EA proved with Madden that it could tailor a sports game to take advantage of the strengths of the Wii. Unfortunately, it has proved the exact opposite with NBA Live 08. It's ugly, the controls are terrible, and the game is nearly unplayable.
Like Madden, NBA Live offers "family style" controls that require only the remote, as well as "advanced play" controls that utilize both the remote and Nunchuk. Both styles are equally bad. If you select family style, the game controls all of your players' movement. All you do on offense is press A or the D pad to pass to whomever is highlighted, then flick the remote sideways for a layup or dunk, or flick it up and then down to take a jump shot. On defense, you move the Wii Remote up and/or down to block and rebound. (We don't understand it either, but that's what the manual says.) You can also move the remote left or right to steal, and press B to pressure the ball. With the advanced controls you still do all of the remote-waving nonsense, but now you have (some) control over where your players go on both offense and defense.
However, it doesn't really matter what control style you pick because the gameplay is a complete wreck. Players slide all over the court, completely disappear and reappear, don't take shots when you want them to, and can't play a lick of defense. It gets worse. Anyone within about eight feet of the hoop can go from standing still with his back to the basket to a flying dunk or layup with a flick of the remote. Steals are so frequent that you can't even tell what's going on sometimes because the camera is changing back and forth so quickly. Seemingly every time you go to pass the ball, the icon switches and the ball goes to someone else--often to someone who's a foot away. Yeah, that's a great time for a bounce pass. There's more, though. You can make layups from behind the three-point line, and players can pass right through each other. Furthermore, it's pointless to rotate the Nunchuk for different dribble moves, and it doesn't seem to matter when you release your shot--it's probably going in.
But the biggest issue--the erratic motion-sensing--is the icing on the cake. You'll spend most of your time flicking the controller around like an insane person and hoping against hope that something will happen because the Wii recognizes only about half of your controller input. Every once in a while the game will shock you and actually be playable for 30 seconds here and there, but it's not much better than when you were a kid and you used to stand at an arcade machine and pretend you were playing because you didn't have a quarter to actually play the game. You're little more than a spectator to this train wreck.
Hopefully you don't want any sort of dynasty mode because the closest thing Live 08 on the Wii has is a single-season option. You can trade players, but that's about it. There are no contracts to sign, no players to scout, and no practices to schedule. Admittedly, some of that isn't really missed, but the dynasty mode appears in every other iteration of the game, so its omission is curious. There's not even a create-a-player option. There is a superstar challenge mode where you try to recreate great player performances from the likes of Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, and Gilbert Arenas. As a concept it's fine, but it's rendered worthless by the lousy gameplay. Live 08 is also one of the first Wii games to support online play. Considering the omission of dynasty mode, it's not surprising that there is no online league option, and you can play only ranked and unranked games. But the online portion of the game works as advertised--too bad that the rest of the game doesn't.
Rounding out the underwhelming package are the slam-dunk contest and three-point shootout. The three-point shootout is a piece of cake: You flick the remote to the right to pick up a ball, move it up to jump, and move it down to release. It's excruciatingly easy and kind of lame because moving the remote down to release the ball doesn't coincide with what the onscreen player is doing. The slam-dunk contest isn't just kind of lame--it's really lame. You pick a dunk from a list and then move the remote in the direction of the two arrows that appear onscreen. We don't have a monkey in the office to test this theory, but it's reasonable to assume that just about any primate capable of holding the remote could successfully perform a dunk here. Where are all the cool minigames that Madden got? EA could at least hook people up with a few training exercises or something.
NBA Live's visuals serve only to add insult to injury, and they actually hurt the gameplay. Defense is almost impossible due to all of the warping and clipping that takes place. This problem is compounded by the lack of transition animation, so essentially you're trying to defend a player that can disappear, go through you, and then go from a standstill to full speed in the blink of an eye. There doesn't appear to be any widescreen option; consequently, the picture is stretched to fill the screen if have the Wii set to widescreen and the players all look fat. You can set the Wii to 4:3, but then you get black bars on either side of your screen if you've got a widescreen set. The graphics' problems are further exacerbated by the players' inordinately large heads. The lighting isn't too bad and the game's fairly colorful, but both the players and the court are extremely aliased.
Once again, the duo of Steve Kerr and Marv Albert is nearly as good in video game form as they are on television. They do a fine job of keeping up with the action, and they mix in a nice bit of analysis and banter in-between. Ernie Johnson and Greg Anthony do a great job calling the All-Star Weekend events. They're always good, but they're at their best when the competitors are at their worst--they'll really let you hear it if you stink.
Live 08 is more a mystery than it is a basketball game. The two biggest questions are "What in the world was EA thinking when it made this game?" and "Is there anyone in the world that would enjoy playing it?" The answer to the first question has yet to be determined, but as for who would enjoy this game, the answer is "nobody."