Reviewed: April 29, 2004
Released: April 5, 2004
Well, we all know that Midway was getting “serious” about sports with their new Pro games but somebody in their basketball division didn’t get that memo. Lucky for us, the result is probably one of the most original, fun, and addictive sports games ever created.
NBA Ballers will grab you from the opening rap-chant intro, then as you view the crystal clear Sports Center-style FMV that introduces the game and begin to learn the subtle nuances of the sophisticated, yet devilishly simple control scheme, you will wonder why somebody has never created a game like this until now.
Born from the creative geniuses responsible for NBA Jam and Spy Hunter (how’s that for a mixing of the minds?), NBA Ballers is pure arcade basketball that never pretends to compete with EA, Sega, or anyone else’s’ NBA franchise games, yet outshines them all in originality and pure visual splendor. Have I gushed enough? I think not.
Officially licensed by the NBA and NBA Legends, NBA Ballers is the only 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.
Featuring 60 current and 24 all-time player legends, NBA Ballers takes the game out of the 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.
NBA Ballers features current NBA stars such as Tracy McGrady, Chris Webber and Kobe Bryant, and NBA Legends including George Gervin, Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain. By focusing on the one-on-one match-ups, Midway Sports Asylum is able to build each and every NBA baller and NBA Legend with his specific skill set in mind. Shaq will own the paint, Larry Bird will be raining three-pointers and Iverson will be breaking ankles with his killer crossover.
NBA Ballers Key Features:
NBA Ballers 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 their Mortal Kombat series.
By design, you can pick up the controller 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.
NBA Ballers 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. This mode is probably the deepest and most personal since you actually create your own baller from scratch using a very sophisticated character creator. Dress him up, add some bling 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.
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. When the meter is full the crowd will start to chant and that is your cue to attempt a Juice House move that, if successful, will result in a spectacular game-winning finale regardless of the score. If your opponent is “juicing up” you can bust your own juice moves to decrease their meter or better yet, keep them from shooting for the entire duration of the 24-second shot clock and they will lose all their juice.
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, creating a minor imbalance, or perhaps I just suck at stealing.
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.
Codes, codes, codes. What would a Midway game be without all those wonderful secrets? 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. Additionally, you are given a brief moment before each game to quickly enter in combinations of the D-pad and face buttons for even more secrets.
While the Xbox version is lacking online play (I have been informed that this is the last non-Live sports game from Midway), there is a decent multiplayer game for up to three ballers who want to mix it up locally or play on their custom courts. It would have been nice for some mini-games like HORSE, but no such luck.
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. With more than 5,000 polygons per player and facial motion-capture technology, no basketball videogame has ever given the gamer more realistic looking players than NBA Ballers.
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.
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.
The explosive soundtrack found in NBA Ballers 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 are 19 original songs created just for this game and if you are lucky enough to find one of the special editions of the game now in stores you can actually get these songs on a bonus disc. 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.
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 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 lack of online play is regrettable, but the 1-on-1-on-1 mode will certainly offer up some multiplayer fun, and sharing your custom cribs with your friends will certainly earn you some bragging rights.
Midway has scored a huge hit with NBA Ballers. Anyone can have a blast with this game even if they don’t know what they are doing. I played three games before reading the manual or even checking out the controller config screen and was shouting at the screen and having the time of my life. Once I learned and mastered the subtleties of the controls and gameplay mechanics, it only got better.
NBA Ballers is a must own title if you love arcade sports games, or an irreverent and unique take on the sport of basketball. Chaining street moves is slightly reminiscent of multi-move combos in Mortal Kombat and just as rewarding when you actually pull them off. What looks like a shallow street ball experience on the surface might just surprise you when you find out how deep this game goes.