Sports games have had a tough time being recreated on portable systems. Most of them have been little more than ports of old games reminiscent of the days of the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. However, with the 3D capabilities of the Nintendo DS and the Sony PSP, developers aren’t held back by 2D sprites. Now Sony is bringing the second iteration of their sports lineup to the PSP, which includes NBA 06.
Starting NBA 06 introduces you to a hip-hop beat with still shots of players making plays. The presentation is a bit lackluster since you expect to see some videos of players scrambling to the ball, passing the ball, and making shots. Instead, you get a menu screen. It looks rather plain, which turns out how the game is.
NBA 06 does have a few things going for it. First of all, the floors couldn’t be shinier if they were coated with five coats of wax. The lights from the arena and the players’ reflections are noticeable. The graphics for the scoreboard and menus make it feel as if you are watching an NBA broadcast. Some of the players’ faces look very similar to the actual NBA players.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with the graphics. The players look good, but the textures on them could be a little better. While the graphics look alright from a distance, when the camera is up close, the lack of detail in the textures really shows. Also, the animations are done well most of the time, but occasionally the players gain a magical pair of roller skates on their feet, especially when moving around other players.
The crowd is absolutely dead. You don’t see any fans standing up, rooting, or cheering. While it’s probably less distracting than the Madden “pogo-stick” fans from a couple years ago, not having any movement in the stands really makes the game feel dead.
The announcer in NBA 06 does an adequate job. There is only one announcer, and he doesn’t do a lot of color commentary. In fact, I don’t remember a distinct time where he does. The announcer is also very bland, calling the shots but little more. He also calls the play a bit late at times.
The crowd cheers and sighs with good and bad plays. However, the crowd isn’t very dynamic. There isn’t much difference between the cheer for a major dunk and a jump shot. There aren’t any boos at the unseen refs or the home team at a blowout. The crowd just seems dead as well.
The on-court action doesn’t fare much better. The ball bounces are heard, but the squeak of gym shoes is rarely heard. No players shout out plays either. While occasionally you hear a cha-ching from a great shot and the announcer announce the player who just made a basket or foul, mostly you hear echoes from the silence.
Most of the control is handled with the nub and face buttons. Movement is handled with the nub, while team strategy is handled using the D-pad. While on offense, Triangle spins, X passes, Square performs a crossover, and Circle shoots. Tapping the Circle does a pump fake, and X plus Circle performs an Alley-Oop. R activates the Turbo, L brings up icon passing, select calls a Timeout, and Start pauses the game.
On Defense, Triangle blocks, jumps, or dives for the ball. X changes the player. Circle charges, and Square steals the ball away. Select causes and Intention Foul, and Start pauses, just like on offense.
Most of the control is alright. Trying to press the Select and Start button can be a little confusing at times, and play calling isn’t the easiest to do, but it is manageable.
NBA 06 has several modes available from the start. Quick Play lets you play an Exhibition game, All-Star Game, or an online game. Online can be done either over the Internet or Ad-Hoc with other PSP consoles in the near by area. The main game modes are Exhibition, Season, Playoffs, Shoot Around, and Free Throw. Exhibition games are pick-up games that don’t affect stats. Season lets you play an entire season of 29, 58, or 82 games. The starters can be edited, trades are made, and free agents are signed. Once the season is over, the Playoffs are played. If you just want to start the Playoffs, you can set it up with the number of games and the number of teams. Injuries can also be turned on or off. Brackets can then be set up randomly or manually. Shoot Around and Free Throw let you practice your shots in a practice environment with other members of your team.
Mini games available are the Skills Challenge, Own the Court, 3-Point Challenge, Horse, and Dodgeball. The Skills Challenge tests your shooting, passing, and dribbling through an obstacle course set up on the court. Own the Court is a mini-game where two players try to “paint” certain areas of the court. Each area is worth a certain number of points. The player with the most points painted at the end of time wins. The 3-Point Challenge gives the player 60 seconds to get as many 3-pointers in as possible, similar to the All-Star challenge. Horse tests your skill at making shots, and mimicking other the shots of another player, just like at the playground. Dodgeball is the same game from grade school, played with NBA players. These are nice diversions when you feel like a quick game but don’t want to specifically play basketball.
However, all the nice modes in the world don’t help if the gameplay has issues. While basketball can be a fast game, there are times when a slow and deliberate strategy might work better. Plays develop rather quickly, and you feel that if you can’t stop the AI from bringing the ball the boards within five seconds of them grabbing the ball, you need to steal the ball or pray for a lucky break before they score. If the ball goes out of bounds, the computer grabs it and passes it almost immediately, even before you have time to react and move into a strategic position on the court. Some issues with the depth also occur, as it is way too easy to step out of bounds on the far side of the court.
Strategies can be called using the D-pad on offense and defense. Unfortunately the 24-second shot clock only shows up when there are ten or less seconds on the clock. This makes planning a strategy or making a play to the basket difficult.
While most of the players are quick, there are some that are so slow, they don’t appear to move at all. Some of the players don’t move, at all, if they are on the opposite side of a play. They don’t move to try to get into a better strategic position, and it really breaks the illusion of playing a basketball game.
The games do play rather quickly, with an option to set the length of each quarter from 1-12 minutes. This allows you to play games very quickly, but even with four-minute quarters scores can range from the 60’s to the 80’s.
One of the best features of NBA 06 is the Shot Meter. When making a shot, a colored circle surrounds the ball. Holding down Circle keeps the ball in your hand. Circle starts out at red, then changes to orange, yellow, and green. When releasing the ball, the closer to green the Shot Meter is, the better chance you have at making the basket.
The most notable omission of NBA 06 is the fact that while you can play a single season, you can’t play a several years in a franchise. The All-Star competition of the PS2 version is also absent, although a few of the mini games are included.
During games, you can earn a trading card from Upper Deck. These cards can be traded with other people online, but there really isn’t much of a reason to collect them other than to say that you have them.
The inclusion of the mini games are a nice distraction, and it is possible to find games online, but the longevity of this title will most likely be limited to the next six months to a year.