EA offered the NBA an exclusive contract earlier this year, similar to NASCAR and the NFL.  However, the NBA decided not to take EA up on their offer and let all of the game companies who bought a license the opportunity to make their own game.  Because of this, Sony was able to release NBA 06 for the PlayStation 2.

NBA 06 is returning after taking a rest on the bench last year.  Sony didn’t feel that their game was as refined as it needed to be.  Instead of releasing a game with mediocre or poor reviews, they decided to try to work extra hard on their new release for the following year.  Sometimes an extended development time could mean a development disaster.  Other times the extra time can add polish to a game.  Was the extra time and effort worth the wait, or should it taken another year on the bench?

The first thing you notice about the graphics in NBA 06 are the character models.  Some of the more prominent players’ faces have been fairly accurately recreated.  However, other faces are quite bland.  In fact, most of the players all look the same, other than a bit of a difference in skin tone.  There is some jaggedness indicative of a PS2 title as well.

While this wouldn’t be so bad if the animations were done well, they are a mixed bag.  Big moves like slam dunks and jukes look very realistic.  However, the players look like they should be in the NHL instead of the NBA.  They look like they are skating on the court instead of running over it.

The courts do look representative of their counterparts, but the crowd animations look terrible.  The crowd is incredibly flat, with animations that are reminiscent of the Madden pogo-stick crowd a couple of years ago.

The graphics of NBA 06 are uneven, and the same could be said about the sound.  The sound of the ball on the court is good.  The bounces, swishes, rim hits, and sneaker quakes all sound realistic.

Unfortunately, the play-by-play is missing during the game.  Without a good announcer giving the play on the court, something feels missing from the game, almost lifeless.  This kind of omission really needs to be addressed in the next version.

The music in the game is the typical rap/hip-hop that you’d expect from an NBA game.  If you are into that kind of music, you won’t have any issues with it.  There isn’t anything particularly memorable about the music, but it is workable.

The PS2 handles most of the controls well.  On offense, movement is handled with the left analog stick while special moves are handled with the right analog stick.  Hitting X passes the ball while Triangle performs a no look pass.  Circle shoots or performs a pump fake while Square does a dunk, layup, or jumpstop.  Using the D-pad will call for assistance whether to send someone to the basket or to call for a pick.  L1 does a Post Up while the R1 gives an extra speed boost for the player.  L2 brings up icon passing for more options for passing, while R2 plus Triangle or X calls up an Alley-Oop.

Defense controls similarly to the offense.  Movement and switching players is handled the same.  The right stick attempts to steal a pass.  Circle takes charge while Square attempts to steal the ball.  Triangle jumps, blocks, or rebounds depending on the situation.  Using the D-pad enables you to call players to double team the ball or call an intentional foul.

Shooting the ball consists of hitting the shot button.  During this time a visual indicator shows up.  When it is green at the top of the shot, you need to release the button.  While the indicator is helpful, it isn’t always accurate.  Sometimes you hit the green and the shot bounces off the rim, while other times the shot hits the red and it swishes through the basket.

What really hurts the control is the fact that sometimes the computer seems to take control at the most inopportune time.  Trying to double-team a player sometimes results in the player you control to move back in a man-to-man position.  The computer shouldn’t control players, especially in critical moments like this.

NBA 06 features three different modes while loading up the game: NBA, The Life, and Online.  NBA is the mode that most people are used to.  In this mode you play single games, leagues, Training Camp, adjust features, and set options.  Here you can pick your team and play out a season, play mini-games, make trades, and complete drills.  Drills are completed to assist you in learning how to play the game.  These include “Downtown” (a 3-point shooting drill), and “Free Throw” (a free-throw shooting drill).  Other drills work on your offensive and defensive skills.  Mini-games include “Own the Court,” 21, and 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 games.  Most of these games can be played online as well as offline.  While these are nice diversions, they don’t match playing a full game of regular basketball.

The season mode is where you play games in a regular NBA season.  While the issues on the court mentioned before hamper the gameplay, the biggest outstanding issue in this mode is the fact that there isn’t any kind of franchise or dynasty mode.  This kind of commission is disappointing in this day and age.

On the court, issues abound.  Getting the timing for an Alley-Oop or passing the ball around inside for the perfect dunk is an exhilarating experience.  Making a layup is difficult, even in light traffic.  The rebound seems to get grabbed by Velcro hands.  Lighting quick computer players try to grab loose balls, and there are some occasional clipping issues.  The control issues also bring down the gameplay since they can effectively remove your defense.

The most interesting feature during basketball games is the “Showtime” feature.  The Showtime meter acts very much like a momentum meter.  During the game you try to build the Showtime meter by sharing the ball with the team and making no look passes.  If you start to get too cocky and end up sliding across the court or get sloppy with the ball handling, your Showtime meter goes down.  The Showtime meter is a great idea that’s implemented better in other games and other sports games, but it doesn’t seem to have that much of an impact on gameplay in this game.

Online modes include the ability to select a game room, entering a chat area, view leaderboards, and enter tournaments.  You can also stay connected through message boards, sending mail or feedback, filling out polls or surveys, and getting news about the latest additions to the game.  The most useful feature of the online mode is the ability to download roster updates.  These updates can be used for both regular play and online play as well.

The Life is the story portion of the game.  While you can make some cosmetic changes, the amount of customization you have is disappointing compared to other sports titles with similar features.  In this mode you create your own point guard, follow the storyline, and complete challenges.  At the beginning you basically go through a simple tutorial that assists your shooting, passing, and making juke moves.  Eventually scrimmages come up that are either to a specific number of points or to get a certain number of steals or assists.  In between these challenges are cutscenes.  These cutscenes follow the storyline of the created character.  You can go through a few cutscenes before reaching a challenge.  This wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that the load times for these can be almost as long as the cutscene itself.

The other big issue with The Life mode is the fact that the challenges are pass/fail.  If you have problems with a specific challenge, you are stuck there until you can complete it.  This really hampers the feeling of moving forward through an NBA career.

NBA 06 has plenty of modes and mini-games to play.  These are nice additions to the game, but they don’t feel as fun as those included in the PSP version of the game.  There are plenty of options within the online portion of the game, and if you have some buddies with the game to play tournaments against each other, you should have limitless gameplay.

The Life claims to have over 30 hours and 100 unique experiences.  However, getting through all of them might be difficult because of the pass/fail nature of the mode.

The ability to play a season is a nice feature, but without a dynasty or franchise mode, the replay score suffers.