Midway has been making arcade basketball games since the early ’90’s. Ever since the original NBA Jam, Midway has put their own unique spin on basketball, going through NBA Jam Tournament Edition, NBA Jam Extreme, NBA Showtime, NBA Hang Time, and NBA Hoopz. While these games were fun diversions, they stuttered in later iterations, not offering any new features.
Then along came NBA Street. Street brought style and the pick-up game feel to the world of video game basketball. Copies sold quickly and spawned a sequel. Now Midway has come out with their own spin on the game of street basketball, NBA Ballers.
NBA Ballers courts look realistic. Some of the courts look like they are in the back yard of the mansion of an NBA superstar, while others have a street look with a chain link fence and metal bleachers. Fans hang out by the court moving around and waving their hands. Other than that, the courts do seem a bit sparse though.
The players are all modeled accurately. Each player looks like their real-life counterpart, from the body style, to the hairstyle, to the uniforms, and to the tattoos. When looking up close at the players, you can see the scruffiness of their facial hairs. When a player is “On Fire,” they have an aura around them like the heat coming from blacktop. Special moves will sometimes result in a bullet-time effect with time slowing down and a blur effect surrounding the action.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t compensate for the fact that the players have a low polygon count. The players’ movements also seem to be a bit stiff, and sometimes the animations seem a bit off, especially when making a juke move. It’s unfortunate that the attention to detail paid in certain areas is negate because of faults in other areas.
The NBA has re-styled itself in the urban hip-hop setting, and with that setting comes hip-hop/rap music. Ballers features MC Supernatural pounding the beats of the intro theme. While I’m not a particular fan of this style of music, most of it was at the very least tolerable.
The sound effects are done well. The ball bounce sounds realistic on the court, while it rattles up when hitting against the rim. When a three-point shot is hit, a particle effect will light with the sound of fireworks. The announcer makes relevant comments about the game but doesn’t overpower the game with his commentary.
The control layout is easy to pick up. The left analog stick or directional pad moves the player. L2/R1/R2 all use Juice (basically the “Turbo” in the game). On offense circle shoots, triangle shoots an alley-oop, square makes a playground dribble move, X passes to the sideline when that move is available, and the right analog stick makes a juke move. On defense circle attempts a quick steal, square attempts a strong steal, triangle jumps or blocks, and X puts the player in a hold position for a charge.
While the controls are easy to get adjusted to, the game itself feels a tad sluggish. The players don’t respond as quickly as they should. The juke moves don’t feel like they move in the direction you want it go. They also seemed to take too long to execute.
Ballers contains several modes. A Quickplay option creates a Versus game and automatically selects players and venues to play in. The regular Versus mode lets you choose two players for a 1-on-1 match and play in one of the available venues. 1 vs 1 vs 1 is a unique three player game that plays like the Versus game, except that three players are on the court instead of two. A practice mode is available for practicing the moves for the game. A TV tournament will unlock players. Selecting a player on the tournament screen will make that player the final opponent in a ladder tournament. Winning the tournament will unlock that player.
Rags to Riches is the meat of NBA Ballers. First you create your own baller. The options for this are highly customizable, from body type, height, weight, headgear and wristbands, tattoos, clothing, head size, and nose size. If you want to create a 6’6″ 300-lbs fat ball-dunking machine, you can do it. Once the player is created, points are distributed amongst different abilities. These can be tweaked to suit your own style of play. Ballers has one of the most customizable player creation tools.
The Rags to Riches storyline puts your player in a new reality show which combines one-on-one street basketball with MTV’s Cribs. The more games you win, the more bling you earn, the better your pad, the more vehicles in your garage, and the larger your posse. Work your way up to the top, and you’ll be the King BABY!
None of this matters if the court game stinks. On the court, you will make moves to the hoop with ease. Matches consist of winning two three minute rounds. Rounds are played to 11 points with a win by two rule. If time runs out and the score is tied, no one wins the round.
During the match, special moves made will accumulate points in a jackpot. The jackpot is won when a player hits a shot. Winning the match will earn you these points that can be used for unlocking items. Using juice during the special moves will create even greater bonuses, bigger jackpots, and more spectacular dunks.
While the game doesn’t have you on a team, you are given the ability to pass the ball. This is done one of two ways. First of all is passing to yourself, such as off of the backboard or off of the opponent’s head. (Yes, that is a legal move in this game.) The other way is to pass to onlookers when available. Doing this will add points to the jackpot, but it also makes the ball more likely to be stolen.
Developing a strategy in Ballers is difficult because of the lack of other teammates on the court. Each situation feels like a matchup where the defender tries to steal or block the ball while the other player figures out a way to do moves and get the ball in the basket. This isn’t to say that the game isn’t fun. The challenge of gaining points to build your riches is a lot of fun, but each match in the game feels nearly the same.While the Rags to Riches portion does have longevity to it, Ballers has several other gameplay options to extend its life. First of all, the Quickplay option is a great way to play a quick game. Ballers also supports the Multitap adapter for three player 1 vs 1 vs 1 games. Ballers is easy enough for friends to come over, pick up the controller, and play. Finally, Ballers contains online broadband gameplay with support for USB headsets.