NBA Ballers: Chosen One Review
Midway has seen a fair amount of success with their NBA Ballers franchise. The first one was well received by gamers, press, and even in sales. The sequel, on the other hand, felt like more of the same, and failed to expand on the original. Ultimately, this seems to be a problem that has plagued past Midway sports franchises, such as NBA Jam and NFL Blitz. With the chance to start clean in an all new generation, and give Electronic Arts' NBA Street a run for its money, this all new Ballers game suffers from a bevy of amateur mistakes, and fails to cater to the gamer.
Chosen One's core component is the story mode, where you take a created baller through a series of chapters, and have him climb the ranks, by competing and toppling various NBA greats you come across. The goal here is to not just become the best, but to also have the media recognize you, your skills, and above all, your name. As you progress through the Story Mode, a sequence of cut-scenes done in the fashion of an NBA show, hosted by Chuck-D, will be played informing you of the latest in the world of Chosen One. The more you play, the more rewards you also reap, and the more your baller's skills improve with skill points.
The arcade gameplay returns in Chosen One, but it'll leave you wondering why the mechanics feels so hollow. There's an uninspired trick system that utilizes the right analog stick, and a series of super moves that are cinematically performed. The super moves add a terribly unfair advantage to the game, as a level three Super Move can, literally, turn an entire blow-out game around.
Now a level three Super Move isn't that easy to pull off, as you'll need to pull over a level one and level two super move, all the while making sure your opponent doesn't score in between, and then pull off the level three, which ends the game in your favor, no matter the score. While not terribly easy to do, it's not hard either. All in all, the moves are just dumb and the mechanics need to be re-done, immediately. It's a shame that the game lacks depth, too, because the Story Mode is actually pretty decent.
Aside from the Story Mode, you can partake in standard quick games such as 1 vs. 1, 2 vs. 2, 1 vs. 1 vs. 1, Shoot Out, 3pt Challenge, or Practice. The two-on-two games add a four-player element to NBA Ballers, and that's an overdue plus. But considering that NBA Street: Homecourt can boast up to six, and now costs far less than Chosen One, there's little reason to consider Midway's offering.
As mentioned before, the Story Mode is solid, and there is a good dose of potential here for a great basketball game. But things keep falling apart, and after a while the mistakes here just seems amateurish. Presentation suffers as the game does allow you to toggle off player celebrations. Instead of just immediately having the ball checked, and the game continue, you have to constantly press X to skip the same stupid canned animation that every player has. These celebratory animations take away so much from the game, especially when you're playing with classics, such as Larry Bird, who would never boast, show off, or flex their muscles like today's players do. Not being able to tinker with options on the fly through the pause menu is another amateurish mistake, one that I simply can't comprehend when nearly every other sports game does it. And to further hurt presentation, the loading times are far too frequent, and long.
There is absolutely no rule control to speak of, so you can't turn on or off any of the game's streetball rules, you're forced to live with what you're given. You can't even change the game's difficulty! This hurts considerably, because the game's artificial intelligence is by no means smart, and you're able to cheese through them by repeating the same move over and over again. The more I play NBA Ballers Chosen One, the more it feels like I'm playing an unfinished product, as if it were a demo. And even though an online mode is offered, it limits you to only two people, as opposed to the offline four that can participate.
Visually, Chosen One fares better here than anywhere else. The game continues to carry well detailed NBA players, and you really shouldn't have any trouble with figuring out who's who. Texturing is well done, as players exhibit nice skin details, and player models are built like their actual counterparts. Court details are nice too, you'll be treated to a bunch of glowing lights, with background scenery, and a host of spectators watching you play. Additionally, there aren't any terrible aliasing issues, and the framerate runs smoothly at 30 frames per second, while the engine outputs at 720p.
But, not all is good here. Background details such as spectators, or even cars, look dreadful. You'd think that since the game is only rendering two or four players, that perhaps background objects would look a lot more detailed. What also irks me is hands of each player, they're always open, and never curled or balled up during gameplay or during a cutscene - it looks so robotic that it drives me mad. Lastly, as mentioned before, canned animations are extremely present here, as all players seem to run off the same string of animations, and that goes double for celebratory animations. There are other visual quirks, such as awkward/buggy court introductions, but I think I've said enough.
The sound consists mostly of an instrumental soundtrack put together by Just Blaze, and Chuck-D's episodic cutscenes. There's the standard affair of sound effects, such as dunk slams, ball dribbling, sneakers chirping, a grunt here and there, and so forth. The soundtrack doesn't really do much to excite, as it all just feels hollow and repetitive without lyrics.
All in all, NBA Ballers Chosen One is an enormous disappointment from a series that started off extremely strong. Midway has failed to enhance the experience, and has instead given us, what seems to be an incomplete product, void of features, substance, user control, and depth. Its only appeal is decent visuals, but its broken gameplay will quickly make you forget about it. If you're looking for a solid arcade basketball game, then I suggest tracking down a copy of NBA Street Homecourt instead, which shouldn't run you more than $30. You get a much better game, at half the cost.
4/30/2008 Arnold Katayev