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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Sports

 

Publisher

Midway

 

Developer

Midway

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q1 2004

 

 

- Unlike NBA Street, has an interesting storyline driving the gameplay
- Tons of old-school players to "ball" against and unlock
- One vs. one vs. one matches are tough but plenty of fun

 

 

- A.I. gets a giant bordering on cheating boost to its clutch meter that allows it to bounce back from deficits
- No online play for this version
- "Bring Down the House" matches can take an annoyingly long time to win
- Camera angles aren't always the best, especially when trying to pick up a loose ball

 

 

Review: NBA Street Vol. 2 (PS2)

Review: NBA Jam (XB)

Review: NBA Inside Drive 2004 (XB)

Review: Street Hoops (XB)

Review: NBA Live 2003 (XB)

 

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NBA Ballers

Score: 8.5 / 10

 

nba ballers         nba ballers

 

They could have merely resorted to rehashing their NBA Showtime series or copycatting Electronic Arts' highly successful NBA Street franchise. But Midway brings a new twist to both the arcade and street-style basketball game by wrapping the best of both those titles with a surprisingly interesting reality TV storyline in the bling-blingingly good NBA Ballers.

The basic gameplay of NBA Ballers is simply arcade-style one-on-one basketball. But Midway knew that a simple one-on-one game wouldn't entertain gamers for long. They devised a creative solution: create a good story that will have gamers playing throughout the entire tournament schedule. So what better way than to borrow from television's biggest and most popular genre, reality-based.

In NBA Ballers, you create a player and send him on a mission: to win a reality television show that pits him against some of the best of the NBA's present and past

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- Xbox Game Reviews

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players. You attempt to rise from hot-shot street baller to living legend, with all the spoils that come from conquering the NBA's best: a phat house, hotter-than-hot hotties, awesome rides, fresh clothes and all the shiny bling-bling you can handle. Not only that, you get to attempt to take down some of the NBA's best in their own backyard, so to speak, traveling to the homes of the NBA players to

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square off against them (if you can call a full basketball court on the grounds of a multimillion dollar estate "crib" a backyard).

But there's a behind-the-scenes plot by the television show's producers to make sure you never get that final brass ring, stacking the odds so that only a true baller will be able to overcome them. However, with the help of a wizened old coach giving you Zen-like advice and a gorgeous TV show insider disgusted with the down-and-dirty tactics of her higher-ups, you can overcome any obstacle put in your way, including the massive surprise in store for you in the last tournament, where you have to beat two NBA players at the same time to finally be the best of the best. Disappointingly, the impact of the compelling story is severely lessened by the use of static screenshots with voice-overs instead of animated cut-scenes.

The whole is-it-a-video-game-or-is-it-a-television show illusion starts right off, with an introductory television show-style live-video beginning, starring hip-hopper MC Supernatural (playing himself) and the decidedly not hip Bob Benson (played by Terry Abler) taking lighthearted verbal jabs at each other. Unfortunately, this great live-video banter only shows up before your very first game. The rest of the game you'll only get a voice-over by Benson during the too-long loading screen before each of your contests with an NBA player. MC Supernatural roams the sidelines of all games, serving as the action's play-by-play man.

You have to play through a bevy of tournaments to reach your final goal, and while the basic one-on-one game (up to 11, win by two, first player with two victories wins) is what you'll be playing throughout NBA Ballers, there are a few wrinkles thrown in to keep the gameplay from getting stale. There are game match-ups where you have to hold your opponent under a certain point total, or have only a five-second shot clock, or have to grab more rebounds than your opponent at the end of the game. These aren't easy goals either, because you'll have to hold deadly shooters or high-flying slammers to low point totals or have to have more rebounds than someone like Ben Wallace, one of the game's current best 'bounders.

By far the hardest game you'll have to win is Bring down the House, where you must build up your house meter to its fullest and bring down the house (and win the game) with a total rim-and-backboard-destroying dunk. But every score your opponent puts in the basket deflates your house meter (remember, he's trying to bring the house down himself), and if you get a shot-clock violation, the meter empties completely. I personally had a 186-184 marathon game session in my first Bring the House Down competition before I could move on.

 

nba ballers         nba ballers


Gameplay is generally close to NBA Street Vol. 2's standards of great b-balling fun. There are many moves you can use, but maybe a bit too many. It takes a while to learn all the NBA Baller moves, and you sometimes get reduced to simple frenzied button-mashing to score. The moves include all kinds of sweet dunks (off the backboard-types are particularly nice) and a multitude of street ball plays, including off-the-head passes back to yourself and tons of ankle-breakers that help get you easy baskets and increase your house meter. There's also a juice meter that gives you a nice turbo boost when you need it.

And be prepared to play without fouling often, because most game modes give your opponent a foul shot that's worth three points if they make it along with possession of the ball too if you hit the required foul total (you get the same if he tops out his foul meter). The big gameplay negative is that NBA Ballers provides its A.I. an almost unfair advantage when you have a player on the ropes. They seem to get an extra boost of clutch performance points, being able to make a furious comeback with outrageous shots and hard-to-believe defensive steals that just a few points earlier they couldn't do.

This does however, make each contest much more difficult, although some of the matches you would think would be the hardest to win are some of the easiest (Shaq, Tim Duncan, Wilt Chamberlain, and Allen Iverson) while transversely some of the supposedly "pushover" games are the hardest (Larry Bird, and even Steve Nash, for crying out loud). Who's the hardest player to beat out of all of them? Perfect timing for Midway: it's recently-crowned 2003-04 NBA league MVP, Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

There are a few different modes of play that don't involve the reality TV storyline, including a versus and one vs. one vs. one mode, easily the game's best gameplay feature. As in the last stages of the tournaments that you'll have to play in to become the champ, you can have three players play each other (just like a game of roughhouse). You can play against two other human competitors, and this is a lot of hoops entertainment that will satisfy the basketball jones in everyone playing.

However, the controls aren't quite as good as NBA Street Vol. 2. One of the main problems that occur with the controls is due to the game's could-have-been-better camera angle, which makes it sometimes difficult to gauge where a loose ball will land, giving your A.I. opponent an advantage. Other times, you'll unexplainably turn the ball over without even a hint of pressure from your opponent.

The NBA players that show up in NBA Ballers are fairly closely rendered to their real-life counterparts, complete with tattoos and other identifying features. And they certainly don't have the same "plastic" look of NBA Street Vol. 2. But some can come off sort of cartoonish. Check out the feet on Wilt Chamberlain! I know he had huge dawgs, but he looks like someone who should be starring on the Cartoon Network with those oversized Chuck Taylors of his.

Players aren't just wearing their respective team jerseys either. No, this is a television show, and the players are styling for the camera. Many are decked out in all their pimp-daddy'n designer-sweatsuit-and-fedora-wearing glory, complete with icy golden bling-bling galore. Timberlands, expensive kicks, carpenter jeans, eyewear, hats, whatever you can think of, the NBA players will be wearing it. And if you beat them, many of these same items will be available for you to outfit your custom baller with.

Personally, I was all about the NBA jerseys, which included the new Charlotte Bobcats threads and plenty of throwback jerseys. I had my baller dressed in '83 Sixers gear. As you make your way through each tournament, you'll have plenty of unlockables, including the many throwback jerseys, jewelry, cars, additions to your crib, friends for your posse, and classic NBA players like Dr. J, Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Maravich and others from the hallowed hallways of the basketball Hall of Fame. The houses and surrounding scenery are also done well, but the 2D crowds sitting on the sideline cheering on the game are weak considering how well crowds look in the last Midway sports title I played, NHL Hitz 2003.

One visual highlight is the detail you can apply to your very own custom baller. You decide what size he is, his overall look, and what he wears on the court. You also get an allotment of skill points (such as three-point shooting, dunking, steals, and speed, among others) to disperse, and each tournament you win increases your skill points. Until you get mostly high-rated skills, you can get stuck replaying matches over and over against certain players, but once you get near maxed-out skills, most matches are a lot easier than earlier in the game.

Other helping hands come in the form of the specials you can purchase to help your game, like a hot spot, legal goaltending, stunt dunks, and super blocks that can be bought once you accumulate enough points. Many are very useful, such as the super block and legal goaltending, so spend your points wisely.

Tunes in the game are of the hip-hop variety, but they all have a similar sound, and you will eventually get real tired of hearing the MC Supernatural NBA Ballers theme over and over (it's one of those songs that will annoyingly stick in your head for days on end).

I was extremely upset that the Xbox version of NBA Ballers didn't have online play (it's only available in the PS2 version). But that's another one of those behind-closed-doors situations between Midway and Microsoft that hasn't apparently been resolved like the EA-Microsoft online gaming conflict. It's a real shame, too, because NBA Ballers could have a much longer Xbox gamer shelf-life with online play available.

Despite the storyline and innovative one vs. one vs. one gameplay, NBA Ballers is a few balls short of the full rack that NBA Street Vol. 2 happens to be. All the glitter and gold can't hide the tarnish of some of NBA Ballers' shortcomings (particularly the lack of Xbox Live support), but despite that, overall this is a good street-style arcade-oriented game. If you're choosing between NBA Ballers and NBA Street Vol. 2, EA's franchise is the top draft pick. But if you already played out NBA Street Vol. 2, then NBA Ballers is a recommended pickup.

- Lee Cieniawa
lcieniawa@armchairempire.com

(May 29, 2004)
 

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