For years, Midway has been breaking the arcade-sports formula down to a science. The company takes a sport, breaks it down to a four-player match, adds a turbo button, creates some way to set your player on fire by accomplishing a task three times in a row, and includes a code to give your player a huge head. While the company's basketball offerings have always been fairly solid, there's definitely room for improvement. Electronic Arts' latest PS2 offering, NBA Street, capitalizes on this fact, delivering a very NBA Jam-like game of street basketball that features enough well-designed differences to breathe life into Midway's stock formula.
NBA Street is three-on-three street basketball. Games go to 21 points, though the winning team must win by two points. Shots from inside the three-point line count for one point, while shots outside it count for two. Outside of the shot clock violation, there are no fouls, and there are no quarters or other time limits. The game also keeps track of your trick points, which are accumulated on defense by stealing balls and blocking shots and on offense by faking out defenders and scoring on various dunks and other shots. Executing tricks also builds your gamebreaker meter. Once the meter is full, you have a limited time to shoot one special shot that is almost guaranteed to land if your player is in range. The shot, if it drops, subtracts points from your opponents' score while adding to yours. For instance, landing a gamebreaker from outside the three-point line will give you two points and take two points away from the opposing team. As games are typically pretty close, the gamebreaker shots can really make the difference between winning and losing.
At first, NBA Street's control scheme seems needlessly complex, especially if you're used to playing simpler games, such as NBA Jam or NBA Hoopz. But once you spend some time with the game, the control becomes second nature. Aside from the standard pass and shoot buttons, you have a steal/trick button, a shot-blocking/rebounding jump, and four turbo buttons. Much like EA's snowboarding game, SSX, the different turbo buttons are used to execute different tricks. While driving to the hoop, you can execute lots of different side steps and other tricky footwork in an attempt to shake the defenders. Different turbo-button combinations also translate into different dunks. While any player can attempt any trick or dunk, players with low handle ratings will lose control of the ball if they attempt a more complex trick and players with low dunk ratings will frequently miss difficult dunks.
NBA Street has two main modes of play. The circuit mode features a fighting game-like ladder that pits you against each of the NBA teams. After defeating each region of pro teams, you're put up against a boss team led by one of EA's street-ball players. After each win, you're given the chance to add one of the players you defeated to your roster, or you can instead take skill points that can be used to pump up a created player. Your roster starts out pretty strong, as you can put Michael Jordan on your team right off the bat. The game's other mode asks you to achieve certain goals on each of the game's courts. Each court has win-streak and trick-total records. Breaking each record unlocks new items to use for your created players, such as new heads, bodies, and shoes. It also unlocks new cheat codes, which are entered in true NBA Jam fashion at the pregame matchup screen. You can also unlock new teams, including the EA Sports Big team, which features snowboarders from SSX, and 3LW, the urban/pop group responsible for the song "No More (Baby I'ma Do Right)." The 3LW team is pretty funny on the court, as they're all around the five-foot mark and around 90-100 pounds each.
The players in NBA Street look a little choppy when they're running around the court. While the game moves at a nice fast pace, the lack of really solid transition animations hurts the game's otherwise excellent appearance. The outdoor courts all look great. Some have different lighting effects, which create nice-looking shadows on the court. NBA Street also features some solid facial textures, though a little facial animation would have been a nice touch, and it would have brought quite a bit of life to the game's post-dunk close-ups. The game features quite a bit of voice work, some by the actual players themselves. You'll hear quite a bit of trash talking throughout the game, as well as quite a bit of other background speech. The music in NBA Street is really quite amazing. Provided by Ninja Tune, the game's music plays like one continuous mix that fades into and out of various songs. "Dark Lady" by DJ Food is used quite a bit in various forms, as tons of different hip-hop loops are laid under the "Dark Lady" bass line as you progress from game to game. The song also comes on in full force whenever your gamebreaker meter is charged. If it weren't for the game's announcer, the sound would have scored a perfect 10. The announcer, represented by a bald guy with a megaphone who appears before each game in an attempt to hype up the crowd, talks in played-out rap slang, up to and including "bling bling!" Funny at first, the commentary wears out its welcome after a few games, and, luckily, it can be easily silenced--even though the fact that the commentator eventually starts berating you before and after each game if you play on the easy difficulty setting too long is pretty clever.
NBA Street has enough unlockable items and options to make it worthwhile as a single-player game. While two-player games eventually boil down to a frustrating battle of who can shake defenders long enough to unleash a gamebreaker, the two-player mode still manages to be a lot of fun as well. Anyone looking for a fast-action basketball game that isn't afraid to tinker with Midway's stock formula will definitely find a lot to like in NBA Street.