Reviewed: June 8, 2006
Released: May 6, 2006
I’ve never been a huge fan of portable gaming but after reading about how “great” the PSP is and seeing all of the sports titles already out and more on the way I figured I’d throw my $200 into the Sony pot and see what all the fuss was about. I’ve only had my PSP for about a month now, and the few games I’ve played have indeed lived up to the hype so I was understandably excited when one of my favorite console basketball games made the transition to the portable system.
NBA Ballers: Rebound is pretty much a straight port of the 2004 Xbox and PS2 game that introduced the concepts of bling and excessive lifestyles to the NBA franchise. Midway added the word “Rebound” to the title and Backbone Entertainment removed a lot of the overall content from the original, but they did add some updated rosters. In all, it’s a solid translations perfectly suited for handheld gaming, especially if you never got to play the original.
NBA Ballers: Rebound grabs you from the opening rap-chant intro, then slam-dunks you into a pure arcade basketball game that never pretends to compete with EA, Sony, or anyone else’s’ NBA franchise games, yet outshines them all in originality and pure fun.
Officially licensed by the NBA and NBA Legends, NBA Ballers: Rebound is the only handheld basketball videogame to deliver the pure essence of basketball by highlighting the excitement and intensity of the one-on-one confrontation, set within the alluring fantasy lifestyle of NBA superstars.
With dozens of current and all-time player legends, Rebound takes the game out of the big arenas and into some of the most lavish NBA player “cribs” for an up-close and personal one-on-one experience. Gamers no longer have to debate who is the best NBA player of all time - now the greatest ballers can be matched-up in elaborate settings; holding it down at some of the finest private courts in the league.
Rebound delivers the same over-the-top action you would expect from games like Hoopz, Showtime, Hangtime and NBA Jam, but also manages to integrate a surprisingly deep gameplay experience with sophisticated moves and combos that you might expect from Midway’s Mortal Kombat series.
By design, you can pick up the PSP and start playing and perhaps even manage to win a few games, but you’ll eventually need to learn the wonderfully complex system for fast breaks, massive air, killer dunks, and some humorous combo moves where you can bounce the ball off the head of your opponent or even involve a member of the crowd on the sidelines. Chances are you will see the computer execute a lot of these awesome moves while you’re still learning to dribble.
Rebound offers up several game modes including a career simulation called Rags to Riches where you start off as a lowly street punk and build your empire with your street earnings under the guise of a reality TV show. This mode is probably the deepest and most personal since you actually create your own baller from scratch using a very sophisticated character creator and hundreds of possible combinations. Dress him up, add some bling, divvy up those attribute points and head to the court.
Once you start playing the game your character will slowly develop based on how you play and how well you play. If you successfully steal the ball often your defensive skills will improve. If you can sink the downtown bomb with consistency then your three-point skill improves. This means your player is slowly evolving over the course of the game creating a unique character each time you play. There are also special challenges that you can complete to add even more points to your abilities. Complete them all and you will rival your favorite NBA all-star.
Since you are relatively unknown when you start, you are forced to make a name for yourself on the mean streets playing other unknowns. As your rep improves along with your skills you will slowly earn the respect and invitations to play at the cribs of famed NBA players like Kobe, Iverson, Shaq, and others. You’ll also earn cash that you can spend on plenty of unlockable items, gear, and even acquire your own posse.
Your ultimate goal is to earn the big bucks and create your own custom crib to rival those of your peers. Once you have created your dream court you can then challenge your friends to a little one-on-one and experience the “home court advantage” for yourself.
The tournament ladder is wonderfully structured around themes and you can unlock many of the players who aren’t available when you first start playing the game. Other players must be purchased by using the skill points you earn during the game. The better the player, the more expensive they are to unlock.
Regardless of the mode you are playing the core game is bound by a simple set of rules. You play to 11 and must win by two points and it’s best, two out of three games. Obviously, in equally matched games the winner might be determined simply by who goes first, but you’ll most likely sneak in a three-pointer or steal the ball and get that extra cushion in the scoring. If you don’t like the rules or simply want to customize them you are free to do so after you select your crib.
Of course scoring is only half the game. You must score with “style” and there is a plethora of wild and crazy moves waiting to be discovered. You can interact with your fans and use them to lob the ball toward the bucket so you can finish the job. You can bounce the ball off your opponent, juke, spin, dive, and use the infamous Midway turbo button to enhance all these moves including catching fire. You can even invoke a special move that creates a Matrix-like effect for some crazy action.
During the game you will want to try to string together combos and special street moves that slowly fill your juice meter. As you score you will also slowly fill up the House meter and once full you can “Bring Down the House” by holding down both triggers and the triangle for a spectacular finishing move.
Defensively, NBA Ballers can be quite challenging. You can block and swipe at the ball but unless you have tweaked the rules five fouls gives your opponent a chance for a free throw (that they seldom miss) and possession of the ball, so you basically give up 5-6 points if you are careless or overly aggressive. The computer seems particularly adept at stealing the ball without fouling you, but their aggressive nature also gets a Goaltending call just as often.
And for those who have impeccable timing, you can try to master the Charge feature that plants your player between the bucket and your incoming opponent and hopefully forces a foul. It’s pretty much a last-ditch effort, as the computer almost never falls for it. He’ll likely bounce the ball off your forehead and score before the cobwebs clear.
The PSP does offer its own challenges in gameplay with the lack of the second analog stick. It is now much harder to pull off a wide variety of moves when you merely combine a button with a direction on the analog pad. And without variety comes much lower scores and the increased possibility of your opponent stealing the ball.
Scoring is the biggest issue. On the console I was racking up more than 100,000 credits per match, but on the PSP I’m lucky to get 50-60K. And when all that bonus material, new moves, accessories, and game gear costs just as much as the console version, it takes a lot longer to buy and stock your crib. I was three episodes into Rags to Riches before I could afford to “pass to the crowd”
Codes, codes, codes. What would a Midway game be without all those wonderful secrets, and if you have already played the console version you’ll be glad to know that those codes work here? You can use the original Phrase-ology system to pick four “hip” words. If you guess or otherwise know the right sequence you can unlock all sorts of killer secrets, but be warned; there is far less content available on the PSP. It’s not a huge deal if you don’t know what you are missing, but console ballers will probably complain.
The console version didn’t offer online gameplay, but the PSP makes great use of the wireless connectivity (sorry, no Internet) with fun modes like Maximum Juice and Great Balls of Fire. There are also some very cool PSP-exclusive modes for solo gameplay like the new King of Thieves and Dunkfest. The PSP version also offers some custom crib courts that console gamers will never get to see.
I haven’t played all that many PSP games so I’m not sure how long most games take to load, but Rebound seems awfully long, even by console standards. It might have helped to have something useful on the screen like hints or tips or even some cool screenshots, but you’ll end up looking at the logo for anywhere from 20-40 seconds during most screen and menu changes.
Loading a new episode can take over a minute and even simple stuff like cycling through clothing and accessories can take more than ten seconds between categories. My portable gaming time is already preciously short. I hate to waste it on load screens. At least once an episode is loaded it is almost instantaneous to restart a match when you lose.
I only played the Xbox version of the original NBA Ballers so I cannot comment on the PS2 graphics or how close they may come to the PSP. From what I have seen, the PSP is only slightly less in overall quality from the Xbox, mostly in texture quality and courtside details. In some ways, the sharpness of the overall image is better than the Xbox.
By reducing the number of players on the court the artists are allowed to use more polygons and detailed textures to create the players that are mixing it up. The animation is excellent, not only for traditional basketball moves that we have all come to expect, but from the huge library of special movies and insane combos. These work extremely well and blend together when creating three and four move combos before slamming the ball home.
Additionally, new facial animation technology provides the most accurate NBA player facial expressions, including mouth movements that sync-up with in-game audio to reproduce recognizable words from players’ mouths while stylized player models deliver unmatched realism and detail to the game. Each player model features the athletes’ realistic body style based on actual height and weight, and your updated player, along with his current gear is highlighted in the menus.
The camera work is superb with great replay angles of that last killer dunk or righteous combo. There isn’t a lot of fast panning so the framerate is lightning fast and manages to keep up with the stunning mo-capped animation of the players. The designers brought in some of the top street ballers to recreate all of the realistic animation right down to some remarkable signature move impersonations.
Of course the co-stars of the game are the fabulous courts you will be playing on, at least when you start hitting the pads of NBA tycoons. You’ll feel like you are living an episode of MTV-Cribs as you check out all the killer toys these guys have surrounding their custom home courts. Playing some one-on-on on the deck-top court on a million-dollar yacht is just as cool as it sounds.
You also have the option for New School and Old School graphics, which either makes Rebound look more like a serious basketball game or loads it up with plenty of flashy special effects. The effects don’t hurt the framerate so I say, “leave ‘em on”.
The explosive soundtrack found in Rebound features hip-hop, R&B and a hip-hop/rock mix with in-game commentary by World Freestyle Champion rapper MC Supernatural and on-the-court beats by DMC Champion DJ Rocky Rock.
There were over a dozen original songs created just for this game and they all made it over to the PSP. While this Texas boy isn’t a huge fan of hip-hop or rap, I found the songs energetic and must confess to tapping my feet with the thumping beat. The opening rap video is especially good – forgive me ZZ Top.
There is plenty of speech, mostly play-by-play commentary and random comments, plus the cheers and shouts of the courtside crowd. There is also an underlying story dealing with the reality TV show and the acting here is above average. The rest of the game is pretty much standard basketball noises like dribbling, the swish of the net or the thunk of a dunk. There are some arcade-style effects when you pull off the more extreme moves.
While you won’t get the structured length of a typical NBA season, the Tournament ladders and the lengthy Rags to Riches mode will keep you busy for 30+ hours. And since NBA Ballers: Rebound is so much fun and different each time you play there is no reason not to create a new character and do it all over again once you have acquired all the riches one man can personally stand to own.
The wireless multiplayer is as fun as I dreamt it would be when playing the Xbox version. I only wish there were Internet support because it is hard to find people within wireless range with this game. Even some game sharing would have helped.
NBA Ballers: Rebound is almost as good as its console cousin. I only wish the designers had actually tweaked the controls to the PSP rather than just porting the game over straight. There are so many creative moves it’s a shame you can’t access them all with any reliability.
Anyone can have a blast with this game even if they don’t know what they are doing. You’ll manage to get through a few games with mindless button mashing and experimental combos, but if you plan on winning the tournament and owning the best crib in the game, you’ll need to perfect your style and techniques. Chaining street moves is slightly reminiscent of multi-move combos in Mortal Kombat and just as rewarding when you actually pull them off.
NBA Ballers: Rebound is a great title, especially if you love arcade sports games, or an irreverent and unique take on the sport of basketball. Its two-minute games are perfectly suited for handheld gaming, although the lengthy load times do hurt the spontaneous nature of the system.
Even so, Rebound is a refreshing change from the more serious NBA sims available for the PSP. Those games require more of a time commitment and I find them more enjoyable at home, on the big screen. And what looks like a shallow street ball experience on the surface might just surprise you when you find out how deep this game goes.