NBA Hoopz Hands-On

As the latest update to the NBA Jam franchise, Hoopz adds an extra player and delivers the closest thing to the cabinet-bound arcade version on a console yet.

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It wouldn't be fair if Midway didn't produce its over-the-top sports games for all the consoles. While some may have grown tired of the exaggerated play featured in games like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, some are just stumbling onto the genre for the first time. For these people, Midway is making sure to release its new b-ball incarnation, NBA Hoopz, on every console minus the quickly fading Nintendo 64. While it's obvious that the game runs on the same graphics engine no matter what console it's on, the PlayStation 2 version represents the most accurate rendition of the NBA Jam series yet to hit a console.

Though there might be some people who are just getting their feet wet in the pool that is Midway sports games, the Jam and Blitz franchises have plenty of return customers. For this group, Midway has added some new features to NBA Hoopz to keep things moving forward. The most obvious change is the addition of another player. Instead of the traditional two-on-two gameplay of past installments in the Showtime and Jam series, it's now three-on-three. This makes alley-oops much more likely, and getting an open jump shot no longer requires a dizzying string of passes. Midway has also added an impressive list of minigames including 21, around the world, the three-point shootout, and 2 ball. Playing the minigames against the computer can be a drag, but against another human opponent, they can be a great deal of fun.

In addition to these new modes, Midway has also included the obligatory season, exhibition, and tournament modes. Seasons of 14, 28, 56, and 82 games are available; six players may partake in the exhibition mode with two Multitaps; and the tournament mode is available for up to eight teams. There's even a simplistic create-a-player mode that lets you mutate current players into the form of your choice. You are given attribute points to allocate however you see fit, and additional attribute points are awarded for winning three games or answering trivia questions correctly. You are also given two privileges that let you hide your turbo meter or disguise your players' attributes. More privileges are awarded as you rack up the victories.

As each game begins, you must choose three players from one team. Though the positions are listed as guard, forward, and center, you can put any player in any position you wish. If you like to light it up from the outside, you may select three guards for your team. Conversely, if you would rather dominate the paint, you can choose a team full of centers and forwards. As the game is loading, you can attempt to input codes that let you play the game with special features like big heads, the ABA basketball, or gameplay-altering AI tweaks.

Once the play commences, the control is fairly simple. The basics of passing, shooting, and playing defense are easy to come to grips with, but advanced controls like clearing out the lane, doing double dunks, and performing alley-oops take some practice. If you pass while going up for a slam, double dunks may be performed. If you see a player flash while jumping to the rim, alley-oops can be executed by quickly pressing the pass button. Blocking shots is accomplished by simply timing your jump. New to the series this year is the hoopz button. The hoopz button lets you back a defender down into the paint and perform post-up moves while under the basket. Fouling is usually overlooked in most Midway sports games, but if you're too overzealous in NBA Hoopz, the other team will end up at the charity stripe.

As with previous versions of the NBA Jam series, after a player makes three consecutive shots he becomes on fire. Once on fire, his shooting ability increases, and the likelihood of missing a shot is almost zero. A player remains on fire until the other team makes a bucket. If you perform three double dunks or alley-oops in a row, the entire team becomes on fire. The only way to extinguish team fire is by the opposition performing an alley-oop or double dunk of its own. The computer assistance from past installments of the franchise has also returned. This guarantees that almost every game comes down to the final second, but watching the computer sink a 60-foot shot to win as time expires can be a frustrating experience. As with previous installments in the franchise, the real fun to be had is playing head-to-head against friends.

In NBA Hoopz, the emphasis is placed squarely on high-speed gameplay, and the simplistic graphics reflect this goal. The character models are more rounded when compared with the Dreamcast version, but if you're looking for perfectly proportioned models à la NBA Live 2001 for the PS2, you won't get them here. The same texture maps have been reused throughout all the versions of Hoopz, and the PlayStation 2 iteration is no different. This results in players that appear vaguely similar to their real-world counterparts but that are not replicas. Like the majority of PS2 games, NBA Hoopz looks only slightly better than the Dreamcast version, but one marked improvement is the frame rate. In the Dreamcast version, a player on fire can slow the game down considerably, but the PlayStation 2 hardware has no such problems. Eurocom motion-captured 500 new animation routines for NBA Hoopz, and Shaq, the spokesperson for the game, even has a few unique moves.

NBA Hoopz for the PlayStation 2 gives old veterans of the NBA Jam series some new modes and control options to play with while still retaining the high-flying, fast-paced gameplay that is the core of the series. While it doesn't reinvent the exaggerated sports genre or even give it a shot in the arm, it already stands as the best console version of the series yet. NBA Hoopz is finished and ready to ship, so expect it to hit retail on time for its scheduled March 1 release date.

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