Review by: mountpanic
EA Sports' BIG line scores another hit with their hip take on playground basketball.
Much of the game will feel very familiar to fans of the first BIG release, SSX. Gameplay consists of a mix of head-to-head competition and trick maneuvers. Rather than grabs, flips and spins (which would just be silly in basketball) tricks center on fake-outs and dunks in this game of 3-on-3 street hoops.
Graphically, Street is solid, if not particularly jaw-dropping as compared to more simulation-based sports games. It certainly holds its own again much of what is on the market, but doesn't exactly challenge many of the next year's ever-improving, ever-competing, character models. Still, faces do resemble their real-life counterparts, and animations are full of attitude. The tricks themselves are particularly entertaining (personal favorite; the "Slip and Slide" fake-out where the player rolls on the ground, often cutting down an opponent at the ankles -- super sweet). Where Street definitely DOES shine graphically is in the courts themselves. Like SSX, courts reflect various geographic locations, each enhanced by their own light and weather conditions. Rain puddles splash on LA's Yakitomi Plaza rooftop court and players kick up the desert dust along Arizona's Route 66. Traffic and trains roll by, observers come and go from game to game, and stray bits of paper roll across the court in urban areas. The street courts are a welcome change of pace from the usual pro arenas.
Sound-wise, NBA Street falls short of SSX. The music just isn't as rich or inventive, or noticeable for that matter. Not that it's BAD, per se. It just doesn't make an impression. Given the history of music in video games, this may not be such a bad thing. The announcer, Joe "The Show" Jackson teeters between amusing and annoying, treading a fine-line between urban archetype and ridiculous caricature. Most players probably won't notice or care, however, and Joe's remarks can be funny and appropriate to the situation. Street gets a real audio boost from the ambient noise. Engines rev past, horns honk, car alarms ring out in the distance. Onlookers murmur and erupt with exclamation of approval. Sneakers squeak, chests thud with midair collisions and players talk trash. The sounds create a real gritty sense of place.
NBA Street is really all about gameplay. The game is divided into City Circuit and Hold The Court. City Circuit is the one-player game where players work their way through the NBA region-by-region, facing down what amount to boss-battles against Street Legends along the way. Every time you beat a team, you get the opportunity to steal one of their players, gradually building up your own personal all-star team. Each court accessed in the City Circuit is also unlocked in Hold The Court. Hold The Court is for 1 or 2 person play, and requires clearance of trick point records or a certain number of games won. Victories here award create player points, which can also be taken instead of opposing team players in City Circuit.
Level settings come in No Game (easy), Got Game (medium) and Much Game (hard) varieties. While the different settings do represent distinct increases in difficulty, the differences in AI are often due to cheapness by the CPU, such as making you player leap off to an angle when going up for a block shot that it has already decided it's going to make, or arbitrarily making a player with maxed-out long-shot stats miss long-shot after long-shot (not that I'm bitter).
One of the more unique aspects of the game is the Gamebreaker. Performance of tricks, particularly combinations of tricks, fill up the Gamebreaker meter. When the meter is full, players have a limited amount of time to use the Gambreaker to make an ALMOST guaranteed shot which not only rewards your team with points, but takes points away from your opponent. It also gives huge trick point rewards. This can be a real lifesaver, turning a game around or putting a nail in the coffin of a struggling opponent.
Games are fast and furious. Play is aggressively offensive, but with some rude and brutal defense going on as well (especially from the CPU). Matches are played to 21, but must be won by 2 points, making for some white-knuckled, down-to-the-wire, sudden-death contests.
NBA Street is good enough and fun enough that it should appeal to players who might otherwise be uninterested in basketball or sports games, but for those who are interested, it's certainly a must-try, if not a must-buy. With the track record that EA Sports BIG has earned with SSX and NBA Street, this reviewer is already salivating for a taste of their Sled Storm 2, due this winter.
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