Review: NBA Street Vol. 2 (PS2)

As a gamer I spend way too much time playing games of every category, but my weakest spot is for sports games. My fondest gaming memories consist of marathon Techmo Bowl tournaments, hours at the arcade playing Arch-Rivals, and taking on all comers with my friend Ken playing NBA Jam. I watch the NFL draft for the new Madden commercials. I own World Cup 2002. Obviously, I need help.

Strangely enough, I never played NBA Street. I was in a bit of an anti-NBA mood when it came out (read: Celtics sucked and Lakers didn’t) and I had been getting my basketball fix with NBA Live 2000 on my PC already, so I never saw fit to rent it. The good news from this is that I can go into this review without any expectations or baggage. Even better, I’m still flying high from watching the Spurs bounce the Lakers, so let’s do this.

The Game: NBA Street Vol. 2
The Developer: EA Sports — Big
The Platform: PS2
The Other TV (what’s on it): Stanley Cup Finals — Game 7 ($&@# Devils)

For those unfamiliar with the concept — it’s 3-on-3 basketball; featuring NBA players, legends, street-ball legends, and created players played on models of actual famous playground courts throughout the country. There are four modes: Street school (the practice mode), Pick-up Game (the Exhibition mode), NBA Challenge, and Be a Legend. In NBA Challenge, you end up playing 3-man teams representing each NBA team, as well as five “Regional All-Star” teams, featuring legends of the game. If you beat them, you unlock them for play in Pick-up Games. In Be a Legend mode, you start as a nobody at the NYC Rec Center, and work your way up the street-ball pantheon, earning points to improve your stats and unlocking players and jerseys along the way.

Gameplay

It’s basketball, right? Shoot, pass, steal, block, turbo. Well . . . .almost. First of all, on offense, there’s a “trick” button which lets you uncork a ballhandling move to try and fake out your opponent and let you drive by for the dunk. Also, pushing R3 down on offense will call for a pick (and we’re talking playground knock-their-ass-to-the-ground picks here), but pushing R3 in a DIRECTION will pass the ball but leave you in control of the guy passing the ball (as opposed to the guy receiving the ball). Then, when you push the regular pass button, they pass the ball back to you. Good for those give-and-gos.

The big thing is that all four shoulder buttons are turbo, but this isn’t just for convenience. You see, if you hold down a turbo and do a Trick or a dunk, you do a flashier one. Hold down two turbos and it gets flashier still. This works up to all four turbos down, which is your signature Trick/dunk. Why all the flash? Because the flashier the Trick, the more Trick Points you score and the faster you fill your Gamebreaker bar. When it’s filled, you can unleash a near unstoppable scoring move that, strangely enough, takes points AWAY from your opponent as well as scoring them for you. You can even pocket a Gamebreaker and wait until you fill the bar again, then unleash the dreaded Level 2 Gamebreaker, which is unstoppable by definition.

This sounds a bit much, and to tell the truth I had a little trouble adjusting to the controls until I remembered that this game is by the same people that brought us SSX:Tricky. Then, it was no problem. Really, it’s not as complicated as it sounds, and the Street School mode does an excellent job of training you to do all of what I just mentioned.

The play itself is reminiscent of NBA Jam, but then again not at all. The physics more closely resembles the real world, not whatever cartoon land that NBA Jam lived in. Also the GLS (“Good Luck, Sucker.”) routine, the one that caused you to miss fifteen dunks in a row if you were too far ahead of your opponent in Jam, MAY BE totally absent here; although I had a couple of instances where I clanged several dunks in a row against boss teams in Be a Legend mode, but those could have been my character’s low dunk rating. Yeah. Right.

I think one of the best features ever put into sports games is the ability to insert created characters (read: yourself, or an idealized version of yourself) into games. Street 2 takes this one step further: The Be a Legend mode REQUIRES a created character, then awards development points to improve their stats as you win games. The create-a-character is sufficient. It’s on par with other EA games but with one specific improvement: I really like the ability to make female characters; it makes including my wife that much easier, unlike the typical EA sports titles: “Now which one am I?” “You’re the weak-side linebacker, hon.” “The one with the mustache?” “(grumbles). . . .Yeah.” Also, you can modify what Tricks and dunks your character can perform. You can even unlock signature moves from NBA and Street legends. Where was this in Def Jam Vendetta? (And how could they have a rap/wrestling game without Busta Rhymes? Never mind. I’m not getting started on that.)

There are three difficulty settings: Got Game (easy), Mad Game (medium), and Legendary (“Okay, WHEN do I get the ball again?”). Got Game is easy enough to learn without getting blown out, but not so easy that the other team is lobotomized. The step to Mad Game is a pretty steep one, but not insurmountable, although I couldn’t beat the Jazz 3-man team with a team of Magic, (’96) Jordan, and Bill Walton, so maybe I need some practice. Legendary is something I may play . . . someday. There’s nothing that requires the harder settings to unlock (thank God), although there is an incentive to do so by increasing the number of reward points you get for winning.

Graphics

The environments are fantastic. I know, I said I wasn’t going to be impressed with graphics. So sue me. It really . . . feels like a bunch of beat-up old neighborhood courts. Some courts are painted, some are blacktop, some are schoolyard concrete, paint lines are faded, people hang out at courtside, the power lines running to the buildings in the background are 3-D modeled (you see it when the camera swings around in the pre-game shots), trees look like trees, people at courtside look like . . . mannequins (at least they don’t look like cardboard cutouts. You hear that THQ?), it’s quite impressive. It’s so detailed that you start to forget that somebody had to program this. Like the clouds of breath that come out of the mouths of the players in Chicago; my first thought wasn’t “Wow!” it was “Huh. Must be a cold day.”

What they need to have is a driveway. No joke. Half-court, board mounted on the two-car garage of a nice, suburban house. “Yeah, Dr. J, you might be the man in Rucker Park, but bring that shizzle over to Andover and see how far you get.” My brother could be on the porch, icing his ankles. It would be sweet.

The animations are very fluid; which you’d expect since you know exactly how many figures are going to be moving in the arena at any time. Even during trick moves and dunks the figures don’t appear to violate Einsteinian physics. The spectator mannequins move a bit jumpy, but you don’t even see them up close except for the odd replay, so I’ll let that slide. The figures are good, which is to say they’re on par with EA’s other offerings. The famous people look like they’re supposed to. The create-a-characters look a bit generic, but that’s going to happen unless you put a Smackdown-level creation section in, so I’ll forgive them.

Sound

Nothing against Redman or MC Lyte (and maybe this is something that you can do on the X-box — if somebody who has it can please let me know) but I’d really like to put my own mp3’s in the playlist. Stuff like “Slam” by Onyx or “Mothership Connection” by George Clinton (praise be to NBA Live 2000) or maybe even “Jump Around” by House of Pain (yes, I am white. Why do you ask?). Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a knock on the game. The music in Street 2 is good, REALLY good. It’s got the 70s-retro-03-hip-hop thing down, and the variety keeps it from being annoying, even after a couple of hours of play. If I just can’t live without playing Street 2 and listening to Digital Underground, I can just turn the music off on the options page and drop a CD in my stereo, so no biggie.

I really like the commentary (of course, anything after Rozelle would sound organic and fluid). It’s not all witty stuff. When you get all pre-written witty stuff it really starts to sound canned. This has a nice blend of witty street stuff (“D. It’s the fourth letter in the alphabet. After a, b, c, there’s d.”) and general exclamations (“Hotness!”). It really sounds like this guy is just sitting there, 40 in hand, watching you play pick-up ball and shouting stuff at you. It doesn’t get repetitive or annoying either, which is a big accomplishment with any commentary engine (anybody remember Joe Montana Sportstalk Football?). You have to play two or three games before you even hear something repeated, or maybe the game is so engaging that even if he does repeat himself you don’t catch it, or maybe I’m just REALLY good at tuning that stuff out after hours and hours of playing Tricky. At any rate, I think it adds to the feel of the game.

As for the general game sounds, I wasn’t terribly impressed at first, but the more I played and listened, the more impressed I became. “Okay, they got basketballs on concrete right,” “Hey, they got the metal backboard sounds right too. Cool,” “Did that guy just say Get back on D?'” “Was that ambulance siren outside, or . . .” and so on. As immersive as the graphics are, the sound is even more so. Again, it’s subtle. When I checked to see if that was MY cell phone, I realized how good the sound was.

Fun Factor

There are two different target demographics for this game: The Social Sports Gamer — the one who likes any sports game they can bust on their friends with, and The NBA Geek — the one who can tell you who has the record for most assists in one game (the number is 30, for those who care).

The SSG is going to love this game. Even with a more realistic physics model, it’s still a high-flying dunk-fest (the physics model takes a little nap when a teammate leaps into the air for an alley-oop) and the Tricks provide even more opportunity to embarrass your friends. In the Pick-up Game mode, there are several different rules variants to keep things interesting: Dunks only, NBA Scoring, Trick Points only, etc. You can also spot points, helping to keep things equitable between those with game and those whose game should be on a milk carton. It supports up to 4 players. Personally, I’d have liked to have seen 6, but 4 is enough for the SSG to carry his/her long-standing NBA Jam/Hangtime/Whatever rivalries over for another generation.

(If I can go off-topic for a second, have you seen that T-Mobile commercial where the guy calls another guy’s sneakers “cute” then feels like he has to defend his masculinity? Whoever wrote that has never really played pick-up ball. Commenting on how nice someone’s sneakers are is basically telling them they have no game. You’re saying that they put more thought into their shoes than into their playing, and it’s a common dig every place I’ve played ball. Okay, back to the review.)

The NBA Geek is going to love this game, if he/she doesn’t own it already. The pure novelty of including players like Nate Archibald, Bob Cousy, and Darryl Dawkins will almost be too much to resist. Stat Junkies will probably object to the lack of a simulation mode; personally, my biggest problem was with the omission of the Assists stat; but there are plenty of stat-driven games out there for the PC. This is for pure, arcade-style fun, and a real NBA fan will appreciate that as well. My contribution to NBA Geek-dom is the all-time Celtics team with Cousy, Bill Russell, and Larry Bird. Subs (each team has 5 players, although only 3 play in any one game) would be Paul “Truth” Pierce (Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk), and me.

I love games with lots of little stuff to unlock, and this game delivers. Jerseys, players, courts, moves, if you get far enough in Be a Legend mode, you are actually given a nickname based on your style of play. (That would be Cory “Big Bang” Laflin, because my dunks are so explosive.) I also have it on good authority that there are 3 versions of Michael Jordan in the game. Washington Wizards Jordan and ’96 Bulls Jordan are available right out of the box, and you can unlock ’85 Jordan. Yes, this means you can play an all-Jordan team. Chicago fans, stop drooling on the keyboard.

There’s also (as if there wasn’t already enough with this game) a decent extras section with move previews, a couple of mini-movies, and a preview of SSX 3. (Be still, my beating wallet.)

This is just a tricked-out, fun sports game. It’s fun for the single-player and the group jam alike. I’d go out and buy it right now, but Father’s Day is this weekend. (That’s a hint, Veronica.)

Ratings

Gameplay: 8.5
Graphics: 9.0
Sound: 9.5
Fun Factor: 10