As is the case with real Basketball, the goal is to outscore one's opponent by making more baskets, but that's where the similarity ends. You're better served by slicing and dicing your opponent then nailing a 20-foot jumper, or wheelin' and dealin' your foe with a body blow than slammin' down a monster dunk. During the game, you can pick up various power-ups, weapons and other helpful items, and even call to the sidelines for help from the crowd.
Although this concept later worked well with NBA Jam, it doesn't quite pan out in Basketbrawl. One button basically lets you shoot the ball while the second button unleashes brutal attacks. The variety of shots and offensive moves is sorely lacking, and because of the frantic pace of the game, it basically turns into a repetitive fighting contest. In trying to combine basketball and one-on-one combat, Atari failed in making either of them fun. Choppy animations and poor controls also conspire to make this one into a real airball.
The graphics don't do much to enhance the game's appeal. Little was done to soup-up the visuals from the 7800 version with the exception of slightly more detailed backgrounds. Sound effects are also muffled, repetitive and boring.
While the concept shows lots of potential, Atari would've been better served by first seperately working on a decent basketball game and a fighter (and no, Pit Fighter doesn't count) -- or anything that would be more exciting than Basketbrawl.