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NBA Hoopz Hands-On

Midway is preparing to bring the third incarnation of the NBA Jam franchise to the Dreamcast in the form of NBA Hoopz.


It all began with NBA Jam - the 2D basketball game that sucked down quarters in arcades when it was first released in 1993. Players enjoyed the simplicity of its play, the high-flying antics of triple flip dunks, and the zany flaming basketballs. Realizing it had a good thing going, Midway began shoveling sequel after sequel onto the market until the name of the series had changed to NBA Showtime, and the gameplay had lost its allure. Midway is hoping to turn things around, though, with the Shaq-endorsed NBA Hoopz for the Dreamcast.

The major problem with the NBA Jam series is that it has remained in a stagnant state for almost eight years now. Thankfully, Midway has added some new features to the mix this time around to try to offset the series' notoriously shady past. The first and most obvious change present in NBA Hoopz is the addition of an extra player. Instead of the two-on-two gameplay of NBA Jam and NBA Showtime, there are now three players per team. This only seems to add to the chaos and the inability to keep track of your player on the court. Minigames like 21, around the world, and the three-point shootout are also new additions to the NBA Jam bloodline.

Other than these two refinements, NBA Hoopz is predominantly the same old song and dance. Gravity has no bearing on the Hoopz world, as 360-degree flip dunks happen at the press of a button. Old staples such as a player getting "on fire" after three consecutive baskets and the refs putting away their whistles no matter how blatant the foul have made a return. The create-a-player mode is also making the rounds once more. You may first choose a face texture and then set your player's height, weight, power, speed as well as his shooting and stealing ability from a predetermined number of points. If you use your created player in gameplay, he is awarded extra attribute points every few games. Answering trivia questions that pop up after each completed game also rewards you with more points to help mold your creations.

You may play seasons of 14, 28, 56, or 82 games, or you may play a tournament with up to eight teams. The computer handicapping that ensures that each game comes down to the final buzzer has been retained, and when you play the one-player mode it can become downright sickening. But as with past installments of the Jam series, the real enjoyment comes from playing with and against friends. To this end, Hoopz supports up to four players, but, sadly, there is no network gameplay available. As each half begins, you pick a starting guard, forward, and center. You may choose three guards for a dominant outside game, three big men for an unstoppable post game, or a mixture of the two to create a balanced squad.

Once on the court, things are fairly simple. There are just four buttons to remember, including the new Hoopz button that lets you post up and perform inside moves or go between the legs to shake a defender. The only problem with the Hoopz button is that the shot goes in every time. This holds true even when you throw up a 40-foot hook shot. The only other controls to master are the turbo, shoot/jump, and steal/pass buttons. The gameplay mechanics from past installments have returned, meaning that jumping up for a shot and then dumping the ball off at the last second is still a viable tactic. The extra player allows for disorienting ball movement and sweet alley-oops but little else.

NBA Hoopz doesn't feature the most astounding graphics for a basketball game, but they get the job done. The character models could use a few more polygons, and the skin textures accentuate the muscles a bit too much, resulting in players who look fine from a distance but laughable when viewed up close. The cranial textures are clear enough to make out details like Allen Iverson's cornrows, but most of the faces have a scared or angry look to them. Eurocom has taken the time to include 500 new animations, including some moves motion captured by Shaq Daddy himself. This impressive variety of moves and shots helps bring Hoopz alive. The game runs at a nice clip most of the time, but the minute a player gets on fire things begin to slow down. At one point I shot a full-court jumper while on fire, and the game almost ground to a halt.

Despite few enhancements over previous versions of Midway's arcade basketball series, NBA Hoopz is still a fun game to play with friends. While it isn't the most technically advanced Dreamcast game on any front, Hoopz is shaping up to be a worthy successor to NBA Showtime. There are some technical issues that need to be addressed, but, with a month left before the game's release, it's still possible for Eurocom to pull off some last-minute tweaks. NBA Hoopz for the Dreamcast is currently scheduled for release in mid-February. Look for our full review coming soon.

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