The annual avalanche of NBA Jam games from Midway is on its way, and like every year before this one, the PlayStation is on the docket. This year's version is called NBA Hoopz, complete with Shaquille O'Neal as the spokesperson. While it may seem like Midway is flogging a dead horse with yet another sequel to the Jam franchise, it's banking on the fact that an added control option and an extra player can invigorate its hoops series.
Don't let the name change fool you. NBA Hoopz, for all intents and purposes, is NBA Showtime with an extra player. Instead of the traditional two-on-two warfare you've become accustomed to, there's now an extra player on each team. The reasoning behind this change makes little sense, as all it does is complicate a game that thrives on simplicity. More often than not, the extra player just causes confusion due to players bunching up on the court. Thankfully, the same rim-rocking, high-flying gameplay has returned, complete with the usual 360-degree tomahawk dunks from the top of the key. Players still get on fire after three consecutive unanswered buckets, and the entire team can catch fire if three consecutive double dunks or alley-oops are performed.
There are just four buttons used to play NBA Hoopz to the hilt. The most important button is the turbo button. When used in conjunction with the pass and shoot buttons it lets you perform spin moves, gain extra speed, throw down some super dunks, and push other players to the floor. The hoopz button, another new feature, lets you post up the opposition and perform special moves like over-and-unders and hook shots. The ability to pass while going up for a shot has returned, and this provides the opportunity to draw in defenders and give other players on your team an open shot.
Perhaps the most unwanted gameplay aspect that has carried over to NBA Hoopz is the cheap and ridiculously inept AI. Most of the time, computer-controlled defenders stand in the lane, letting you prowl the perimeter and run time off the clock. Even if the computer has a wide-open player down low, it refuses to pass inside for the easy basket. Missing easy layups is common if you're up by more than five points, yet the computer will bomb 40-foot threes like they're nothing. Foul shots have made a return, but it takes five fouls on a player per quarter before any shots are taken from the line, so there's little incentive to halt the shoving tactics that have been successful in previous installments of the franchise.
When compared with the other versions of Hoopz readying for release on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, the PlayStation version's gameplay options are limited. There are exhibition games for up to six players with the use of two Multitaps, seasons of 14, 28, 56, or 82 games, and a tournament mode for up to eight teams. An average create-a-player mode is also included that lets you choose a face, form the body, and set your player's attributes from a predetermined number of points. Using your created player to win games and answering NBA trivia questions between quarters awards you with even more attribute points to distribute as you wish. Minigames, like around the world and 21, which are included in the other versions of Hoopz, have been excluded from this PlayStation excursion.
For better or worse, NBA Hoopz doesn't look anything like the NBA Jam games of old. The camera is panned so far out that it's difficult to make out any details, making NBA Hoopz look more like a basketball simulation than a sports game full of embellishment. It also makes it difficult to tell one player from another when they're in a pack, which makes playing defense difficult. The character models used in NBA Hoopz are every bit as good as those from EA's NBA Live. The facial textures, while not exceptional, are on par with those seen in other basketball games on the PlayStation. Eurocom has motion-captured 500 new animation routines, and it shows. The variety of shot animations is especially impressive. Just when you think you've seen them all, a player will perform a running hook shot or a brand-new dunk. Hoopz jets along with a brisk frame rate, and in a game of this nature, speed is of the utmost importance. On the downside, the court constantly shakes like it has a nervous disorder, and the crowd is composed of blurry 2D sprites that seldom move.
The same announcer from all the Midway sports games does the duties yet again in Hoopz, and he often gets confused as to what's happening on the court. While you're passing the ball, he will often state that you've taken a three or he will exclaim, "From downtown!" when you dunk. The rest of the sound is composed of stock grunts and sneaker squeaks.
While still fun in head-to-head situations, the few added features can't mask the fact that NBA Hoopz is basically the same exact game as last year's NBA Showtime. The extra player only causes confusion, the hoopz button is relatively ineffective, and several gameplay modes found in all the other versions of Hoopz are missing. If you don't already have an NBA Jam-type basketball game for your PlayStation, Hoopz is the cream of the crop. For those who have been down this road before, there's little incentive to give NBA Hoopz a look.