LOS ANGELES--Nestled away in the PlayStation Portable section of Sony's booth was NBA '07, an update to last year's NBA '06 for the PSP. We got some hands-on time with the game, playing a couple of quick matches. As with last year's game, the frame rate in NBA 07 seems very smooth at this point, with some additional details added to the court and crowd. The game maintains the same fast-paced, arcade feel as you run up and down the court, as well, with some nice-looking dunk animations. Shooting uses the same color-coding design as last year's game, where you hold down the button until the colored halo around the ball changes from red to yellow to green, giving you an indication of how likely it is for your shot to go in. Also, the players don't seem to exhibit as much of that annoying problem where the ball-handler would pick up his dribble after having his path blocked off by a defender, as was the case in last year's NBA '06. It still happened to us a couple of times in NBA '07 but only after dribbling around far too long with one man.
What was most interesting in NBA '07 for the PSP was the new conquest mode, which was playable at E3. This mode turns the game into something of a turn-based strategy. After picking a team, you'll see a map of North America, with all the NBA teams visible on their respective cities. In each turn, you challenge a neighboring city to a game, which you'll win by fully owning a momentum meter--make the first five or six shots of a game, and it's possible to end it right there, but given the back-and-forth nature of basketball, games in conquest mode tend to last much longer. When you win a match, you then own that city's team and its players. So, for example, if you pick the Lakers and beat the Warriors on the first turn, the Warriors get eliminated from the game, and the team based in Oakland (Baron Davis, Jason Richardson, and so on) become another branch of the Lakers. You can trade players back and forth freely between any teams you own, and in the next turn, go on to challenge any cities that neighbor any of your conquered cities. The ultimate goal of conquest mode is to take over the entirety of North America, but during each turn, the computer will control the other teams and may decide to invade one of your existing cities. This keeps you from completely stacking one of your teams with all the best players, as leaving one city vulnerable with only poor players increases the chances that you may lose an invasion of that city.
NBA '07 is currently well along the way on its development cycle, at least according to a sign posted near the PSP stations. Basketball fans can expect the game to release late this year, most likely sometime before the next NBA regular season begins.