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
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.
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
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
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
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
(May 29, 2004)