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NBA Live 06
Graphics: 8.5
Gameplay: 8.7
Sound: 8.7
Control: 8.7
Replay Value: 8.5
Rating: 8.6
Now that developers are getting a better handle on how to work with the PSP, the games are starting to look and play better and better. Most of the systemís early sports games were lacking features, had long load times, poor gameplay, or a combination of the three. While Madden 06 for the PSP has shown that there is plenty of room for improvement, one of EAís other games, NBA Live 06 shows the right way to bring sports games to the handheld. Crisp visuals, tons of features, and solid gameplay make Live 06 a no-brainer for anyone wanting to play some ball on the go, even if youíre not a hardcore hoops fan.

NBA Live 06 doesnít have the franchise mode that youíll find on the PS2, but it does have a season mode thatís deep enough to satisfy most everyone. You can play a full 82 games, or if youíre looking for something a little shorter, you can chop the season down, shorten the length of quarters, and even make playoff series the best of one. You can trade players, pick up free agents, and release players, but the in-depth options found on the PS2, like using scouts and hiring trainers didnít make it over. Itís not a huge loss at all though; thereís plenty here.

In addition to a season mode, the NBAís All-Star weekend is included in all its glory. You can of course play the East vs. West All-Star game, and you can even take part in the three point shootout or slam dunk contest. Heck, if youíre really into things, and I mean really into them, you can play the rookie game. The three-point shootout is a pleasant diversion, but thereís not much too it, unlike the dunk contest. In the dunk contest you can pull off a large number of dunks, with one caveat Ė the game doesnít tell you how the heck to do anything. Yeah, there are some tiny instructions on screen, but unless youíve played the PS2 version, which has a full tutorial, youíre likely to struggle to figure things out. Should you learn the controls, thereís an amazing amount of depth to be found here, and you can spend a lot of time perfecting your dunks.

On the court, the action is fast, and the seriesí tendency of being more arcade-like than sim, fits the PSP nicely. Even if youíre only playing three minute quarters, the actionís fast-paced enough that youíll still get in plenty of scoring. Shooting percentages are inordinately high, but really, nobody wants to shoot 40% from the field in videogame basketball, regardless of how much they gripe about the unrealistic shooting percentages. There are plenty of dunks, alley-oops, and lay-ups, as defense is largely an afterthought as your main goal will be to keep the defender in front of you, pounding the steal button in hopes of knocking the ball loose.

A few sacrifices were made in regards to Live 06ís control scheme, but they work just fine. Since thereís no second analog stick, ball fakes have been moved to the square button, and since there are less shoulder buttons, you canít alley-oop quite as easily. Actually, a bigger problem with having less shoulder buttons is you canít pass directly to players. Youíve got to aim where you want to pass, and then hit the X button. It works okay, but if youíve gotten use to the precision passing on the PS2, youíll have to adjust. In addition, there are no longer separate buttons for jump shots and lay-ups/dunks, but this is a rather insignificant change for the most part

Freestyle superstar controls are an all new feature this year, on the PS2 as well as the PSP. The leagueís better players all have a designation, such as scorer, playmaker, high-flyer, sharpshooter and more. This means theyíve got a whole bunch of moves up their sleeves that other, less talented players donít have. When you see the superstar icon pop up, you can hold down the left shoulder button and press any of the face buttons to pull of a special move. High-flyers will throw down huge dunks, sharpshooters will pull up and shoot rainbow three-pointers, and playmaker will dish off no-look or behind-the-back passes. These moves give the game an even greater arcade feel than it already had, but they do a nice job of differentiating the superstars from the average players. Perhaps toning it down a little for next year is in order, but itís a nice addition.

An online component is included, but itís disappointing. Itís a chore to log-in, and youíll have to agree to let EA market your email address, or pony up a couple of bucks to play. I had trouble getting a good connection with my opponents, and apparently I wasnít the only one having problems. You can play a wireless game via ad-hoc as long as your friend has a copy of the game, and that works just fine.

NBA Live 06 is a very nice looking game, and very little was sacrificed in the transition from the PS2 to the PSP. Even the bizarre oversized heads on the players made it into both versions! The player models are large, and for the most part, look like their real-life counterparts, right down to their tattoos (though they are mostly blurs here). The framerate isnít particularly fast, but other than some occasional instances of slowdown, itís acceptable. The arenas look very nice, and even have little details, like large TVís to replay the action during the dunk contest. Speaking of replays Ė Madden couldnít seem to swing them, but NBA Live not only has highlight cams right after a play, but you can pause the game and check out the action at your leisure. If anything, the game shows too many replays, and you canít change their frequency in the All-Star game for some reason, but at least they are there. There are some occasional oddities, like players sitting around an invisible coach during timeouts, but all in all, the presentation is solid.

The gameís default camera isnít bad, but you can tell itís mostly there to show off the player detail. The best view of the action is from the baseline, and you can even choose camera height and zoom level if you require further adjustments. None of these features are revolutionary in the console world, but theyíre cutting edge for a handheld.

EA was able to cram an impressive amount of audio in the PSP version of Live. Marv Albert and Steve Kerr call the action, and while they arenít as verbose as they are on the PS2, their commentary is poignant and generally doesnít lag too far behind. The in-depth analysis that they give at the beginning of the game is great, but donít expect that kind of talk the whole game Ė it doesnít happen. Thereís an annoying pause whenever they say the team name, and thereís occasionally some stuttering as data is streamed off the disc, but it doesnít ruin the commentary. The EA Trax are, as always, hit or miss, but there are some pretty good songs included.

I was disappointed with Madden 06, and that was before I played the very impressive NBA Live for the PSP. The load times are short, all of its big-brothers major features are included, thereís instant replay, and the gameplay is surprisingly tight. Simply put: itís nearly everything you could ask for in a portable NBA game. Sure, thereís room for improvement, but that doesnít mean that NBA Live 06 isnít a darn fine game.

10/25/2005   Aaron Thomas