And 1 Streetball Updated Hands-On

We break our own ankles while playing the latest build of this tricktastic hoops game.

Ubisoft is looking to make inroads into the busy basketball gaming market with the upcoming release of And 1 Streetball--a trick-based arcade hoops game that passes over NBA pros like Kobe and LeBron for streetball stars with names like Sik Wit It and Escalade. Since our last look at the game back in October, the developers at Black Ops have been working on refining the game's control scheme to bring a slightly different flavor to the ankle-breaking tricks on the court. We got our hands on the most recent build of And 1 to not only see how those control tweaks affect the game, but also to get our first look at the game's career mode.

A new timing meter underneath your player is the biggest addition to And 1's gameplay.

Before we get into what has changed, let's first run down what hasn't--namely, the so-called I-Ball control system that breaks your moves down into three levels. Level-one tricks (setup dribbles) are executed by holding the right analog stick in any direction. Level-two tricks (showboat tricks) are pulled off with the right and left analog sticks. Both level-one and level-two tricks build up an ankle-breaker meter onscreen that, when filled, let you pull off dramatic level-three finishers (using both the left and right sticks in conjunction with the right trigger). If you successfully pull of a level-three ankle-breaker trick, the action on the court will slow down dramatically, as you fake out your opponent and get around him.

When it comes to the controls, the biggest change is the addition of a color-coded meter underneath the player that puts a limit on the amount of time a trick can be executed. In previous builds of the game, you could simply hold the stick in place and the trick would loop over and over--now, you'll have a small window in which you can execute that trick and then link it to a level-two trick. Furthermore, tricks have slightly varied lengths they take to execute. A simple horseshoe dribble, for example, is very quick, while the orbital (also a level-one trick) takes slightly longer to complete. Producers told us the reason for adding the meter to the game was to introduce more of a sense of rhythm into And 1's gameplay.

Points are still a big part of And 1's gameplay and, as you pull off tricks on the court, you'll be racking up respect points as you go. Earn enough points and you'll be awarded with a microphone, which you can cash in at any time to pull off a special "breakdown" dunk shot that's worth three points, should you find twine. Though these breakdown shots may seem like guaranteed baskets, we were pleasantly surprised to find that, when you're on defense, you can block these shots if you time things correctly. In previous builds of the game, earning three microphones would automatically win you the game, regardless of the actual score. The developers have since decided to drop that feature, so now it's the final score that determines whether you win or lose. That said, points are still at a premium, and you won't get very far in the game unless you totally commit to the showboating style that defines the And 1 approach.

And 1 Streetball's career mode follows the path of your created baller as he tries to get a spot on the And 1 roster of streetball stars. You start off by creating your player using a fairly standard create-a-player tool. A number of basic body and head types are there for the choosing, and you can tweak things like head size, hairstyle, and eye color. After the basics are set, it's time to deck your player out in some cool threads. The And 1 store will have plenty for you to choose from--tops, bottoms, shoes, and, for those who can't ball without the bling, plenty of accessories as well. Finish things off with a trip to the ink parlor to get your tats right, and you'll be ready to hit the court in style.

This being a career mode, however, you're going to start at the bottom of the streetball food chain. You start off playing in side games and open runs--in 1-on-1 or team games--all in the hopes of making it into the main runs. The goal, of course, is to be the last man standing at the end of the game, thus earning your way onto the And 1 tour bus. Each game you play, you'll have goals you need to accomplish above and beyond simply winning the game. The first side game you play, for example, requires you not only to win the game, but also pull off two running setup dribbles in the process. Presumably, as you progress through the career mode, these game goals will become increasingly more difficult as you go. Over the course of the And 1 career mode, you'll visit 10 different cities and play a number of different challenges along the way--including player "hazing" challenges and crash court games, where you "invade" courses in other cities and challenge the hapless scrubs who reside there. As you progress, you'll open up move sets from And 1 players, win cash you can use to up your attributes, and unlock a number of global courts that you can play on later.

Career-mode has you battling all comers for a spot on the And 1 tour bus.

Graphically, And 1 has some fine-looking player models, especially those based on the real And 1 players. If you're familiar with the likes of Half Man, Half Amazing and the Professor, you'll likely recognize them straightaway in the game. The game's animations, on the other hand, were more up and down in the build we played. The tricks themselves look great, but we're hoping the team puts some extra work in the transition and shot animations in the remaining development time for the game. As you might expect, the And 1 soundtrack is almost completely hip-hop based, featuring local artists and radio personalities from each of the 10 cities you visit along the way. On the court, there's plenty of trash talk to go around--hopefully your fragile ego will withstand the Professor's withering personal attacks.

While the Black Ops development team has rightfully placed an emphasis on its admittedly cool-looking trick animations and controls, the key to the game's success will be in finding the balance between flashy moves and a compelling basketball experience. We'll have the final word on how And 1 strikes this balance in our review, after the game is released in March. Until then, stay tuned for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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