I am a big fan of sports games, but often avoid titles that lean into simulating real life sports. This is for a whole number of reasons, but the main two are that typically no simulation of real sports ever actually feels like the real thing and that I find most games like that are way more concerned with fidelity than actually being fun to play. In any case, Hoop Land doesn't have this problem. This retro-styled basketball game is a super arcade-y take on hoops and--despite being in beta--is perfectly enjoyable as is and is completely free to boot.
Balling in bursts
Hoop Land resembles sports titles from the 8-bit era, featuring simplistic sprite players running around a top-down view of a basketball court. In its current form, only exhibition games are available, so you just pick a team and opponent and get to hooping.
The controls are simple virtual buttons for passing, shooting, crossing up, etc. and offers some modern features by default, including an defense assistant that automatically has your character follow their man. You can, of course, take manual control at any time to attempt a steal, block a shot, or any other number of defensive maneuvers you'd like to do. With these tools, you just play basketball and try to outscore the opposing team before time runs out.
Champion of charm
In case you were wondering,Hoop Land is not a NBA licensed game, so all of its teams and players are made up. Although this might be a letdown to anyone who might want to play as their favorite teams or players, I actually find the work put into the team and character design for this game to be remarkably charming. There are definitely some teams that are clearly inspired by real NBA teams (like the "Boston Charms" and their four-leaf clover logo) but there are also a good number of original team concepts like the 80s neon-styled Miami Tides or my personal favorite team, the New Orleans Airmen. It's also worth noting the game has a "load league" option that lets you import data and make a league the way you see fit.
Similarly on the character front, there's a lot of identity put into each team's roster. Not only does every player have their own unique stats, but every player also has their own look. This not only makes Hoop Land a lot more visually interesting than it might otherwise be, but it also lets you put faces to names so you can identify your key playmakers and use them to your advantage without having to pause or call timeouts to look up player stats.
In its retro mold, Hoop Land obviously doesn't feel like a simulation of basketball, but the core game definitely feels true to the nature of the sport. Capitalizing on possessions and playing good defense typically make the difference between a win and a loss, and there's no apparent way to just kind of cheese your way around the game's AI opponents.
That said, there are definitely things I'd like to see added to Hoop Land as it gets out of beta. Something like a career mode would be nice, but even more than that some additional teaching tools, multiplayer capabilities, or just some better ways to look at team rosters and stats could go a really long way.
The bottom line
Hoop Land as a beta is not much more than a core of what looks to be a fuller experience. That said, what is already in the game is quite enjoyable and charming. Especially considering that it is free (with no ads or monetization, mind you), I highly recommend this retro sports game to just about anyone.