NBA Baller Beats|
NBA Baller Beats has got to be one of the silliest concepts for a rhythm-based game as has ever hit the consoles. Sure, we’ve shaken fake maracas with a Mexican monkey, beat our thumbs on wacky plastic bongos to help a gorilla smash barrels of bananas, and we’ve hopped around on in our socks on squishy plastic mats to tap arrows in time with cheesy J-pop – but never before have we bounced a basketball…to music. In fact, when I was first tasked with reviewing NBA Baller Beats, I have to admit I agreed to it for the swag, since the game comes with its own basketball.
I know to the game executives it only makes sense; basketball and rap music go together like peanut butter and jelly, so why not combine the two and come up with a game that lets players bounce an actual ball in time with the beat of a rap song? But for a learned game critic like myself, it is painfully obvious – nothing could possibly be goofier than standing in front of your TV trying to dribble a basketball. Could it? Surely, the best part about this game would be the pack-in ball, am I wrong. Man was I wrong. NBA Baller Beats is surprisingly fun, wildly addictive, and a fabulous workout. In fact, I would venture to call it one of the most enjoyable Kinect games to date.
As advertised, the game comes packed with a NBA-licensed Spaulding basketball. Don’t get too excited – while the ball may sound like a high-priced rock with the words “Official NBA” they are referring to the size, not the quality. In reality it is mid-level quality outdoor ball, which is roughly a $15-$20 value – still it's a real basketball that could be used outside of the game at the neighborhood court and nobody would know the difference.
The gameplay is simple – the player lines up in front of the TV opposite from what looks like an inclined bowling alley or skee-ball track. This playfield represents a basketball court, and it rolls toward the player as if it were a conveyor belt. The court is split down the middle representing the player’s right and left hands, with images of balls projected on either side in rhythmic patterns that match with the music. The player is tasked with dribbling with the correct hand as each successive ball icon reaches the appropriate line – the closer he or she synchronizes the bouncing, the better the score. In order to account for changes in hand, the game has special move icons – crossovers, holds, etc. – that show up from time to time. All of this is monitored with surprising accuracy by the Xbox’s Kinect Sensor (yes, Kinect is required). The player’s moves and actions are projected in silhouette form on the side of the colorful backgrounds. The screen is filled with visual bling, giving the event a festive arcade-like appearance – rife with flashing lights and bumping speakers.
The virtual speakers pound out a surprisingly diverse collection of 30 tunes from the likes of modern day favorites Santigold, Cee-Lo Green, Skrillex, and even classic hits from Run DMC, Young MC, and Eric B and Rakim. And the soundtrack is not just limited to dance hits, it also features tunes from guitar-based acts like rock supergroup Them Crooked Vultures, post-punk’s Interpol, and even Queen. Yes, Queen fans, NBA Baller Beats features a fantastic remastered version of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ that fits in perfectly with the gameplay and is one of the true highlights of the game. The developers even promise to release DLC tracks in the future, but that will have to be seen to be believed.
One of the best aspects of NBA Baller Beats is that it not only is fun, but it actually makes you a better dribbler. Yes, sometimes this comes at the expense of household items – I actually heard “Dad, I almost broke the TV” from my son one day – but you do find that your skills actually improve rather quickly. I was shocked at how weak I was with my left-handed dribbling at first, but in a matter of a few sessions I was performing crossover moves without missing a beat.
While NBA Baller Beats might have proven itself in terms of gameplay, there are the obvious issues that come as a result of the basketball dribbling-based gameplay. Living rooms are not typically built like basketball courts; even in those homes that happen to have hardwood rather than carpet, few have the underlying support to properly absorb and rebound the dribbling ball. This makes it very difficult to play NBA Baller Beats in anywhere except a cement-floor setting. After exhausting my attempts in the home living room, I moved to my quasi-finished basement game room in which I had installed low pile remnant directly on the bare cement floor (no padding). It worked better, but still wasn’t like playing on a real court or driveway.
My son and I laid a 4x4 section of plywood sheeting on the carpet, and it actually backfired – making the dribbling even more difficult than directly on the low-pile, unpadded carpet. Luckily, for the sake of the review, I was able to roll my TV rack (on casters) to a cemented corner of the basement and focus on the gameplay. I think this issue alone is enough to turn gamers (especially apartment dwellers) off to this otherwise fantastic Kinect game.
Also, there is the aforementioned issue of damage control. One of the first things PE teachers and coaches teach in basketball is that when dribbling, the player must not look at the ball – and NBA Baller Beats does a pretty good job keeping gamers focused on the stream. But this invites a plethora of accident opportunities (dribbling onto a foot, or a piece of furniture) that can result in an errant ball careening across the room. Heaven forbid if mom’s collection of priceless Hummel figurines is in the way, because a basketball carries a log of momentum behind it. When my son told me about his near TV destruction, it was during one of the simple grab-and-hold moves, he said the ball slipped out of his hand and flew right at the TV, and if it wasn’t for hitting one of the rack’s side posts, I might have been out a 37” HD TV.
NBA Baller Beats might sound like a goofy concept, but it delivers a surprisingly solid gaming experience that is not only fun, but also give a good workout and helps gamers with their coordination and dribbling skills. It’s only a shame that the gameplay mechanic requires such a specific play surface – which most homes and apartments will not be able to supply. Before buying NBA Baller Beats, I highly suggest grabbing a properly inflated basketball and dibbling it in front of your TV. If you feel like it might be too loud for the neighbors (and family), or If you cannot keep a good dribbling rhythm, I would probably take a pass on this one. But if you think it will work in your environment, or happen to have a contingency plan (like my cemented corner of the basement), then by all means check NBA Baller Beats out. It’s a good deal of fun.