Review: The video game equivalent of Vince Carter's final years in Toronto
We're over a year into our new generation of game consoles, and even now sports games are suffering from leprosy, with features simply falling off the disc compared to their cheaper ?last generation? versions. NBA Street Homecourt, the 4th edition of the popular streetball franchise, is the latest example of this disturbing trend. Homecourt packs in all the flair the series is known for, creating a superb atmosphere, but what's the point when there's hardly anything to do? Almost everything is a step back or an unnecessary dumbing down, with few real steps forward aside from the admittedly pretty high-definition graphics. The amazing thing is despite this backwards trend, the game is still playable and has its moments of enjoyment, despite being a far cry from the glory of the first two games in the series. It's hard to recommend a $60 game that can be raced through in just a few days, unless you're an online fiend and that's all you care about. So unless that's you, just buy one of the old games for PS2 or Xbox and play that instead.
Homecourt's troubles begin with the bare and dull single player offerings. The lone interesting solo game is the career mode, known as Homecourt Challenge. Using a now sad player creator, where you blend the DNA of two existing NBA players, Street has you going to numerous courts that were the home of many NBA stars, assembling a team of players that start with nobodies and over time get the ability to recruit the top NBA stars, and making a name for yourself there and advancing until you visit every location. And really, that's about it. Sometimes you get a tourney invite or some such, but otherwise it's a straightforward, linear journey of repetition, playing game after game without any variety aside from some mixing up of the rules. Other offerings that span single and multiplayer are the different takes on the game ? playing a shots only game, a dunks only game, a no-trick game, or a game based totally on getting the highest trick score and nothing else. But unless you're a fanatic of playing against others, and that's ally you do, this won't exactly cut it. On the bright side, the annoying waste of disc space, Bobbito Garcia, is nowhere to be found in this game, which is good enough to give 5 stars on principle alone.
For the uninitiated, NBA Street is a 3 on 3 street basketball game in the vein of NBA Jam, where anything goes. It's part basketball, part showing off, as you have to win by making baskets, but all the same you can pull off tricks and crazy dunks to fill a Gamebreaker meter, which when activated can swing the score a whole 3 points by offering the 2 for a long distance shot and -1 for the team who got victimized. Most games are to 21 points, with the need to win by at least two, but Street Homecourt does mix things up with various rule changes as mentioned earlier. Sometimes dunks mean no points at all, and other times a regular shot is worth zero. No matter what, the game is fast-paced, and the lack of rules means it's possible to commit total goaltending and brutal fouls to steal the ball without fear of crooked refs calling things against you. This formula worked so well at the start, and in the retro-riffic Volume 2, but NBA Street 3 was a step back, and if 3 was a step back, Homecourt is like falling down the stairs and breaking its neck.
Street does play decently enough, with various changes, both good and bad. The good switch-up is the Gamebreaker system. It works like always, as performing tricks and more lavish dunks earn points needed for a Gamebreaker, but the new twist is that the opposing team can use it if they can steal the ball away or block a shot. It creates a bit of tension as the swing can go in the opponent's favor rather than the team that actually set things in motion. Plus the music changes to Herbie Hancock which is totally awesome. On the other hand, the trick system has been overhauled and dumbed down compared to the more advanced setup of the original. Now there's two buttons for tricks, and a trick modifier for fancier stuff. Dunking is based on filling a meter, and the farther it goes the more insane the dunk, and if you fill it all the way, it's a double dunk worth two points.
Worst of all, Homecourt just feels...dull. Maybe it's because the franchise isn't fresh anymore, and maybe it's because there's so little to really do, but it's almost a chore sometimes to enjoy the game. The AI is mediocre, as it's way too easy to steal the ball and then fake out the defender for an easy 2 point basket. The lack of variety in the challenges makes running through the hodge podge of NBA and WNBA (yes, the WNBA is here in the latest NBA conspiracy to promote its strugg-a-ling women's league; somewhere Bill Simmons is lighting himself on fire) stars flat out boring. It just lacks something that the earlier games did. Clearly the game is beautiful, supporting up to 1080p resolution, but what have we learned over the years? Graphics can only do so much. It gets high marks in presentation, with footage of NBA players describing their home courts, and a wicked cool retro-funk soundtrack and that whole no Bobbito Garcia thing, but when that's the real highlight...something is wrong. It's almost a blessing that Homecourt Challenge is very short and can be completed quickly.