Review: NBA Ballers (PS2)

NBA Ballers
Platform: PS2 (also available on Xbox)
Rating: T
Developer: Midway
Release Date: 04/06/04

Around a decade ago, Midway released what would become an arcade and console classic in NBA Jam. The game would go on to be released in several incarnations, with the next release seemingly being worse or less original than the one that came before it. Flash forward to 2004 and Midway has finally put itself back on the sports map, and ironically enough with the sport that arguably put it on the map with NBA Ballers.


If you choose to go the story route, you’ll learn about some high end television exec wanting to produce a basketball reality show “from the streets” with the winner going on to live out his dream in the NBA — beating real life NBA players en route to the goal. You don’t play sports games for a “story” so the lack of major depth or originality shouldn’t be an issue here. Choose to just go directly online or play in a tournament or quick game mode and again, nothing really to deal with here.



Your custom baller can have every single feature tweaked to your liking — similar to the CAWs we’ve seen recently in games like Tony Hawk’s Underground and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004. All the NBA jerseys and outfits are in the game in great detail — including the upcoming Charlotte Bobcats franchise — and the color seems to come out in great color and detail on the PS2.

Where the graphics really stand out are in the NBA player models. Midway chose to go with less than 100 players overall — and instead of wasting up space and time creating each and every NBA player like virtually every other game ever released — it was allowed to focus its time on creating the most realistic portrayals of athletes in any sports game ever released, period. Every player’s face is carved and toned to its real life counterpart, including body, tattoos, and even their mannerisms. Is it the greatest all around visual experience you’ll ever see in a sports game? Probably not, but overall an outstanding job was done to create the most realistic players possible



It’s a streetball game at its heart, so be prepared for loud announcers and “street music” to greet you at every corner. Probably the most impressive feature in the sound department is the announcer that talks of all places during the loading screen. It’s a Playstation 2 game, so of course you’ll be stuck with 15-20 second load times at bare minimum between games. To bide your time, an announcer runs down the one-on-one matchup in great detail, and actually does a solid job of getting you hyped up for the game by providing all the similarities and differences of the two players without any noticeable delay — just like an actual announcer was calling the game right into your speakers. Definitely makes up for the load time, and like the player models, can be thanked due to the nicely sized player roster.



Simple for rookies, yet able to be advanced so far that eventual addicts will still be learning moves 4 or 5 weeks into playing the game. All you really need to learn are turbo and shoot to be able to run a competent enough one-on-one game among casual gaming friends. However, if you’re ready to bring your “A Game” and take it online or compete with your diehard friends, Ballers has plenty of control options and combos that will take plenty of time to master. Either way, the controls are unique and either simple or challenging enough for any gamer to enjoy without major problems.



Online play, story mode, and quick play. What more do you need in a sports game? Xbox owners are out of luck, but Ballers on PS2 features a solid online mode that will allow diehard ballers to balance their time practicing online or competing in the story mode, as well as taking their game to the courts online — representing their city (which is required on signup) — and if they’re good enough — being invited to online tournaments. Plenty of options here to satisfy any street hoops fan.



Obviously people will look at the box and go: “Look, an NBA Street rip off!” but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ballers is a one-on-one game, no teammates, no full NBA teams, just you and one other opponent. This isn’t the first street ball game ever made, but it’s a refreshing change of pace from 3-on-3 street ball, or 5-on-5 street bonus options you can find in games like ESPN NBA Basketball. Having the game one-on-one allowed Midway to really add lots of cool extra detail to each player, and when you play online — with an NBA player or as a custom baller — you’re relying solely on yourself than 2 A.I. opponents. Nice touch and a definite change of pace from the often overdone street balling aspect.



NBA or even actual real life basketball players can really grow to appreciate this game, while at the same time so can a casual gamer just looking for a fun sports game. At its core, the game is so simple that a couple of 9 or 10 year olds could play a solid, consistent game —AND- and a couple of experienced college kids could put on a fun online show, it just has that awesome dynamic. If you despise basketball, you’ll probably not be interested, but even the most casual fan could definitely see the fun in this game.



It can be very easy for a hoops fan to quickly get entangled in this game. Developing your custom baller can have greater motivation when taking your game online, as you can represent yourself — the more you practice and play, the more attributes and features you pick up with your player. The more you play and practice offline, the more players you also can unlock to take online as well. Offline gamers can also use these same goals to take on their friends. If you’re insistent on playing solo, you might eventually get a little worn down and tired, but everyone else should have plenty of motivation to keep playing and becoming better.


Final Scores

Story: 6/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 8/10
Controls: 8/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 8/10
Originality: 7/10
Appeal: 8/10



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