Review: NBA Street V3 (GC, PS2, XB)

NBA Street V3
Platform: Gamecube (Also on PS2 and Xbox)
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Rating: Everyone
Release Date: 2/8/05

Every once in awhile, you find a game that manages to completely revolutionize its genre and take the experience to a new level. NBA Street V3 isn’t that game. If you’ve played either of the previous titles, you know what to expect. Sure, there are a few welcome tweaks and additions to the formula, but overall, it’s nothing revolutionary. Is it enough for a game to trot out the same schtick over and over? According to EA, the answer is a hearty yes.


Story/Modes:

Sports good! Story bad. The closest you’ll get to a story here is in the Street Challenge, where your created baller and his or her team rises to the top of the streetball world. If you never skip anything, you’ll go through at least 70 games in the season, with more if you enter tournaments. You’ll run through every kind of pick-up game known to man, building your reputation to get points to upgrade skills, customize your create-a-baller and your home court, and add better players to your team. There’s a bit of franchise management here, as you have to be careful to make sure everyone gets time on the court, or you’ll start losing players.

Aside from Street Challenge, there are pickup games (for 1-4 players) and dunk contests. It’s a shame the multiplayer is confined to the quick games; I still say it would be awesome to play a season with your buddies. EA has apparently decided that anyone interested in the franchise has already picked up an earlier version, as Tutorials have gone from an interactive (though flawed) training mode to a collection of videos. Bad EA, don’t alienate noobs. They’re people too.

Story/Modes Rating: 6.5/10


Graphics:

Another sequel, another graphical facelift. This one, however, actually suits the game better. Eschewing V2’s cartoonish style for a touch more realism serves the game better. V2’s focus on the old-school lent itself to the more surreal approach, but V3, which presents itself as a vanguard of the cutting edge of basketball, placing the most emphasis on rising stars like LeBron James and Kevin Garnett. Helping make this theme work is Hype Williams, the director of pretty much every rap video ever, who served as a producer and conceptual designer on the game.

The representation and animation of players is a cut above most other basketball games, mostly owing to the fact that having to animate 6 players instead of 10, and the simulated crowds are smaller. EA definitely tries to squeeze the most out of this extra power, making character models more detailed and animation smoother. In close-ups, at least, you’ll easily be able to recognize your favorite players. While the game doesn’t go the extra mile and use player-specific quirks or any real facial expression, and players in similar clothes or uniforms are virtually indistinguishable during normal gameplay, the character graphics are good, though hardly revolutionary or amazing. The same can be said for the animation, which is mostly recycled from Vol. 2. The new super-high-flying dunks are really the only noticeable new animations, and they’re pretty standard.

One highly unexpected and greatly appreciated upgrade is the facelift to environments. EA’s artists finally figured out the difference between a bunch of basketball courts and an actual selection of different venues. Environments are stylistically very impressive, and it feels like an appropriate amount of work has gone into them. There’s much more use of color to distinguish between levels, which does a lot to help relieve the feelings of redundancy and repetitiveness.

Graphics Rating: 8/10


Sound:

NO. Bad EA. Don’t suck so much.

EA’s soundtrack budget was obviously all spent on the last Def Jam game, because this is ABYSMAL. First of all, 13 tracks is not a soundtrack. Period. And when your pitiful track selection consists of an overhyped Beastie Boys song, a bunch of generic rap from unknowns, and “classics” like a worthless, uninspired remix of House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” it’s just time to hang it up. Honestly, there’s no excuse for this. There is absolutely nothing redeeming here. Nothing.

Sound effects are generic and somewhat sparse. Almost no voice work, aside from the overbearing DJ. That’s right; the jackass from Vol 2 is back, with more senseless, inane babble. Someone actually enjoyed this drivel enough to ask him to come back. It contributes nothing to the experience. His commentary is even more nonsensical and rambling this time around. Worse than the sheer irritation factor is the fact that it’s just not effective commentary. If I’m kicking somebody’s ass by 13, I want the announcer to acknowledge just how thoroughly that team is being shamed! Is that so wrong? Instead, I get an occasional acknowledgement of the differences in scores, but it’s just a throwaway comment between baskets. When I’m up by 9 in an 11-point game, I want some mockery to be handed out! But honestly, what can you expect from a DJ named Bobbito?

I don’t care if I’m banned, it felt good to say it!

Overall… do yourself a favor and turn the sound off. All of it. It doesn’t matter what you choose to listen to, it’ll be better than this.

Sound Rating: 2.5/10


Gameplay and Control:

The basketball at the core of all this is solid. The gameplay is lifted wholesale from NBASV2, and for the most part, this is a good thing. While there still might be a bit too much emphasis on tricks and dunks, but this is over-the-top and in keeping with its roots. There’s still a major problem of goal-tending; so much of the game relies far too heavily on blocking shots. It’s literally possible to simply ignore all attempts at defense when you’ve got a blockbuster blocker like Shaq or Yao Ming, simply blocking shots and tossing them back down the court for easy points.

Street Challenge has the potential to be really interesting in a later version. Joining an NBA team’s street franchise means that once a week, you play a game in their uniform with people you didn’t choose. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass, particularly because you don’t get to play with the stars of that team unless you buy them in normal street games. All of the inter-player drama is conveyed through text boxes between games; it would be great to have some sort of cinema showing two of your players getting irritated with one another, and would help the player get more emotionally involved. It would also be nice if it had more of an effect your game. Your players’ opinions decide whether they’ll be staying on your team or not, but have no effect on their in-game performance. It’d be great to see an underappreciated player purposefully playing sloppily, or a well-cared-for one putting forth extra effort.

One thing that’s still a problem is doing tricks that are too advanced for your rating. The problem here is that it’s pretty much impossible to tell what tricks you can safely perform and which you can’t. Some two- or three-turbo maneuvers will go off cleanly, while others will mysteriously fail, dropping your baller to the pavement like a sack of bricks and sending the ball flying. It’s really frustrating; wouldn’t it make more sense to just make it really easy to steal the ball in this situation, rather than being silly and stupid and just leaving the player lying on the ground? The Trick Stick makes this problem even more apparent, since it can be hard to be precise with the right analog stick if you’re not playing on the Cube.

And while I’m complaining about controls, how about this: screw the PS2 fanboys who do nothing but talk smack about the other systems’ controllers. The Dual Shock is not perfect. The analog sticks are too loose and the D-Pad configuration is silly. I don’t care that PS2 has an extra turbo button, because the Cube’s right analog stick is much more precise. And a selection of 40 tricks that can be equipped isn’t some incredible feat; the other systems have 32 possible tricks, still more than anyone would need with such a versatile control system. Other than trying to figure out what tricks you can and can’t do, controls are tight and responsive. Steals and trick counters feel slightly less responsive, but only because they require such precise timing. And EA still hasn’t completely solved the problem of the game’s programming never knowing who you’re trying to switch control to when you’re on defense. You’ll find yourself helplessly switching between the wrong characters while the computer makes criminially easy-to-block shots.

The new, much-touted Dunk Contest just isn’t interesting enough to warrant the hype it’s gotten. The strategy of NBA Live 2005 is absent, as you can pretty much jump from 3-point range and perform approximately 47 tricks before you need to worry about actually getting the ball through the hoop. Passing to yourself is irritatingly difficult, thanks to the fixed camera angle (directly behind the player) which makes depth perception impossible. And unlike Live, there’s no skill cap on dunk contests, and you can only enter with your created character, so you’ll find yourself getting ridiculously owned.unless you make dunking a major priority.

Gamebreakers, the trademark super-moves of NBA Street which add to your score as they decrease your opponent’s, have been tweaked slightly. Normal and long-range shots can still be Gamebreakers, but the emphasis is now placed squarely on dunking. Go for a Gamebreaker dunk and you’ll basically enter Dunk Contest mode for a few seconds, executing crazy tricks in the air on the way to the slam. Your teammates will take to the sky as well, allowing for alley-oops to continue the combo. Greater risks lead to greater rewards, as bigger tricks will make the dunk worth anywhere from two to four points, in addition to the reduction of your opponent’s score. Unlike old Gamebreakers, however, you can screw this up pretty easily. This is the only really interesting application of the new dunking system, balancing out the Gamebreaker system as well. All I can really complain about here is that sometimes your AI teammates don’t attempt to jump, and it would be nice to see this dynamic extended beyond dunking.

Overall, this is NBA Street all over again, love it or hate it. It’s got flaws, but it’s still solidly made and the best arcade basketball around.

Gameplay and Control: 8.5/10


Balance:

There’s an effort to balance, but not an exceptionally strong one. As with previous NBA Streets, there are 3 difficulty levels. The problem has been, and still is, that the game adheres rigidly to these divisions. The difficulty increases a tiny bit as the season goes on, since you’re going up against better players, but the AI remains the same. This could be compensated for before by increasing the difficulty level mid-season, but this option is gone in V3. Start on Easy, learn the controls, master the AI (read: goal-tend like a bastard and do lots of tricks to get past defenders), and then coast to the end of the season. You have to completely restart a season to bump up the difficulty, which is a definite step backwards for the series. That being said, the difficulty levels are distinctly separate without being disjointed, which makes that transition to a Legendary player relatively smooth.

Balance Rating: 7/10


Replayability:

NBA Street V3 is surprisingly replayable, especially considering the size of the Street Challenge mode. Story mode is designed to tailor itself to your style and skills, and can thus be played a million different ways. With the variance of game types and the limitless potential for designing and redesigning your team, there’s almost too much in terms of replayability here. The sheer volume of customizability and the time investment of starting another Street Challenge is going to put off the casual player, but NBA sim fans are used to incredibly long seasons.

Replayability Rating: 10/10


Originality:

The only original standout is the customization of your home court. This offers a surprisingly interesting, Sims-like experience, allowing the player to design pretty much everything on the court, from logos on the floor to the city in the background and the graffiti on the walls. This is more entertaining than it really has any right to be. I actually caught myself spending development points to buy that new banner with my team’s logo, or recoloring the lines to match some new backboards. I spent points that could have gone to buying new skills like nunchuck skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills… on customizing my court. As obsessive as I am about stat-building, this says a lot. Other than that, there’s really nothing new here, nor is anything new expected. It’s a franchise sports game. Period. The “Trick Stick” is nothing new, and the dunk contest is done in a more satisfying manner in other game.

Originality Rating: 5/10


Appeal:

Fans of the previous installments of the NBA Street series? Check. Basketball fans in general? Check. When you get to your third iteration of a title, you’ve pretty much got your audience set. This is still the premiere arcade basketball game, but how much real competition does it have? Sports fans are a given here, but a casual player with previous experience isn’t going to be lured in by the dunk contest and revamped trick controls. This is a good sequel in terms of sports games, walking the line between faithfulness to the franchise and tweaking details. And it’s going to take a lot of fast talking to get anyone besides the hardest of the hardcore Beastie Boys fans to pick up the game just to put them on the court. An exclusive BB track might’ve helped, but pretty much anything would’ve helped the soundtrack. Ultimately, the main draw here for new blood is from Mario and co. It’s simply odd to have the cartoon Mario characters on the court with real players, but it’s somewhat amusing.

Appeal Rating: 8/10


Addictiveness:

The game does a pretty decent job here, all things considered. Street Challenge manages to give enough gameplay variety to keep the player interested. From the start, there are always a handful of different events to stave off the tedium. Best of all, if you don’t like any of them, you can just skip a day. If you don’t get into the habit of it, it really doesn’t have too much effect. And if you do get into the habit of it, it’s still not going to end your budding street career or anything. The multiplayer is fun, but anyone who has previous experience with the series isn’t going to fall in love with it again. Besides, multiplayer is just going to be people fighting over who gets the Nintendo All-Stars, and we all know it.

Addictiveness Rating: 7.5/10


Miscellaneous:

The little touches are good. The create-a-player is pretty detailed, but by no means exhaustive. The main problem is that there’s no real accounting for different body types; it’s impossible to create a player that isn’t freakishly muscular. And having an elaborate Create-a-Shoe mode is just silly. One of the best things that never gets mentioned is the Nickname system, which would be great if it didn’t involve Bobbito so much. Basically, the game will nickname your character based on skills and performance. Rely heavily on dunks and Bobbito will start calling you Blaze, the Escalator, or something equally silly, while good ball-handling and trickery will get you called Anti-Theft or Hot Water. It’s a small thing, but it’s satisfying, particularly for the titles that change the signature that appears graffiti-style over the screen after a Gamebreaker. Unfortunately, this does require you to listen to Bobbito, and to have to put up with his explanations of the stupider titles, such as “Pumpkins for Breakfast” and “Fat Juice Space Suit.”

Miscellaneous Rating: 7/10


Final Scores:

Story/Modes: 6.5/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 2.5/10
Gameplay and Control: 8.5/10
Balance: 7/10
Replayability: 10/10
Originality: 5/10
Appeal: 8/10
Addictiveness: 7.5/10
Miscellaneous: 7/10

Overall Score: 70/100
FINAL SCORE: 7/10 (GOOD)