I try to untangle them, I keep coming across squirrel carcasses and live vipers. Things just keep getting more harrowing, despite the fact that loosening the wires and uncrossing them seems to have no effect on the larger mess. I should just accept it as it is. Plug this tangled mess of bulbs into the wall socket and hope that it doesn’t just burst into flames. And if it does, maybe that was intentional.
Maybe you should just see for yourself. Suburban Basketball is free (or however much you want to pay) on itch.io.
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