Sports games typically fall under one of two well defined catergories, simulation or arcade. Simulation games are those dedicated to providing as realistic as possible experience whilst arcade games present an outlandish experience of over the top and exaggerated gameplay. In the realm of arcade basketball games, players are faced with two choices; NBA Street and NBA Ballers. The unique licensing agreement between Midway, EA and The NBA means that we get each of these on alternating years. 2008 is the year of Midways NBA Ballers, going up against last year’s critically acclaimed NBA Street Homecourt for the title of best arcade basketball game.
There’s the usual assortment of gameplay modes found here, 1on1, 2on2, 1on1on1, aswell as practice modes and goal specific games. The bulk of the content however has been afforded to story mode. Here players create baller to take from the streets to living the lifestyle of an NBA star. You can customise everything about your baller, his name, height, nickname, gear, ‘bling’ and shoes. At first, his attributes will be awful, but as you progress through the game he’ll get better and better until he’s a superstar.
The story mode is divided up into six lengthy episodes, each consisting of five chapters. At the beginning of each chapter, a short video from ‘Chuck D’ in a ‘news tonight’ type show will introduce the segment. They’ve produced these nicely and are an innovative idea, though would perhaps be more useful if Chuck had something relevant or appropriate to the game to say.
The six episodes try to diversify themselves from each other, but this is less than successful. All chapters feel exactly the same, whether playing to 21 or 11 or having to do some specific moves. The “Media Mogul” chapter where you’re vying for a spot in a commercial is a great idea, executed awfully which more or less sums up the entire game. Once players gain the spot in the commercial, they’ll spend vast amounts of time pulling specific moves against phenom Lebron James as the commercial is shot. This is all well and good until players see the video of the commercial which has nothing to do with any of the entire episodes gameplay and features none of the moves performed whilst the episode was filmed.
Arcade games are expected to be fun and simple to play. Sadly Ballers is neither. The controls are overcomplicated (made even harder by the lack of a manual with my copy) and the rules, including fouls and free throws have no place in streetball. There are far too many cut scenes, constantly disrupting the play aswell. Invisible walls surrounding the court take away any authenticity from the gameplay and feel “so 90’s”.
It seems Midway wanted to keep the 90’s theme running, using textures and animation that the original Xbox would be embarrassed of, let alone the next-gen 360. While the courts and environments are serviceable though not great, they’ve got nothing on the special move cutscenes which have to be the worst. Whichever player has the ball is magically transported to a blank background in which they perform a move which somehow works its way into the hoop. The animation in these and throughout, particularly the ball is laughable and makes you wonder if the developers have heard of basic physics. The soundtrack is surprisingly subdued, with a lifeless and mundane selection of tracks.
With the agreement for arcade basketball titles the way it is, Midway has royally blown a grand opportunity. With Ballers being the only arcade basketball title released this year, Midway had the chance to release a blockbuster game that could platform a genuine challenger to EA’s acclaimed Street’ series for years to come. Instead they’ve released a game that does the exact opposite, cementing EA’s position as the only way to go for an arcade basketball fix. With almost no reason at all to offer a positive recommendation, the only one that will suffice is Flag Ballers! Either grab the true chosen one, NBA Street Homecourt, or wait until next year for EA’s offering, don’t waste your time with this.