Midway
Midway
Sports
1-3
04.06.04

NBA Ballers


It's been awhile since Midway released an installment of NBA Jam, Hangtime, or Showtime. I remember playing that game like there was no tomorrow, and I'm sure you do too. When I saw that Midway was re-entering the arcade basketball scene with NBA Ballers, it really sparked an interest in me. Could it live up to the craze that Jam created some 10 or so years ago? The truth is, while it's a great game, it definitely has its flaws that keeps it from taking the trophy away from Jam as the best arcade ball game.

Gameplay

In Ballers, you start out as a nobody, with a limited amount of stats and clothing (nothing but a Midway t-shirt). You can create your own custom baller, right down to things such as the shape of your nose. When starting out, you're limited to only a couple styles and pieces of clothing, but as you play through the game you'll unlock all kinds of things such as jeans, shoes, hats, and jackets. You'll even unlock pieces of 'cribs' as you play, and you'll eventually end up with a full-out mansion with big SUV's and monstrous swimming pools. None of this is really interactive, but it's an interesting feature nonetheless.

Ballers features over 60 NBA players, not all of which are available at the start of the game. As you play through the game, you'll unlock more skillful characters, old-school and new. Each character has their individual traits, attitudes, and style.

The thing that bothered me the most about the game is, well, the gameplay itself. The gameplay is based off of points, which in turn unlock different moves and special items in the game. You can combine different moves in a combo, and multiply the amount of points you get for a basket. The concept seems cool when you think about it, but I found it fairly hard to pull off a variety of moves. This resulted in me just combining the same moves over and over, thus receiving less points. It would have really been fun to be able to some of the things the computer was doing to me, but I just couldn't do it. It got really old just doing the same thing every time I had possession - charging and dunking.

As I charged and dunked my way through the tournaments, which get really difficult at some points, I was pretty disappointed with the rewards I received. You do receive stat points after each tournament, which of course is very important, but it would still be nice to unlock some other useful things, considering how much stuff is initially locked from the start of the game. One tournament, for example, took me a good 1 hours to complete. After finally finishing the tournament, I was rewarded to - drum roll, please - a new pair of sneakers! Maybe I would have been able to unlock some more exciting items, if I wasn't forced to constantly charge and dunk because I couldn't pull off the moves. This problem alone is what drove me to put down the controller and not pick it up again.

Another annoying part of the game is how an opponent will react when down in the last minute or so of the game, when down and about to lose. They'll suddenly become virtually unstoppable, and most times will make most of their points back. I'm all about a feature like this, because it does add a good reality feature to the game. However, in the case of Ballers, it's a little to exaggerated, and gets old fast.

These issues aside, Ballers really is a solid game. It follows the typical NBA Jam control scheme, even incorporating a Juice (turbo) control that enhances other moves while being used. If you combine your juice with your juke button, you'll sometimes (if you're lucky) pull off an 'act-a-fool' move. These moves are pretty entertaining. You'll watch as your player fakes out the opponent and scores a bucket. There's also the 'juice-house' move available to you. Once you fill up your house meter by pulling off special moves, you'll hear the crowd begin to chant 'JUICE HOUSE! JUICE HOUSE!'. You then have the chance to pull off the juice-house move, which if you're successful, will win the game for you.

Graphics

The first thing that really grabs you with Ballers is the graphics. Midway has really gone out of their way to bring the gamer some amazingly true-to-life character models. The skin textures and reflections on them are so dead-on, it's almost a little eerie looking at your 'Baller' close up in the customization section. The characters move as you would expect them to in real life, and even the more off-the-wall tricks and moves seem believable.

The game's interface is nice and clean, and it's easy to find any option or setting. The intro is a little cheesy with MC Super natural's fat self dancing around and singing, but I wasn't really expecting much here, nor is it very important.

During gameplay, you're treated to a solid 60 frames per second. As you play the game, you'll unlock some really interesting courts, including Alan Iverson's personal recording studio. All of the courts are very well designed, and definitely provide some variety.

Sound

NBA Ballers features one of the best 'original' soundtracks in a video game. Every single track you'll hear in the game was originally recorded exclusively for Ballers. You'll recognize most of the artists. Although it's not something I would want to listen to outside of the game, I have to give them credit for creating a decent original soundtrack that doesn't get annoying to hear over and over again.

MC Supernatural plays the tournament announcer, and does a pretty good job at it too. The in-game announcer is very reminiscent of the announcer in NBA Jam, which is a nice touch. Every other sound effect and voice in the game is top-notch, with no problems I was able to notice.

Replay Value

NBA Ballers has plenty of replay value, especially if you have other people to play with. The game also has a decent online portion that should keep most people occupied for a long, long time. The only thing I would say doesn't have a good replay value to it is the single player mode - to me, one time through it is enough, and anything more than that wouldn't be too much fun.

Bottom Line:

I don't know if I was just expecting something as entertaining as when the first NBA Jam came out, but I have to say I was a little let down with Ballers. The gameplay system in the 'Rags to Riches' mode is very deep, but I got very frustrated by the fact that I wasn't able to easily pull off the really cool moves that the opponent was constantly pulling off on me. I also got annoyed by the fact that I would win some mundane item after hours of hard work at a tournament.

If you can look past these things, and maybe even find a way around them, NBA Ballers is a solid arcade basketball game. Its got plenty of features, game play modes, and extras to keep you busy for a long time. I wouldn't say it's worth buying, unless of course you're more into the basketball genre than I am, but it is definitely not worth passing up as a rental with a few other friends.

One last thing worth noting is the BradyGames Strategy guide. The guide lays out very nicely each player's bio, as well as their stats. You'll also learn how to do everything from put-back dunks to "bringing down the house." It also goes extensively through all the extra's that can be unlocked.

Related Links:

Official NBA Ballers Website

-Greg Cooper




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