NBA 07 Hands-On

What do slam dunks and strategy games have to do with one another? We have the answer in our look at NBA 07 for the PSP.

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The SCEA development team isn't shy when it comes to trying something new with its NBA series for the PlayStation Portable. Last year's game, for instance, featured a basketball-themed version of dodgeball, starring real NBA players. With NBA 07, due for release later this year on the PSP, SCEA is building on that kind of unconventional thinking by including a number of new minigames to the standard fast-paced basketball game that the series has come to be known for.

Make the basket, win a prize. You'll be playing for tickets in NBA 07's carnival minigames.
Make the basket, win a prize. You'll be playing for tickets in NBA 07's carnival minigames.

Before we get to the minigames, however, it's probably worth mentioning that the development team is also addressing some issues with the standard five-on-five game as well, mainly having to do with the aggressiveness of the artificial intelligence. With NBA 07, players can expect to see a more aggressive game of basketball played by the computer on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. Players will be more apt to run after loose balls and get down the court on fast breaks.

The presentation of NBA 07 is getting an upgrade, as well. In addition to some redesigned stadiums, Jumbotrons, and the like, you can expect to hear new player introductions, crowd chants, and color commentary (which is a first for the series). The new presentation tweaks do make a difference--the game we saw running on the PSP was running silky smooth at 60 frames per second, with nice animations from the players and impressive reflections in the hardwood court itself.

NBA 07 is going to include a lot of minigames, and they'll fall under a number of different categories. There's your traditional own-the-court games and all-star weekend challenges, as well as an NBA-themed pinball game, but a couple of new categories of minigames have also found their way into the game, these being carnival games and conquest. If you've ever gone to your local county fair or arcade and spent some time shooting hoops, you'll have a good idea of what to expect from some of these carnival games. Pop-a-shot, for example, features your chosen NBA player trying to hit a moving basket in a timed challenge, while skee ball is just what it sounds like--skee ball starring the likes of Kobe and Shaq. To play, you simply roll a ball quickly up a wooden ramp and try to get it to fall into one of five baskets. These being carnival games, you earn tickets for scoring big--which you can then turn in to unlock things such as movies, jerseys, and classic NBA teams.

While the carnival games are small diversions, conquest seems to be the most in-depth of any of the minigames. If you can imagine crossing the NBA with the old board game Risk, you have an idea of what conquest is all about. The game will involve both your hoops skills and your strategic thinking, as you try to conquer the entire NBA. Here's how it works: Each city with an NBA team is represented in the game and can invade any other city for a game of winner-take-all hoops. If the challenger defeats the host city, that team is assimilated into the winning team and the territory is conquered. If an attacking city fails in its conquest bid, the defending city gets to swap out one of its players with a player from the other team.

Sooner or later, the computer will challenge you, and you'll go straight to a street-style outdoor basketball court to defend your turf. It's still five-on-five play, but the rules are greatly relaxed. If you manage to defend your territory, or beat a team whose city you are invading, you can choose to scoop up the other team's players. Instead of playing for points, both teams have a life meter; by scoring a basket, you drain your opponent's life meter until one team is drained completely.

By fusing basketball skill and strategic thinking, conquest mode brings new meaning to the phrase
By fusing basketball skill and strategic thinking, conquest mode brings new meaning to the phrase "floor general."

The level of strategy doesn't just depend on who you attack and when, however. As you play the game, individual players will improve their skills by earning medals for accomplishing feats such as scoring the most points in a game or grabbing the most rebounds. If a player earns three medals, he then will be awarded with a "star," which grants him (and the team) more health, thus making him tougher to defeat. Though you can only have five "starred" players on a single team, you can move players around to the various cities you control, thus letting you put your best players in the areas you think are most vulnerable to attack or to help swipe control of a particularly weak enemy. It sounds like great fun, if for no other reason than it might exercise your brain a little more than your typical sports game.

In all, NBA 07 for the PSP looks to be running with the minigame formula that has set it apart from the other handheld basketball games on the market. We look forward to trying out conquest mode, the carnival minigames, and the rest of the hoops package in the near future, so stay tuned for more on NBA 07.

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