Review: The first NBA Street game you can actually play on the street.
Of all the games EA's Team Fusion has brought to the PlayStation Portable, NBA Street Showdown is most telling of the reasoning for the name of said development team. Carefully fusing aspects of both NBA Street V2 and V3 for the home systems (though definitely skewed towards NBA Street Volume 2, as that's the code this was ported from), Showdown could very well be called NBA Street 2.5 instead, though Showdown has that all-important subtitle to make unsuspecting PSP owners believe this game is all-new ? marketing at its finest. This fusion isn't really that big of a deal ? after all, NBA Street Volume 2 was an amazing arcade hoops game and V3 is also a bonafide classic title. Showdown does loose something in the translation however; once the allure of playing NBA Street on your new handheld wears off, the laggy control, occasionally moronic teammate AI and a ho-hum (but lengthy) single player career may grate on your nerves as you try to rule the streets. The wireless and Party Play modes are a nice bonus to what's not a great game in the vein of its console daddy, but merely a competent, flawed game that can be very fun when things click, almost despite itself.
NBA Street Showdown is filled up with the usual goodies ? exhibition contests against either the CPU or a basic Ad Hoc wireless matchup against a friend. There's no Infrastucture online play, which was expected given EA's reluctance to actually make a game that uses it thus far, instead pushing the Party Play games. Speaking of, the Party Play games for up to 4 players in 'pass the PSP' form are decent, but not as good as the ones in either NFSU: Rivals or Tiger Woods. The arcade shootout game is fun, but only in bursts as it's simply too easy. The shot blocker game is also fun but at the same time gets repetitive and easy as well. Granted, these kinds of games are limited in a basketball game due especially to the simplicity that Street is known for. The main single player mode is King of the Courts, where you go from location to location and topple the 'boss' player and work to take control of every court around the country. This features courts from both Street 2 and 3, and actually seems to have more Street 3 courts than anything. In KotC, you first must earn the right to challenge the current king, via winning basic pickup games ? to 11, not 21 like the console versions ? until you can advance. Sometimes they throw a tournament in to mix things up but it's still the same idea. The boss encounters are mixed up between a ton of different game options, giving you a bit of variety. Like Street 2 (and not 3 where you had to actually pay out cash to get new players), you can choose a player from the defeated team for a maximum of 5 at a time on your squad including your own created player that you can deck out in various styles using points earned. It's a pretty lengthy mode of play, but ultimately a bit repetitive all the same. If you're burnt out on Street this will get old fast.
When Street was first announced to hit the PSP, many wondered how, with 2 less shoulder buttons and no right analog stick, the game could contain the numerous tricks that the series is famous for. Surprisingly, they pulled off things fairly well, via a couple workarounds. There's still not as many moves as Street 2 or 3, but there's enough. Instead, they manage to map two tricks to the Square button ? one for tapping it, and one for holding it down; combined with the L, R, or L+R buttons, you can get two tricks with the same combination. Same goes for the dunks. The Gamebreaker system works like NBA Street Volume 2, with the ability to 'pocket' a Gamebreaker and save it for a chance at a Level 2 GB that's far more devastating. There's not really a 'meter' this time around though, instead the word 'GAMEBREAKER' has to be fully lit up, and usually after a big play it fills one letter, and huge plays fill 2 or 3, and possibly reducing your opponent's Gamebreaker meter. On the surface, this is classic NBA Street, with crazy tricks, dunks, and the fast-paced gameplay the franchise is known for, and in all reality, it is. Fans will eat it alive and overcome the things that move the game out of the same stature as its console brethren.
The biggest thing the game has to overcome is the problematic control. Though it can be gotten used to, initially the controls of NBA Street Showdown carry an annoying delay that feels nothing like the precise, natural feeling of playing the other versions of the game. Jump shots are the huge culprit, with lag that will make you think you're playing an online game against a 56k user. Pressing Circle to shoot results in a half-second delay and the player shooting will not release at the top of their jump but instead on the way down which not only looks stupid but results in poor accuracy. It's odd how so many say the analog nub has been the bane of developers, resulting in some control problems (such as the strange controls of some cars in Need for Speed), but yet here it's the actual face buttons that present the annoyance. Also, the game struggles with some stupid AI flaws ? not on the computer side, but on your own team. While Showdown is actually the most difficult Street game yet (with or without the laggy controls), with a CPU opponent that puts up a pretty good fight every game, teammate AI is plain old stupid. Watch in horror as your two teammates stand around with their fingers up their asses instead of picking up the slack on defense, refusing to take the job of covering the man with the ball if you aren't there to do it yourself. It wouldn't be quite as bad if there was some kind of icon player switch system, since the one in Showdown is totally screwed up, another control hassle. Half the time when you press X to change players, it picks the wrong one...NBA Street V3 had this problem but not to this extent, and it's made even more agitating by the braindead teammate AI.
One area NBA Street Showdown does very well is graphics. Pushing the PSP pretty hard, the game has some really nicely designed courts that have a lot of courtside details and manages to maintain a very consistent frame rate, but shows up pretty dark on the screen unless you use the special brightness setting for when you have the PSP plugged into a wall outlet. The players look a little boxy (though ultimately pretty nice though not as detailed as the ones in NBA Street 2 or 3), but it seems intentional, with huge-ass numbers and player names to help identify who's who, though when you get in a crowd under the hoop it's impossible to pick anyone out, which provides another nag when actually playing the game. It's like one big blob of humanity under the basket. The audio consists of the same exact soundtrack as NBA Street V3, so if you liked that, you'll like this, and you can listen to it anytime with EA Pocket Trax. The anti-Christ Bobbito Garcia returns as well, with his annoying commentary that's recycled from the two games he's appeared in. Really, not only is the Gamebreaker awesome for turning the tables on an opponent, it also mutes Bobbito for a while in lieu of music. There's not much else to report other than the squeaks, clanks, swishes, cheering, and grunts of on-court basketball action. Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, but it works.