At what point does NBA exhibition and season gameplay take a back seat to a plethora of diversionary game modes? When SCEA drops the PSP version of NBA 07 on the public. I was fortunate enough to demo a pre-release version of the game and found myself struggling to put it down........not due to the 5-on-5 game play, but due to all the extra features. However. more on those later....
Visually, the game incorporates tight arena graphics with smooth gameplay. The pull back shots of the updated stadiums, Jumbotrons and surrounding areas are exceptional with specific attention to detail. The face rendering could have used a boost, as very few players come close to resembling their real-life counter parts. The addition of color commentary (being used for the first time in the series) and extra sound effects make the game experience more realistic. One major disappointment was the in-game advertising (T-Mobile, TNT and Spaulding), which is close to being a nuisance. While the ads built into each Arena's landscape can be forgiven at the expense of realism, the Corporate logos blatantly placed on the load and cut screens can not.
The overall game controls are right in line with what you would expect on the PSP. Straight forward basketball actions with a few "special" moves to try and pull off. Shooting the basketball (one of the harder controls on some newer basketball games) is a pleasant surprise, as it uses a visual indicator (a colored halo around the basketball) to determine when to release the shot. A nice blend of computer AI (real-world expectation of the shot location of the particular NBA player you are controlling) and the shooting control provide a realistic approach to taking and making your shots. If there is a flaw in any game control, it would belong to the passing technique. A player is required to use the analog stick to throw a pass in the direction of their teammate, but due to the relative inaccuracies of the stick, the pass doesn't always end up where it should be going.
While this is a good attempt to make the passing more user controlled, the PSP analog stick really hinders what SCEA was looking to accomplish and results in the ball being thrown away countless times during gameplay. UPDATE: Unfortunately I did not discover that passing can be a lot simpler. Apparently, you can press the Left Shoulder button on the PSP to bring up a passing icon to improve accuracy. Then the buttons will be linked to the other four players on the court. Makes getting the ball to the right player much easier.
Game play was fairly authentic, with the AI for the computer and your teammates showing good awareness to the game surroundings. I noticed lots of action with the AI going after loose balls, filling lanes on the fast break and working around screens to get open for the pass. Skill level of the NBA players and shot capabilities matched the real-life players expectations.
What takes this game to the next level are the mini-games and play modes. Whether it is the shoot around, All-Star weekend three-point, dunk or skill competitions, or using NBA players to play Dodge ball, Pop-a-Shot or Skee ball, you will get countless hours of replay from these modes alone. The Carnival mode allows your player to earn tickets on the Pop-a-Shot and Skee ball machines that can be redeemed for videos, throwbacks equipment and classic teams. Out of all these, the crown jewel is Conquest Mode which is the most involved of the mini-games and incorporates strategic thinking into a basic basketball pick-up game. Essentially, you are playing the game RISK(TM) with NBA cities and NBA players. You pick a team, and decide to either attack or sit back and defend your cities. As you beat the other cities, you assimilate those players into your massive team. You then must decide where to place which players in order to defend your conquest cities or attack the next city. If you lose an attack, then that team gets to trade you a poor player from it's team for a player (usually your best) from your team. Conquest is simply another fabulous outside-the-box mode for this franchise.
Notable extras are online multiplayer and game sharing mode (only for the carnival games). Due to the game being pre-release, these items were not able to be previewed.
There were area's for improvement that could use an upgrade prior to the final version being released. A few that stood out were the lack of create a player, the poor font quality on the main Control screen (light grey letters running together making it extremely difficult to read), a lack of on-screen control menu's for all the game modes (many games had their mode specific controls shown during load time, others did not), lack of record keeping in the mini-games (no high score retention for Pop-a-Shot, Skee ball, skills challenge, three point shooting, etc) and what appeared to be a bug in the Pop-a-Shot mini game (shooting control bounced the basketball instead of launching a shot most times, preventing no more than three shots to be launched in any of the 15+ attempts to play the game).
Overall, NBA 07 will be appealing for both the basketball junkie and the casual player looking to kill time. The basic handheld basketball essentials are all here with good graphics and game play. Coupled with all the mini-games and play modes, and the game can provide hours of entertainment at any given time. If SCEA can work out a few of the notated areas for improvement, this game could become a must have.