Since the release of the original NBA Street in 2001, the franchise has been the definitive arcade basketball game experience. With NBA Street Showdown, the Street series finally makes its way onto a handheld platform. Though shrunken down into pocket-sized format, Street Showdown still offers much of the same high-flying, rim-rattling action as its big brothers on the home consoles, complete with a career mode, minigames, and head-to-head play. While the game is currently the best choice for hoops fanatics looking for a portable fix, veterans of the console versions may find themselves a little frustrated with controls that aren't quite as responsive as they could have been.
For those who aren't as familiar with the Street series, Street Showdown is a three-on-three street basketball game that includes partial rosters from all 30 NBA teams, as well as 24 NBA legends, such as Pete Maravich, Julius Erving, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Unfortunately, the rosters don't seem to be updated to reflect the latest NBA trades. In Showdown, Antoine Walker isn't reunited with his boy Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics. Baron Davis is not yet rejuvenating the Golden State Warriors, and Chris Webber is still moping in Sacramento. There's no way to trade players around, either. At any rate, you can play pickup games with the NBA teams, or enter a career mode where you create your own customized baller and take him or her through a series of blacktop challenges to "own" various real-life courts throughout the country, which include Rucker Park in Harlem and Mosswood in Oakland. Along the way you'll unlock courts and legendary players, and earn points that you can use to improve your own baller's skills, to buy new moves and dunks, or to purchase articles of clothing. There are quite a few rewards to unlock in NBA Street Showdown, so you can expect to spend many hours playing games in the "king of the courts" career mode if you want to see everything.
The gameplay in NBA Street Showdown is arcade-style, blacktop basketball. In other words, you're not going to be running set plays to free up for a textbook midrange jumper like you learned on your junior high school team. Instead, a typical match in Showdown is played above the rim and behind the arc. You'll be using your ball handlers to break down defenders off the dribble with juke moves, and then passing off to your finishers who'll go high in the air for spectacular alley-oops. Or you can pass to open shooters for long-range jumpers that are worth two points, instead of one for a dunk or a regular shot. By stringing together fakes and punctuating them with dunks and made baskets, you'll build up a combo meter that, when filled, will let you pull off a gamebreaker. Gamebreakers are special shots that give you points and also take away points from the opposing team's score. Like in NBA Street Vol. 2 on consoles, you can pocket gamebreakers in Showdown and try to build up for a more powerful gamebreaker 2 for even bigger bonus points. NBA Street Showdown certainly captures the spirit of its console brethren. Games are fast paced and simple enough to appeal to casual hoops fans, while remaining deep enough to keep hardcore basketball fans entertained as they make their way through the career mode and upgrade their created ballers.
The biggest blemish of the game is that the controls have been compromised somewhat in order to account for fewer buttons on the PSP. Turbo functionality is mapped to the shoulder buttons. Using these in concert with the trick, pass, and shoot buttons will unleash an array of different moves, passes, shots, and dunks. Unfortunately, the fact that there's only two turbo buttons and one trick button makes for a lot less variety in available moves than in NBA Street Vol. 2. You can still go into menus outside of a game and choose from dozens of different jukes and dunks to map to the various button combinations, but within a game, there are only a few different jukes and dunk types you're going to be able to pull off with just two turbo buttons. To compensate, the developers have made it possible to hold down the trick or shoot buttons in concert with the turbos, so as to double the number of moves available to you at once. So doing a juke with the R button and tapping the trick button is different from using the R button while holding down the trick button.
It sounds good on paper, but in practice, being able to hold down trick and shoot buttons for different moves contributes to making the game a bit less responsive than you'd expect from a basketball game. There's a slight but noticeable lag time between your control inputs and how your player reacts onscreen, as if the game were taking time to decide "is he doing the tap-button dunk, or the hold-button dunk?" With a little bit of practice, you get more used to the timing of the game. However, the subtle hitch in control could end up being a deal breaker, depending on how picky you are about the controls.
On the plus side, NBA Street Showdown definitely delivers as far as game modes and extras. Aside from playing pickup games with NBA teams and legends, and the career mode with your created baller, Showdown offers a couple of minigames called Arcade Shootout and Shot Blocker. The former is similar to the pop-a-shot basketball machines you've seen at arcades and fairs. You shoot at different baskets and try to string together as many consecutive shots as you can in order to build up big bonus points. At the harder difficulty levels, the baskets are moving. In Shot Blocker, you take control of one player and go up against an array of players set up around the arc who are shooting perimeter jumpers. Your goal is to block or catch as many shots as you can in a limited time. Shot Blocker is probably the more fun of the two games, and you can play up to four players in either game by taking turns and passing the PSP around. Another nice feature worth mentioning is that it's possible to save in the middle of a match and load it back up later. The game remembers the score and whose ball it was when you first saved. When you restart, the ball is thrown in from the sideline by the team in possession. It's a great feature if you ever need to stop abruptly in the middle of a game.
NBA Street Showdown also includes wireless play in ad hoc mode for head-to-head action. You can play regular pickup games or play either one of the minigames. In our experience, the ad hoc mode worked pretty well, with a few lag hiccups here and there. But for the most part, you can expect to have quite a bit of fun going one-on-one with a friend, no matter which game mode you choose.
As far as presentation goes, NBA Street Showdown does a great job with graphics. The different courts are well appointed and detailed, and individual player models are large and animate smoothly and with great variety. We also appreciated that the artists made a point of putting oversized numbers and names on player jerseys, making it that much easier to differentiate between them. The action can get a little blurry when a lot of players bunch up in one place, but this is probably a limitation of the PSP screen's refresh rate. Sound-wise, Showdown is actually an improvement over its console brethren. It's more a matter of addition by subtraction, as the limited space on the universal media disc means less commentary from DJ Bobbito, whose play-by-play can get overwhelming at times. If he really annoys you, you have the choice of shutting him off in the options menu. As far as music goes, it's pretty much the same soundtrack as in NBA Street V3, so you'll be listening to hip-hop tunes like "Me, Myself, and I" from De La Soul, "Ruffneck" by MC Lyte, and a sanitized remix of House of Pain's "Jump Around." The sound effects from the court are also good, with the crunch of bodies hitting the floor after a midair collision, the swish of the net after a soft jumper, and ambient noises like cell phones ringing on the sidelines.
Though it doesn't necessarily say much, given the paucity of portable hoops games, NBA Street Showdown is easily the best handheld basketball game available today. Its fast-paced gameplay, abundance of content, and slick presentation make it a great choice if you're looking for a portable basketball game. It's just unfortunate that the controls couldn't have been a little more responsive than they ended up being. But if you can adjust to the timing, you'll probably end up liking NBA Street Showdown a lot.