NBA Hoopz is the latest in a long line of arcade-style basketball games from Midway. The train started back in 1993, when Midway unleashed NBA Jam upon an unsuspecting arcade scene. The game, which stripped NBA basketball down to a two-on-two match packed with plenty of shoving, scoring, and wild dunks. Later that same year, Midway updated the game with new rosters and a couple of new features, and the game became NBA Jam Tournament Edition. Three years later, Midway made a few more changes, updated the graphics, and released NBA Hangtime, followed by NBA Maximum Hangtime. It wasn't until 1999 that the concept got a complete overhaul, with the release of NBA Showtime. Showtime took the Jam gameplay and brought it into 3D, giving the game a lifelike-look while still keeping the over-the-top madness that made the older games great. NBA Hoopz is meant to be an upgraded version of Showtime. However, a few design decisions cause Hoopz to stray a little too far from the pack.
Hoopz adds two players to the court, making it a three-on-three game. Also, the game is quite a bit slower than NBA Showtime--players take longer to traverse the court, and the game clock runs in real time. Even when using turbo, the game still feels a little sluggish. Like Showtime, Hoopz keeps track of defensive fouls--shove five people in one quarter and the opposing team will be sent to the line for a free throw. Finally, NBA Hoopz adds a fourth button to the mix. The hoopz button is used on offense for dribble tricks and walking backward, which makes the ball a little more difficult to steal. On defense, the button lets you switch the player you're controlling, but it's sometimes difficult to keep track of which player you're controlling, especially when all six players are bunched up under the basket.
NBA Hoopz is an arcade game without an arcade mode. Sure, most of the other modes are covered, and there's a quick start option to get you into the game quickly, but some stats tracking by player, like Showtime and Jam have in their arcade modes, would have been a nice touch. Instead, you can play quickstart exhibition games or you can play in season mode, which can be played at a few different lengths. There's also a tournament mode and a few different minigames.
Graphically, NBA Hoopz looks a little better than the arcade version of NBA Showtime. The animation is nice and fluid, especially on the dunks. However, that doesn't mean it's flawless. There are a few graphical glitches here and there, the most noticeable being some occasionally messy polygons showing up in the players' neck areas. Thankfully, this usually happens only during the end-of-quarter close-up and in replays, so it doesn't mar the gameplay whatsoever. The textures used for player faces are pretty good, though it appears that the more popular players--cover athlete Shaquille O'Neal, for instance--were modeled and textured with significantly more care than the rest of the NBA.
Hoopz has some pretty good in-game and menu-screen music, consisting mostly of instrumental hip-hop tracks. The rest of the game's sound doesn't fare nearly as well. A few new announcer phrases have been added since last year's Showtime, but the announcer still repeats himself way too much, especially when you're moving the ball around a lot. The sound effects are pretty nice, though taking the ball to the hole on huge dunks doesn't quite have the "oomph" that it should. Also, the default sound mixing is awful, making the music too loud and making the announcer sound like he's trapped in an echo chamber.
NBA Showtime fans may enjoy Hoopz, but the game would have benefited from an honest-to-goodness arcade mode and a speed setting, if not faster overall gameplay. Still, as the only arcade-style b-ball game on the PS2, it definitely fills a niche. Check it out if you're looking for something a little less sim-oriented than NBA Live or NBA ShootOut.