Full Review: It's a thug life.
To say that Acclaim and Midway milked the NBA Jam family of games into the video game version of the iron lung would be like saying Metal Gear Solid was a pretty good game ? it's just a wee bit obvious. Year after year, console after console, NBA Jam, NBA Hangtime, NBA Showtime, and NBA Hoopz graced the scene, leaving arcade hoops gamers humming the tune of ?same old, same old? after every version.
Despite all the rehashes and uninspired ?enhancements?, here is EA Sports, trying to recreate the arcade basketball experience, with a twist ? street basketball. Keeping that same tried & true arcade action, complete with wild dunks and rules-defying blocks, NBA Street also mixes in a distinct urban ambience into the genre, complete with real-life streetball courts like Rucker Park & The Cage. Add in an SSX-like trick system and the rather cool Gamebreaker meter, and NuFX manages to make a very inspired attempt at revitalizing the whole genre of arcade sports ? not just basketball.
And like SSX, NBA Street scores and scores big ? while not truly revolutionary, it's definitely an improvement and a step in the right direction. Despite the familiar premise, the addition of the special mini-games of sorts, and the challenges of Street Legends make NBA Street fresh and extremely fun to play.
NBA Street features two different play modes ? City Circuit and Hold The Court. City Circuit is a ladder tournament style game. You choose your team, and go from region to region, defeating the teams that play in that bracket (who are sorted by region. Duh). And oh yeah, one of the guys you use by default is some dude named Michael Jordan. You may have heard of him. After you clear a region, you face a mid-boss of sorts, who each have their own strengths and weaknesses. During CC, when you defeat a team, you can pick a player off that team, or choose points for creating your player.
Hold The Court is pretty explanatory; your job is to win all the games in a row without losing, until you break the record for wins. It's something you can pick up later, and not play all the way until you break the record, if you were wondering. Winning here will unlock hidden teams and create player points. You have two objectives actually ? break the record for most wins in a row, AND break the record for most trick points in a game. This is the most challenging, because the later courts require a seemingly impossible amount of points to clear.
There is also a training-like mode called Street School, for new players learning the ropes. But, if you're familiar with NBA Jam, this is probably not necessary.
NBA Street's gameplay is very straightforward ? 3 on 3, play up to 21, must win by 2. Each shot is worth one point, but anything behind the line is two. There isn't any timeouts or substitutions, nor is there any kind of game clock. However, there is a shot clock of sorts that prevents you from sitting on the ball and killing Gamebreaker time for your opponent. There are no fouls or free throws, and goaltending is encouraged.
Honestly, if you really wanted to, you could play Street in the exact same manner as NBA Jam and win. However, if you really want to get the most out of NBA Street, you need to learn the tricks, and how to fill up your Gamebreaker. Pulling the tricks off is simple ? just a simple hold of the Square button along with various combinations of the shoulder buttons, which are all Turbo buttons in this game, will execute some sweet looking dribbles and ankle-breakers. A simple change of the Square to the Circle button will let you pull off various high-flying dunks that fill your Gamebreaker meter quickly. Best part is, not all the players can do all the tricks. If you try a Slip N Slide dribble move with Shaq, he'll fall flat on his face and probably get the ball stolen from him, this adds a little bit of realism to an otherwise unrealistic game.
And when all those tricks pay off, you can get to see what Gamebreaker is all about. In short, it can swerve a game's momentum completely. While a GB is on, you get one magic shot, either 1 point or 2. Making a 1 pointer, for instance, will not only add a point to your score, it will take one point away from your opponents score. The same goes for a two pointer, only you gain 2 and your opponent loses 2. At the very most, you can get a 4 point swing if you connect ? all the more reason to take the time to learn the special moves. The best part is, the moves don't seem out of place; you can use them and they seamlessly fit right into the gameplay, thus putting worries out of the minds of those who may think that it's too much extra effort. While it's a little hard to adjust to the tricks, once you learn them, it becomes second nature. Soon you'll be going off The chain like a hardcore streetballer.
Defense is also essential to success; especially those big blocks. There's a cool thrill in stuffing a player 3 straight times from up close and forcing a shot clock violation. And you must know how to play defense or you'll never win. Unlike NBA Jam, you need to strategize your team and make decisions. For instance, I always try to make sure I have one big man on my squad, and use the big guy in the middle of the paint to swat everything he can. The other players can block too, but if they miss a steal and leave an opponent open, the designated blocker can be there to stop a rush to the basket. If you don't block, you won't win, because your opponent will just breeze by you for an easy dunk. Plus, they can build up their Gamebreaker meter and put the screws to you.
There are some inherent, unavoidable squabbles with the game; truly, the game can become a game of luck and not skill against an experienced human opponent. However that's unavoidable, because almost any sports game has that flaw. Something else puzzling is the skill levels of players. A team of Michael Jordan, Shaq, and a fully modified created player named Terminator should be able to walk over almost anyone, yet I blow out the Lakers, but I struggle with the Clippers. Eh? The balance is suspect. And clearing HTC is tough when they require outrageous amounts of trick points to pull it off.
Also, there is zero 4-player support. Not even with a multitap. Perhaps if PS2 had 4 controller ports it would have been included, but it seems strange to only have a 2 player game. And, NBA Street just screams for online play next year.
Graphically, NBA Street is impressive. Not mind-blowing, but still really nice. At first I didn't think it was that great, but it grew on me. Everything from Navy Pier in the background in Chicago's Loop, to a completely readable motel sign off Route 66 in Arizona, and lively backgrounds, including actual driving cars. Even if the cars wheels don't move when they drive. Yeah, it's over analyzing. This is NBA Street, not Gran Turismo 3. As for the actual courts and players, they too are really good. Pretty much all the players are easily recognizable by face and body, from Michael Jordan to Karl Malone. There are plenty of different models and upgrades for creating your player (which increases with your win totals) as well. And the courts themselves look great. Chicago has wind blowing around, complete with leaves, Boston has falling snowing, and it rains in Vancouver. Too bad the weather effects don't have any distractions in the game ? it would be cool if the Chicago winds would make shots get blown away from the basket, making it harder to score. Sometimes though, there is a little clipping and even a jaggie or 2, but really you won't notice when you're playing the game. It's too fast paced.
The sound kind of goes both ways. It's fully hip-hop, urban themed, with a loudmouthed announcer. If you don't like that, you're not going to be happy. If you do, you'll love it. PBP is done by Joe ?The Show?, complete with a megaphone and smartass remarks. Really, he's not that bad, but on occasion he will get on your nerves. Don't play on Easy mode, or he will rip into all of your wins because if it. He can be tuned down if you don't like him, thankfully.
The rest of the effects are pretty fun. There's a lot of trash talking, mostly by the main characters. Michael Jordan has his own lines, talking smack, and all the Street Legends have their own soundtrack of insults. The best in game effect is the telephone ringing when you dial long distance and shoot a 2 pointer. It took a while to figure out what it was (really sounded like a bell on a bicycle), but it fits in nicely. In the background, the cars along side the road honk, and the crowds cheer in the places they're stationed at. NuFX did a solid job creating a good series of effects that fit the theme of arcade streetball.
EA Sports does it again with NBA Street. SSX players will be at home with Street, and it's addictive enough to get even non-basketball fans into the game. While it's possible that the replay is a little bit shallow after unlocking everything, you will have to spend a long time unlocking all the secrets, so it will be awhile before it gets boring. Sure, it isn't perfect, but for basketball on PS2, it's the best you can get, simulation or not. Street manages to revitalize the stale arcade basketball genre, and hopefully opens the door for more inspired efforts.