NBA Street Vol. 2 Review
NBA Street was considered by many to be the spiritual successor to NBA Jam, which really put over-the-top, arcade-style basketball on the map. Like NBA Jam, NBA Street was all about spectacular dunks, non-stop action, and having the draw of being able to just pick the game up and play it without having to know the ins and outs of NBA basketball. NBA Street added to this by moving the game out of the arena and bringing the game outside to street courts, where some of the best basketball talent has been developed. NBA Street also added special fake moves which could be linked together with dunks or alley-oop passes to rack up "trick points", which measured a player's style and command of the game. NBA Street was not just about winning each game, but winning with flair. Now that the sequel, NBA Street Vol. 2, has arrived, expectations are extremely high regarding the overall quality of the game. Is it more of the same, or has EA Sports BIG gone back to the drawing board? Well... the answer to that question is yes and yes, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here.
NBA Street Vol. 2 is, at its heart, very much like its predecessor. There are dunks aplenty, as well as some fake-out moves that will definitely make you look twice. The basic rules are essentially the same as the first game—there are one-point and two-point baskets, depending on whether you make a shot from inside or outside of the NBA three-point line. There's no goaltending, either, so blocking shots is a major component of the game's defensive scheme. As you link tricks together, you fill a "Gamebreaker" meter that can dramatically affect the direction of the game.
Unlike NBA Street, however, the scoring rules can be adjusted in this game. Want to play using an NBA scoring structure, with two-point and three-point shots? Done. Want to play to 50 instead of 21? All right. How about making scoring irrelevant? Fine—how about saying that the first player to fill his "Gamebreaker" meter wins? NBA Street Vol. 2 allows for plenty of customization, so that you can practically set up any rule you want. This allows for games to be shorter, longer, or can force players to use more skill get earn that "W".
Another big difference in NBA Street Vol. 2 is the use of the "Gamebreaker". In NBA Street, once the meter was filled, you had to trigger it within a certain amount of time before the meter would deplete. Once the Gamebreaker was triggered, it likely meant of swing of either two or four points, depending on whether the Gamebreaker move was a dunk or an outside shot. NBA Street Vol. 2 adds a little more strategy to the Gamebreaker. Players can still use the Gamebreaker move right away (when they have possession of the ball, that is) for instant results, or they can "pocket" the Gamebreaker. If the Gamebreaker is "pocketed", it opens up more options. Players with a pocketed Gamebreaker can cancel out an opponent's Gamebreaker meter when it's full, therefore setting both meters back to zero. The other option is to full the meter again, thus triggering a Level 2 Gamebreaker. Level 2 Gamebreakers are worth more trick points, cannot be blocked, and make more of a difference in the game's score. The most notable effect in the score would be a Level 2 Gamebreaker long-range shot. Once made, it scores two points for the player and takes four points away from the opponent—that's a six point swing! Level 2 Gamebreaker dunks, while not having as dramatic an effect on the scoreboard, utilize all three players and look fantastic—perfect for humiliating your opponent.
One other notable change in NBA Street Vol. 2 versus its prequel is the improved depth of the single-player game with the addition of "Be A Legend" mode. This mode allows you to create your own player and travel the country, hitting the best spots around and earning your reputation through a series of pick-up games, tournaments, and other challenges. While there's certainly a fair amount of pick-up games to play through, the tournaments and "Street Challenges" will get your attention once they've been unlocked. The Street Challenges are derivatives on the usual Street gameplay. One challenge, for example, does away with the long-range shot so that all shots score one-point, no matter where the shot is launched from. Another challenge uses NBA-style scoring rules in a race to 50 points. As you play and win these "Be A Legend" games, you earn development points for your created player in order to make him (or her) the ultimate baller. There are also games that pit you against "bosses", which are other NBA Street legends. Some of them you may recognize from the first game, and others are brand new. If you manage to finish this mode and become a "Street Legend", you'll earn a nickname that suits your playing style and your character will be called by this nickname whenever you use him or her.
To further add to the replay value in NBA Street Vol. 2, there is a host of unlockable items. Old-school player jerseys, new courts, hidden players, and more are just waiting to be opened up. In order to do so, you can either fulfill certain objectives (such as playing a set amount of games or recording a certain amount of steals or blocks in a game) or you can use "Reward Points", which are earned after every Pick-Up game or every NBA Challenge game. There are also a fair amount of hidden cheats that can be activated in pick-up games, although the entry system for these isn't as obvious as it was in NBA Street.
Visually, NBA Street Vol. 2 looks at least as good as the first game did. While the players look a bit more cartoonish than in most NBA simulations, the animations and moves that each character pulls off are very smooth. Some of the trick moves include somersaults and other acrobatics, and it looks cool. The dunks and alley-oops are the real stars of the show here, and they certainly look it. The outdoor courts are pleasing to the eye, too, with animated crowds and traffic that whizzes by. There a caged rooftop court to be seen, as well as an indoor court. The resolution seems to be a bit improved, too, but there was never a lot to complain about in NBA Street to begin with. Rather than focusing on improvements, per se, EA BIG and NuFX simply added more—more dunks, more tricks, more locales, and more details.
Fans of NBA Street were split on how much they liked Joe "The Show" Jackson and his commentary. With his random shouts of "Bling-bling!" and other seemingly forced stereotypical dialogue, some thought it added credibility to the "street style" of the game, while others found Joe completely annoying. Well, Joe has been retired, and in comes Bobbito Garcia, AKA DJ Cucumber Slice. Garcia is an actual announcer for actual street hoops tournaments in New York City, and that certainly lends more credibility. Garcia is, on the whole, funnier than Joe "The Show" was. He makes some references to years gone by and will rip on you if you whiff on a dunk or have the ball stolen. My only main complaint about Garcia is that he does have some rather grating lines in the game, such as, "Here comes the flyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy swatter." Does he have to hold the word "fly" for ten seconds? Really? Garcia also apparently has this thing for ice cream, but don't ask me why. Still, the overall commentary is better than it was in NBA Street, even if the "bling bling" reference may be missing. The music is also solid here, with tracks representing hip-hop's old-school (Black Sheep and Lords of the Underground" and new-school (Erick Sermon with Redman and Nelly). After awhile, the music does get repetitive, but it's still decent and certainly enhances the urban feel of the game.
NBA Street Vol. 2 is a worthy sequel to the original game, and successfully builds on what NBA Street did so well. Sure, there are always improvements to be made, such as the inclusion of online play or the more gradual increase in difficulty from setting to setting, but that's one reason why continued sequels can be a good thing. There's been enough added to the single-player experience to make it worth a definite purchase, even if it's just used as a temporary diversion from the rigors of Franchise mode in NBA 2K3. The flexibility of the multiplayer experience is largely improved, thanks to the many rules options. It's rare when a sequel outclasses its predecessor in almost every way, especially when the first game was so highly thought of—but NBA Street Vol. 2 simply exceeds the quality of NBA Street on almost every level and is as close to a definite purchase as I can recommend.
6/9/2003 Peter Skerritt