NBA Street Hands-On

EA Sports is making street ball Big, as NBA Street continues the Big series that SSX innovated. We laced up and grabbed the pill to see what NBA Street is all about.

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EA Sports always had big plans for the Big series, a line of over-the-top sports products inspired by SSX. The next entry in the series is NBA Street, an arcade-style basketball game that puts you on the outdoor blacktops of America and has you hustle not only some of the best pro ballers in the NBA but also some of the best street players in the world.

As the name would imply, this game is all about street action. Unlike its Live series, NBA Street has few rules, over-the-top action, and extremely simplistic gameplay. The game has two main gameplay modes, and in both you pick a team of three players and battle it out on the court with conventional street-ball rules: Baskets are worth one fewer point than they are in the NBA, and the game is played to 21. The city-circuit mode is a ladder-based tournament that pits you against all of the NBA teams, as well as the six original street ballers. The ladder is broken up into six regions. Each region has a certain number of NBA teams in it, and once you've beaten all the teams in that region you move on to face the region boss. The boss characters are the original street players: They'll pick two players from the NBA to play beside them then challenge your team to a game. Each time you win a match in the city-circuit mode you're allowed to take one of the players from the opposing team. This is handy if you want to pick popular characters from other teams to help balance your team out and eventually leads to some dream teams. If you don't want any of the players from the opposing team, you can choose to pick development points instead. This option simply grants you more points to spend on your create-a-player character's stats and can lead to some amazingly powerful characters. When you defeat a region boss you don't get a choice--the boss is simply added to your roster. After you've defeated all the NBA teams and the street bosses, you'll eventually challenge Michael Jordan himself to a game. The hold-the-court mode is similar to a survival mode in fighting games: You play a series of opponents and stop only when you lose a game. The game also features a multiplayer mode and has variants like trick attack, where the object is to score the most trick points in addition to points you'll score in a the regular multiplayer game. The game also features a huge create-a-player system with simply tons of variables. At the start of the single-player game there aren't many options for the create-a-player system, but as you progress through the game you'll unlock new options such as new skins, shoes, tattoos, development points, and other goodies.

The games in NBA Street are set up like a glamorized ghetto dream. A cocky and street-savvy host struts around the court in his sleek blue jumpsuit and calls the action from behind his bullhorn. All the while crowds of oddly dressed people gather around the action, and big-time pro NBA players run the court in their official NBA uniforms. This setup makes NBA Street a little surreal but definitely gives it a more sensational feel than other basketball games. Street boasts a slew of outdoor arenas, including big-name real-life courts like New York's The Cage or Harlem's Rucker Park, as well as imaginary courts set in real-life cities like San Francisco and Boston. The courts modeled after real-life street venues are incredibly true to life, featuring an amazing re-creation of detail, and the fictional courts based on real cities feature famous landmarks in the background and localized architecture. Additionally, the game has a few courts that are completely odd, including one court set in the middle of the desert directly off of Route 66. All of these add up to one of the most graphically diverse set of locales seen in any basketball game.

Street's gameplay is fast and furious and follows the same basic premise of the original over-the-top basketball game, NBA Jam. Street is a purely three-on-three experience, and fouls, goaltending, and even out-of-bounds rules have been thrown out. What is left has been turned up several notches, and the result is a game plump with huge, almost unrealistic dunks, in-your-face swat blocks, and out-of-hand fake-out moves. Each NBA team in Street is represented by only five players, each one handpicked by the development team based on street credibility and baller status. The game has a very simplistic control that's incredibly easy to pick up but also hides a diverse range of actions and more complex moves. Each of the PS2's face buttons represents a basic move set that's different for offensive and defensive purposes. On offense you can pass, set up a screen, perform a fakeout, and take the shot. On defense you can swipe at the ball, switch players, call for a double team, and jump to block a shot or a pass. Special moves are performed by holding down one of the shoulder buttons and hitting the fake-out button. Depending on your shoulder button combination, you'll be able to pull off an amazing range of special jukes and dizzying fakeouts. These special moves, in addition to basic moves like stealing the ball or blocking a shot, will award you with trick points and a bonus to your gamebreaker meter. Not only does the fullness of your gamebreaker meter award your players with temporary stat increases, but a full gamebreaker meter will let you take a gamebreaker shot. If sunk, the gamebreaker shot not only awards you the number of points appropriate to the shot, but it also decreases that same number of points from your opponent's score. So a gamebreaker shot from downtown will give you two points and subtract two points from your opponent's score.

While the game does allow for a great range of classic b-ball moves, there are some slight problems with the flow of the game. At this point it's a little difficult to switch to the appropriate player in some instances. Instead of simply cycling through your players, NBA Street always chooses the player closest to the ball when you switch players. This makes it almost impossible to switch to a man covering someone about to set up an ally-oop or screen. Additionally, the game lets you goaltend, but even at this point the blocking is a little difficult to pull off--you can often stand directly under the basket and still miss a clean shot thrown up from behind the line. Also, the rebounding at this point is very difficult, and the ball often falls directly into a computer-controlled opponent's hand. Still, the game is very early in its development stage at this point, and the development team is probably already addressing these issues.

Even at this early point Street has some very impressive graphics. As mentioned earlier, the courts in the game are graphically diverse and are all very well drawn. The player models look very good and animate especially well while on the court. Unfortunately, some of the players' faces don't look anything like their real-life counterparts at this point. Additionally, the hand-drawn mug shots for several of the players are missing in this version, and some of the mug shots don't look like the players at all. Still, the development team is probably busy addressing this issue, and it wouldn't be surprising if the mug shots in this early build are simply placeholders. While playing the game, the animation is simply fantastic, but some of the animation in the odd cutscenes before and after the game need a little work. Players can be a bit too jerky, and some of the foreshadowing on the player models looks pretty unnatural. Street features the same character designer that worked on SSX, and his influence on the game is obvious. The street-baller characters are especially colorful and have a certain hand-drawn comic-book feel to them. This influence even carries over to the menus and interface of the game, which has the same wet, slick look to it that SSX had.

Street's sound is one of its best qualities. At this point the game's soundtrack is done by Ninja Tune, a label featuring a collection of DJs known for their edgy breakbeats and street influence. The music is simply phenomenal: Catchy beats, record scratching, and hard melodies make Street one of the best-sounding basketball games yet. EA Sports has told us that it's considering replacing the music with a fully licensed soundtrack, like that of its Live series. Hopefully the company will abandon this idea and stay with the current soundtrack. The game features interactive music similar to that in SSX that changes depending on your performance. If you're doing well, you'll hear all the tracks of the song, but as you start to flub shots and miss blocks, you'll hear certain parts of the song fade. This system makes the game just as intense as SSX was and really helps build the mood when you're on fire. Street features plenty of ghetto-lingo commentary shouted from the sidelines. It's not uncommon to hear the game's host screaming lines like, "Bling bling!" or "I can play some ball too y'all, y'all just don't know!" While the colorful commentary certainly adds to the feel of the game, the limited number of catchphrases can get tiring after 10 or more games. Still, the audio is exceptionally well done, and hopefully EA Sports will refine the package instead of replacing it.

From what we've seen, NBA Street looks like it will be a worthy successor to SSX. While the game has been directly compared to NBA Hoopz, Street breaks away from the rut that the NBA Jam series fell into and looks like it could redefine the concept of over-the-top arcade basketball. This NBA game hits the street in June.

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jakeboudville

pretty impressive