NBA Street Showdown Hands-On

EA lets us hit the court with its upcoming PSP hoops game.

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Following Sony's recent press event, where Electronic Arts showed off three games for the upcoming PlayStation Portable, the third-party publisher gave us a first look at one of the titles that wasn't playable at the event: NBA Street Showdown. The game has been in development for nine months in the wilds of EA's Canadian studio and aims to offer a portable incarnation of the acclaimed hoops franchise. The work-in-progress version of the game we tried was far from final, but it still makes a mighty good impression.

NBA Street Showdown will feature several different game modes that are designed to help meet any player's time-killing needs. For someone looking to burn a brief bit of time, the game offers quickplay games that include three game types. Pickup game is a quick match against the CPU. You can customize it by setting score or time limits to keep the matches to zippy lengths. In addition, you can find quick minigame-style diversions such as arcade shoot-out and shot blocker. Arcade shoot-out captures the frantic nature of the old ticket-redemption arcade game that has you make as many baskets as you can before time runs out. Finally, shot blocker requires you to block your opponents from making baskets during a set time.

For those occasions when you have a bit more time to spend with the game, NBA Street Showdown offers king of the court. The mode is a career-style mode that lets you both create your own original player and customize his appearance and stats. Once you've sorted your virtual alter ego, you can take him through a series of competitions as you work your way to the top of the basket-making heap. On your path to glory you'll find your victories will unlock courts, jersey, and a variety of other unlockable content.

In addition to the single-player modes, NBA Street Showdown features the ultimate killer of time (that's as flexible as you like): head-to-head play. The multiplayer mode lets you take on a friend in a wireless match that can be either a proper game or an aforementioned minigame-style challenge. For those with PSP-less friends, you can try the party play mode, which tracks up to four players' performances in arcade shoot-out and shot blocker modes in turn-based segments.

While we'll extol the graphical virtues of NBA Street Showdown in just a second, it really wouldn't matter how pretty the game was if the control stank. Traditionally, basketball fans have known better than to expect much from the few attempts to bring basketball to portable systems. However, that trend is likely over thanks to the options open to developers on the PSP. While the version of NBA Street Showdown was very much a work in progress, the control in the game has made a smooth transition from the PS2's Dual Shock controller to the PSP's assortment of buttons. Some changes have obviously been made to the trick system to accommodate the loss of the two additional shoulder buttons from the Dual Shock controller, but anyone familiar with the game should have no trouble diving in after a brief adjustment period. The core mechanics of the game draw heavily on the systems seen in the most recent entry in the series, NBA Street Vol. 2, and make for some sweet three-on-three action. You can expect the same basic combo system and gamebreaker mechanics, although some tweaking is being done to offer a unique experience on the PSP.

As far as graphics go, NBA Street Showdown is a cool customer. The game employs an art style that's similar to Street 2's stylized visuals, and aside from a few hitches in the version we played, it zips along like butter. The player models are an attractive lot, and each model comes extremely close to his console incarnation. More importantly, the flashy animation that's a strong part of the game's appeal looks to be making the leap to the PSP with a hefty amount of frames. The courts are looking sharp, although if you want to be nitpicky, there is a bit of jagginess here and there. But considering how sharp the visuals are overall, we'll live.

The audio will feature the now trademark EA assortment of music tracks and Street voice samples, along with a bevy of court noises. As with some of the other PSP games from EA, NBA Street Showdown will also feature the Pocket Trax feature so you can listen to music and watch videos or game-specific visualizations that match up with the songs in the game.

Based on this initial look at the game, NBA Street is looking like a portable game worthy of the franchise's name. The graphics are shaping up to offer a strong visual experience that's on par with the console incarnations of the franchise. But while slick visuals are well and good, the key to NBA Street's success will be its control. In that, respect we're hopeful about what we've played. From the looks of this version of the game, NBA Street should be a solid entry in the PSP's software library, and it should definitely be a game that basketball fans (who have traditionally known better than to expect much from a portable hoops game) will want to pick up. NBA Street is currently slated to ship at the same time as the PSP this March.

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