It's been almost two years since the last iteration of the NBA Street franchise, Volume 2. While still a great game overall, NBA Street Vol. 2 wasn't quite the revelation its predecessor was. But now, with the release of NBA Street V3, it's clear that the developers at EA Sports Big clearly haven't been loafing in the off-season. The addition of online play (on the PS2 and Xbox) and a compelling single-player career mode, as well as improvements to the basic game mechanics, make NBA Street V3 the new gold standard of arcade-style basketball games.
For those not as familiar with the series, the core game mode in NBA Street V3 is three-on-three, full-court, street basketball. Although every NBA team is represented by a partial roster of players, make no mistake--this is blacktop basketball. You won't be running any high pick 'n' rolls or making backdoor Princeton cuts for layups. Instead, you'll be using your slickest ball handlers to break ankles and drop dimes off to your finishers for rim-rattling dunks. You'll need to string together a combination of jukes and shakes, punctuated with a made basket or an alley-oop slam in order to rack up trick points and build up your gamebreaker meter. Once you've got that meter filled, you can execute a "gamebreaker" shot or dunk, which will add points to your score and also take away from the opposing team's score.
The developers have made some core changes to the basic gameplay. The most significant tweak is the introduction of the "trick stick." You can execute a different kind of juke move with the ball by tapping the right analog stick in any of eight directions. You'll have access to more-powerful jukes and shakes when you use the trick stick in combination with the turbo buttons on the controller. You have to be careful with your jukes though; if you try to do some of the fancier moves with a player who has a weak handle, you may end up tripping over yourself and turning over the ball. The trick stick is a vast improvement over past NBA Street games, wherein you were required to press one or two trick buttons in order to execute a juke. Using the right analog stick not only allows you quick access to a larger array of tricks, but also makes the game feel smoother and less robotic than the previous trick system. It's worth noting that the PS2 version of the game uses the four shoulder buttons for turbo, whereas the Xbox and GameCube versions of the game only use three, making these versions of the game slightly less complex. Their placement also makes playing the game on these platforms a bit more awkward than on the PS2.
There's a helpful display at the top of the screen that shows you how many special moves you've got strung together. Once you're satisfied that you've built a long enough string, you can wait for a teammate to pop high into the air for an alley-oop or you can take your own shot to finish off the combo. The combos that garner the most points are the ones that actually manage to fake out your opponents, as opposed to the maneuvers you do just for show.
There are other nifty tricks you can pull off that involve passes. By combining turbo buttons and the pass button, you can humiliate defenders by throwing the ball off the backboard and back to yourself or to a teammate. You can even toss the ball off an opponent's foot, chest, or face. These special passes can also be strung into your combos for maximum trick points and for building up your gamebreaker.
Gamebreakers have also been changed, to make them a more skill-based affair. Instead of simply toggling the gamebreaker on once you've built up your meter, as in past NBA Street games, NBA Street V3 lets you head to the rim and attempt two- or three-man combination dunks. You can use turbo buttons and your trick stick to execute midair moves on the men as they pop up into the air, including switching the ball between your legs, covering your eyes, or tossing the ball over your shoulder. Just before the first player dunks the ball, you can pass it off to a teammate popping up behind you, who can then execute more moves before he passes it off to the last teammate for more tricks. If you can build up enough points with your airborne acrobatics, you can make the gamebreaker worth more points to your team. The standard gamebreaker is worth just two points to your team while it subtracts one point from your opponents. With practice, however, you'll be pulling off breathtaking three- and four-point gamebreaker dunks. Yet it's very possible to get too greedy with your gamebreaker and fail the dunk entirely, which means no points and usually a turnover.
Aside from the major changes with the trick stick and gamebreaker, everything else that made the NBA Street series so much fun remains intact in V3. You can still get up high in the air on defense to reject dunks and jump shots using shot blockers like Shaq and KG. The juke moves, while powerful, are not unbeatable, as a well-timed trick countermove will allow you to steal the ball away. The underlying strategic balance remains: you need to weigh the benefits of scoring quickly against trying to string together a long, difficult combination of tricks to build for a gamebreaker. There haven't been many tweaks with defense, although you can now attempt steals and blocks with the right analog stick. Those who prefer the old style can still press specific buttons to do those things also.
NBA Street V3 is rife with customizable content. You can create your own baller using the game's robust character-creation feature. Just about every aspect of your created character can be tweaked, including facial structure, skin tone, physique, and, of course, skills. What's interesting is that as you tweak your character's size, the cost of increasing your skills in various areas changes. For example, a shorter, lighter character will be able to upgrade quickness and handle for fewer points than it would cost to upgrade attributes such as blocks or rebounding. Conversely, a taller, heavier player will spend more points trying to upgrade shot-making ability as opposed to power and dunking ability. The NBA Street V3 store includes a wide array of clothes to outfit your created character, and the points you earn in various single-player modes can be used to unlock hats, jerseys, shoes, and even jewelry. There's also a create-a-court feature that is as chock-full of options as the character-creation feature. You can pick a setting for your fantasy court, choose from dozens of different floor types, and paint schemes, logos, and stanchion types to adorn your court.
Both the player-creation and court-creation feature factor heavily into the game's primary single-player mode, which is the street challenge. Over the course of 10 weeks, you'll take your player on a tour of the game's 12 different courts, playing dozens of different types of challenges in order to build your street rep. Your rep will allow you to recruit better and better players onto your team. While at the outset you'll play against no-name streetballers, toward the end you'll be running with and alongside NBA stars that all have their own agendas and egos. Of course, along the way you'll be earning thousands of points, which can be used to upgrade your own character's skills and wardrobe or to add new adornments to your created court. The variety of different challenges available to you and the reward of playing alongside your favorite NBA stars make the street challenge mode a worthwhile and compelling single-player feature. As it takes dozens of matches to get through the full 10 weeks, doing one street challenge should keep you busy for quite some time as well.
NBA Street V3 also includes a slam-dunk contest mode. Thankfully, for those of us who found NBA Live 2005's dunk mode more frustrating than fun, this dunk contest proves to be a lot easier. You can set the contest up for two to eight dunkers, and like the gamebreaker dunks, you'll be jumping up high into the air to pull off a string of midair moves before finally throwing it down. You can spice up your dunks by doing different kinds of tosses, such as throwing the ball off the glass or bouncing the ball off the floor and catching it in midair. You can also make use of various props around the court to jump over, like tables, ball racks, or porta-potties. The dunk mode in NBA Street V3 is an amusing diversion, but ultimately not very deep, so it's not likely to hold your attention for as long as NBA Live 2005's dunk mode.
Rounding out the list of major features in NBA Street V3 is the introduction of online play for the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game. In both cases you'll be connected to EA's proprietary online service, so you'll be able to take advantage of its standard features, such as ladders, messaging, and news. For online play you have the option of using standard NBA teams or creating your own online baller and team. If you choose the latter, you'll not only earn points toward your ranking for winning games, but also you'll get points that you can use to upgrade your online character's skills and appearance. In our testing, online play was smooth and responsive on both PS2 online and Xbox Live. Unfortunately, online matches must always consist of one human player against another, so there are no cooperative or team-play modes available online. Offline play allows for up to six human players to play with and against each other on the PS2 with a multitap.
In lieu of online play, the Nintendo GameCube version of the game includes a trio of characters from the Mario games: Mario, Luigi, and Princess Peach. Their presence in the game is a little awkward. The characters do appear 3D and cartoonish, but the contrast gives the game somewhat of a Space Jam-kind of feel. They're much shorter and stubbier than the NBA players in the game, so some of the juke moves they make look a bit strange. When they do dunk the ball or make a successful shake on a defender, you'll hear some Mario-esque power-up sounds to give the game even more of a Nintendo flavor. There's even a Nintendo-themed court that serves as the Mario All-Stars' home. The bottom line is that if you liked the idea in the first place, then the execution of this feature won't leave you feeling disappointed. The good news for those who can't get over the strange contrast is that the Mario characters are never forced on you--they're all on their own team--so if you don't want to use them or see them, you don't have to.
The graphical presentation in NBA Street V3 is as slick as the gameplay. Player models and faces are drawn with an urban graffiti style. Combined with the various gritty light filters applied to different courts, the game's overall look comes off even more "street" than previous games in the series, and this look fits the game's themes well. The animations for the various tricks and dunks are also done very well, although you'll still experience some amount of popping as some animations transition to others. It's noteworthy that NBA Street V3 maintains a sharp look across all three platforms; there doesn't seem to be a marked graphical difference between the Xbox and the other two platforms.
About the only disappointment as far as presentation goes is with the game's sound, and that's only a relative disappointment, as the actual court sounds of dribbling and dunking are sharp and impactful. DJ Bobbito Garcia is back as the play-by-play announcer, so if you didn't like him in Street Vol. 2, you're probably going to be just as irritated with his loud, abrasive style this time around. The music is somewhat better than the announcing, with a soundtrack highlighted by a new Beastie Boys track, and some old-school hip-hop beats like De La Soul's "Me, Myself, and I," and a heavily sanitized remix of House of Pain's "Jump Around." Still, it seems like the game could have used a few more tracks, as the music seems to get repetitive after a while.
NBA Street V3 offers a fantastic amount of content, from tons of unlockables and customizable options in the single-player game to the addition of a smooth online mode. The developers have also managed to make significant meaningful tweaks to the gameplay without wrecking a proven formula for fun. If you're a fan of basketball, you owe it to yourself to check out NBA Street V3, which is the new king of the court as far as arcade basketball games go.