Updating an arcade sports title for a sequel can be a tricky proposition. Since the genre doesn't always attract the hard-core simulation fan, updated rosters and other tweaks normally associated with more-serious sports games usually go unappreciated. But straying too far from the original formula may alienate the existing fans. NBA Street Vol. 2 is a textbook case of how to update a game like this--it makes a few solid improvements to the series' gameplay and visuals, and, most importantly, it doesn't break anything that was great in the first game.
NBA Street is an arcade-style three-on-three basketball game with scads of offensive and defensive trick moves. NBA Street Vol. 2 adds a new layer of tricks, and the result is a balanced sports game that makes playing defense almost as entertaining as dunking the ball. For every offensive move in the game, there's a countermove. Well-timed blocks can knock almost any regular shot--and most of the weaker dunks--right out of the air. Special steal moves can be used to combat the offensive footwork designed to knock your defensive player out of position and onto the ground. Special passes can be used to bounce the ball off the backboard and out to another player, which is great for tricking defenders but is difficult to pull off terribly often. The game also has a turbo meter that governs the use of many of your more-effective moves. It slowly replenishes when you aren't using it.
Even the game-altering gamebreaker shots have been changed a bit. As you perform different tricks and combos, your gamebreaker meter fills. Once it's full, you have a limited amount of time to get the ball and shoot a gamebreaker. Hitting a gamebreaker shot not only gives you points, but it also takes a point away from the opposing team. Alternatively, you can choose to store your gamebreaker energy. Filling up the bar a second time lets you deliver a level-two gamebreaker, which has the added bonus of doing more damage to the opposing team's score. It's also completely unblockable, unlike the standard gamebreaker shot, which can be blocked fairly easily.
Beyond these changes, NBA Street Vol. 2 is roughly the same as its predecessor. It has a handful of different modes to choose from. You can create a player and take him or her through the game's "be a legend" mode, which starts you out as a lowly, skill-less street baller and allows you to build yourself into a highly-recognizable, skillful street baller. The be a legend mode takes you through a handful of locations and game types, pitting you against boss characters as you proceed. As you defeat teams in this mode, you'll get points to spend on character development, and you'll also be able to add one of your opponents to your team, which can consist of up to five players.
The rest of the modes take you away from the character-building side of things and let you play with real NBA players, past and present. You can also unlock a few additional players, including some of the artists on the soundtrack, like Nelly and the St. Lunatics or Just Blaze. The NBA challenge mode puts you up against all the NBA teams, broken up into their real-life divisions. Winning here nets you reward points that you can use to unlock even more items. The game's exhibition mode is also pretty well-structured, giving you a lot of different ways to play. You can disable gamebreakers, play by NBA scoring rules, or even play a game that keeps track of your accumulated trick points instead of the number of baskets you've hit.
NBA Street Vol. 2 plays very well. The controls aren't sloppy at all, giving you accurate control over your players and moves. The gameplay moves very logically. When something doesn't go your way, it's easy to see what happened and why things went the way they did. The game has three levels of difficulty, though experienced NBA Street fans should be warned that the game defaults to the easiest setting, which will be an absolute cakewalk for anyone familiar with the game. As in the previous game, moving up in difficulty is absolutely key to getting the most out of the game, though even on its most difficult setting, the game isn't overly challenging. The game supports up to four players, and it works quite well with two or four players. Because of the way the game was built to use four buttons to designate which dunk or trick you're going to pull off, the game plays slightly better on the PlayStation 2, with its four shoulder buttons. But this is a minor difference, and the game plays just fine on every platform.
Graphically, NBA Street Vol. 2 looks good, but it doesn't really have a terribly impressive look to it. The models are crisp and look OK. The animations are very well done, but the transitions between, say, a juke move and a dunk animation are almost nonexistent, and the end result is a game that has an occasionally choppy look to it. The courts and backgrounds are sharp, but the fans watching the game sometimes linger on the screen longer than they should, revealing themselves to be poorly animated, low-poly models that stick out like sore thumbs during some replays and other close-up shots.
The sound and music in NBA Street Vol. 2 are also good. The courts are rife with ambient sound, and you hear a good deal of relevant chatter from the players as the game goes on. The music is your typical EA-style soundtrack, complete with the superannoying "EA Trax" info box that pops up in your way every time the track changes. The soundtrack itself is populated by instrumental hip-hop tracks from artists like Just Blaze, Erick Sermon, and Benzino. While the beats are pretty good, their instrumental nature causes them to grow tiresome more quickly than you'd probably like.
The last Street game's commentary felt forced and fake, like someone fed a man a script full of tired hip-hop slang and put him to work. This time around, the voice work is done by popular New York DJ Bobbito Garcia. Bobbito lends a much more authentic feel to the proceedings, though some listeners may find his loud, animated comments abrasive. He works in a lot of fairly clever references to classic songs, and, strangely enough, he spends a lot of his time on the mic shouting about food in a non-sequitur-like fashion.
While it may have a little too much in common with the previous game in the series for some of the more-casual NBA Street fans to swallow, NBA Street Vol. 2 is a great game. It has a nice variety of options, plays very well, and presents itself in a pretty decent manner. Any fan of basketball who isn't necessarily sold on the complexities of your average NBA simulation will find plenty to love here.