NBA Street Hands-On

EA is leaving the world of sports simulations behind with NBA Street, the latest from its EA Sports Big label. Will the NBA Jam series finally have some competition?


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EA has built its reputation on quality sports simulations. From Madden to NBA Live, EA Sports' games stand as the benchmark that all other sports sims are compared to. The company has been sitting back and watching companies like Midway cash in on the over-the-top sports genre for years now. The first hint of change came when EA announced that a new division of the company, EA Sports Big, would be producing an exaggerated snowboarding game for the PlayStation 2. That game was SSX, which ultimately became the PlayStation 2's flagship launch title. EA Big is reloading its guns with NBA Street, and this time the target sport is basketball.

NBA Street follows the same basic design principles established by NBA Jam so many years ago. Instead of five players on each side, NBA Street features three-on-three gameplay. There are no fouls and no goal tending, and special dunks, steals, moves, and swat blocks are but a button press away. The teams in NBA Street are made up of just five players, including NBA stars and a collection of real-world street-ball legends. The selection of the five players from each NBA team is chosen based on their street credibility instead of their statistics. Outwardly, NBA Street seems very similar to the NBA Jam franchise, but playing defense in NBA Street is much easier than it is in NBA Jam, resulting in constant in-your-face moments.

Just two gameplay modes have been implemented thus far: a city circuit mode and a hold the court mode. The city circuit mode works similarly to ladder-based fighting games. You begin the mode in Toronto and Vancouver, and once you win, you are allowed to choose one player from the losing team to join your squad. The more you play through the game, the more players are added to your roster. This stable of players comes in handy when you have tough matchups down the road. As you complete each of the six regions, you must then play against a region boss. Region bosses include a dreadlocked Jamaican named D.J. who plays in Timberland boots, a lanky Asian player named Takashi, a Latino with quick hands named Bonafide, and an afro-sporting player with tube socks pulled up to his knees named Stretch. If you defeat each of the six region bosses, you may then go on to play Michael Jordan for all the beans. City circuit games are played to 21, with a 24-second shot clock in effect. Like most games on the playground, you have to win by two. The hold the court mode is NBA Street's multiplayer mode, and it features support for just two players at a time.

As you progress through NBA Street, a multitude of gameplay options may be unlocked, including special courts, tattoos, shoes, and players. NBA Street exclusively features outdoor courts, so it's not out of the ordinary to be playing during a downpour or while snow gently falls to the ground. EA is not sure yet whether the weather will affect on-court performance, but it's something the company is currently working on. Several of the world's most renowned street-ball courts like Rucker Park in Harlem, Miami's South Beach court, and The Cage in New York City are included. Additionally, there are fictional courts in cities like San Francisco, Boston, and Vancouver that come complete with backdrops appropriate to the location. The Boston court is surrounded by the city's trademark row houses, and the San Francisco court is located directly underneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

The graphics in NBA Street already look markedly better than those found in NBA Live. The outdoor courts look excellent, with appropriate landmarks present in each city and full-fledged neighborhoods surrounding the courts. Compared to the confines of an arena, NBA Street's outdoor areas provide a nice change of pace for the b-ball video game genre. The street-ball players in the game seem to be designed by the same artist who designed the SSX characters. They are full of character and have a comical tone. EA Big has taken the time to motion-capture real street-ball players from Chicago and New York performing moves fresh off the playground courts, and they look great. All the insane dribble moves you've seen in the underground And 1 videos are present, along with a few new ones that are sure to elicit a smile or two. EA claims to currently be working on self-passes off the backboard for dunks and passing off the backboard to other players.

Oddly enough, the control scheme in NBA Street is similar to that of SSX. Special moves are performed by holding various combinations of the shoulder buttons and then pressing the square button. As you pull off move after move, combo points are awarded that increase a breakaway meter. The breakaway meter gives your players a short-term increase in attributes. If the meter becomes completely full, every bucket you make deducts the same amount of points from your opponent's score. This should help keep players in the game until the final point. The combo points are also used to unlock new features like hidden courts and players. The AI has been designed from the ground up to be conducive to NBA Street's high-flying gameplay, and computer-controlled players will launch themselves toward the rim for alley-oops on a regular basis.

EA Big has decided to go with an acid jazz soundtrack for NBA Street and has commissioned the dance label Ninja Tune to provide the aural landscape. Expect edgy breakbeat tracks from Ninja Tune's heavy hitters like Coldcut, DJ Vadim, and The Herbaliser. EA also claims that NBA Street will include a dynamic soundtrack similar to the one found in SSX that changes according to the action on the court.

It's easy to assume that NBA Street is just another NBA Jam clone, but the complex control scheme, extensive scoring system, lifelike graphics, and oodles of unlockable features make NBA Street seem more like a new genre altogether. The game already plays fast and tight, and the animations are some of the best we've seen in a PlayStation 2 sports game. NBA Street is currently scheduled for release this June, and we're expecting a playable version of the game in the coming weeks. Keep your eyes on this gamespace for more on NBA Street for the PlayStation 2 in the near future.

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