I’m a purist when it comes to videogames. Instead of jumping on the next big bandwagon I’m more inclined to reminiscence about the greatness of the games of yesterday. Sure they have much in common with today’s games but they didn’t rely on silly gimmicks or innovative features to attract our attention. Game designers at that time actually listened to their audiences and provided them with more of what they craved. Sure most of the games were similar in design but that didn’t stop me from spending entire weekends at the local arcade. I look at Midway as a throwback company because, well, they were there at the start of the revolution. Sure their games have been stumbling as of late but they’ve recommitted themselves to giving gamers what they want, not what they think they want. The trend started with the excellent survival horror title The Suffering
and continues with what is arguably the best sports game so far of 2004, NBA Ballers
Many people believe that EA Sports BIG is responsible for the whole street ball craze but they often forget that Midway pioneered the genre with its Arcade hit NBA Jam
. Subsequent releases lacked the luster of the initial releases but they made a big enough impact to influence the Canadians at EA. Although the NBA Jam franchise was reintroduced to some pretty lukewarm fanfare the boys at Midway had an ace up their sleeve, the little talked about NBA Ballers
The main premise revolves around a television show called NBA Ballers which showcases some of the NBA’s best players in a street balling atmosphere. From this you can choose to play as some of the NBA’s biggest names or to create an entirely new baller from the ground up. There are a number of modes available to you including a TV tournament which is used to unlock new players, quick play modes which allow you to hit the court with the ballers of your choice, and the Rags to Riches mode which allows you to move some punk kid up the ranks. In this mode winning tournaments will allow you to upgrade your abilities as well as unlock new items to adorn your character with. It also helps you unlock new ballers to utilize in the game’s quick play modes. Midway utilizes the Inside the NBA license but opts to use it as the screen to show you the unlockables instead of utilizing it as a highlight-type show.
NBA Ballers plays in what is best described as the basketball version of a fighting game. It’s generally the best of three rounds where the players go up to 11 by twos. Every so often you’ll run into special matches which ask you to do things such as keep your opponent under eight points or to win without committing a foul. There are very few rules in place but the ones here such as the fouls make an awful lot of sense. You have four fouls to give in each match, upon earning the fifth one you’ll send your opponent to the line where the free throw is worth three points and possession of the ball.
Like Street and JAM, the game requires you to use outlandish moves in order to school your opponent. Through the use of jukes and playgrounds moves in conjunction with the ‘juice’ function, you can perform an outlandish assortment of street ballin’ moves. Juice is essentially your turbo as it allows you to perform more complex moves and run faster, just like in NBA JAM. Additionally you’ll be able to do wacky things like pass the ball off of your opponents head, pass the ball to a friend in the crowd or dish it up for a one man alley oop. Doing all of these moves will gradually build up the ‘House’ meter which when filled, allows you to bring down the backboard for the instant victory. In order to be successful you’ll need to string together moves, much like a fighting game. You can’t go back to the well too often though as your opponents will be able to stump you if you begin to develop a recognizable pattern. Thus the key here is to play smart basketball while utilizing as much flair and flash as possible. This isn’t too hard thanks to the simple control layout which places all of the commands in simple and recognizable places. I also liked the ability to input strings of commands ahead of time in order to perform combos. It actually started giving me flashbacks to the old Street Fighter II
days when you’d perform a combo and then pull your hands off the stick to humiliate your opponent as your character follows through.
Unlike Street the designers opted to go for only the cream of the crop and this move pays off in spades. It allowed them to pay a copious amounts of attention to each individual player, making them more realistic here than in any other game. This means all of the tattoos facial features and mannerisms that you’ve come to expect from all of your favorite superstars are here in full force. Some of the animations are problematic at times but you won’t really notice them unless you’re paying close attention in the replays. Even with these small flaws NBA Ballers has the best looking players of any sports game ever made. And that includes Top Spin
for the Xbox.
Instead of ballin’ it up in parks across the nation the guys at Midway decided to take us on a whirlwind tour of the homes of the NBA’s biggest superstars. You’ll go head-to-head at Jason Kidd’s villa, in Iverson’s recording studio, at the NBA Hall of Fame and even at Yao Ming’s basketball academy. All of the courts are gorgeously designed and feature plenty of distinguishing factors and amenities. While all of the action takes place on one half of the court, all of the locales provide you with a different experience because of all of the nice little nuances and touches. You even see cameramen sitting on the sidelines as they track your every movement.
Ballers’ soundtrack is astounding, not because of the artists on it but because every single song on the soundtrack talks about playing basketball. It’s crazy really; I was unaware that there were this many songs out there that talked about ballin’ it up and sportin’ the bling bling. In the menus you get the full fledged versions while the instrumentals play in the background as MC Supernatural calls the action. He’s decent at what he does but tends to get repetitive and irritating at times. The rest of the court sounds are pretty good and are up to par with what you’d expect from the genre.
There’s a lot of replay value to be found here thanks to the game’s addictive nature. Even when you’re playing alone you’ll find plenty incentive to keep playing thanks to the large trove of unlockables that await you. These range from different courts to NBA legends to video detailing the careers of some of the NBA’s greatest players. There’s plenty of stuff here to keep you entertained long after you’ve mastered the action.
Both versions are nearly identical but the PS2 leaps forward thanks to the addition of online play. For some strange reason or another Midway decided to omit Xbox Live from the Xbox version of the game, making the PS2 version the one to get. In it you can compete with anyone at anytime and with a reasonable amount of smoothness as well. Both versions have single-console support up the three players (via the 1-on-1-on-1 mode) so you can always hook it up when your buddies come over.
Forget about Street
because Midway has just regained the street ballin’ crown. NBA Ballers may not be the most original title on the market right now but it doesn’t stop it from being one of the most addictive ones. Sports fans and casual fans alike will find plenty to love in Midway’s latest offering.
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Donâ€™t be fooled by its $39.99 price point or its willingness to push the term â€œbling-blingâ€ to the forefront. Itâ€™s a damn fine street basketball game that offers up one of the best sports games this year.