NBA Ballers

Review

posted 5/20/2004 by Charlie Sinhaseni
other articles by Charlie Sinhaseni
One Page Platforms: PS2
I’m a purist when it comes to videogames. Instead of jumping on the next big bandwagon I’m more inclined to reminiscence about the greatness of the games of yesterday. Sure they have much in common with today’s games but they didn’t rely on silly gimmicks or innovative features to attract our attention. Game designers at that time actually listened to their audiences and provided them with more of what they craved. Sure most of the games were similar in design but that didn’t stop me from spending entire weekends at the local arcade. I look at Midway as a throwback company because, well, they were there at the start of the revolution. Sure their games have been stumbling as of late but they’ve recommitted themselves to giving gamers what they want, not what they think they want. The trend started with the excellent survival horror title The Suffering and continues with what is arguably the best sports game so far of 2004, NBA Ballers.

Many people believe that EA Sports BIG is responsible for the whole street ball craze but they often forget that Midway pioneered the genre with its Arcade hit NBA Jam. Subsequent releases lacked the luster of the initial releases but they made a big enough impact to influence the Canadians at EA. Although the NBA Jam franchise was reintroduced to some pretty lukewarm fanfare the boys at Midway had an ace up their sleeve, the little talked about NBA Ballers.

The main premise revolves around a television show called NBA Ballers which showcases some of the NBA’s best players in a street balling atmosphere. From this you can choose to play as some of the NBA’s biggest names or to create an entirely new baller from the ground up. There are a number of modes available to you including a TV tournament which is used to unlock new players, quick play modes which allow you to hit the court with the ballers of your choice, and the Rags to Riches mode which allows you to move some punk kid up the ranks. In this mode winning tournaments will allow you to upgrade your abilities as well as unlock new items to adorn your character with. It also helps you unlock new ballers to utilize in the game’s quick play modes. Midway utilizes the Inside the NBA license but opts to use it as the screen to show you the unlockables instead of utilizing it as a highlight-type show.

NBA Ballers plays in what is best described as the basketball version of a fighting game. It’s generally the best of three rounds where the players go up to 11 by twos. Every so often you’ll run into special matches which ask you to do things such as keep your opponent under eight points or to win without committing a foul. There are very few rules in place but the ones here such as the fouls make an awful lot of sense. You have four fouls to give in each match, upon earning the fifth one you’ll send your opponent to the line where the free throw is worth three points and possession of the ball.

Like Street and JAM, the game requires you to use outlandish moves in order to school your opponent. Through the use of jukes and playgrounds moves in conjunction with the ‘juice’ function, you can perform an outlandish assortment of street ballin’ moves. Juice is essentially your turbo as it allows you to perform more complex moves and run faster, just like in NBA JAM. Additionally you’ll be able to do wacky things like pass the ball off of your opponents head, pass the ball to a friend in the crowd or dish it up for a one man alley oop. Doing all of these moves will gradually build up the ‘House’ meter which when filled, allows you to bring down the backboard for the instant victory. In order to be successful you’ll need to string together moves, much like a fighting game. You can’t go back to the well too often though as your opponents will be able to stump you if you begin to develop a recognizable pattern. Thus the key here is to play smart basketball while utilizing as much flair and flash as possible. This isn’t too hard thanks to the simple control layout which places all of the commands in simple and recognizable places. I also liked the ability to input strings of commands ahead of time in order to perform combos. It actually started giving me flashbacks to the old Street Fighter II days when you’d perform a combo and then pull your hands off the stick to humiliate your opponent as your character follows through.
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