I like basketball, but when I stand 5' 11" on a good day, with my *cough* athletic youth long behind me, physical games just aren't an option. Video games, though... they're always an option, and basketball has provided a great many titles that show off the sport.
Or rather, they show off an elaborately exaggerated version. An arcadey, rule-bendy spin on the sport. A take that attracts a larger audience than a straight-up basketball simulation does, with NBA Street Vol. 2 setting up the alley-oop this time out.
Three on three, first to 21, bonus points for styling and showing off... I'm looking forward to having a kickabout with this one. Well, a bounce about, I suppose...
NBA Street is a celebration of the feel of urban basketball. It's about joyfully dunking on your opponents, while you dunk against your opponents. A dedicated trick button is there for you to play to the crowds and make a fool of the defence in games that seem to sprint from hoop to hoop and back again.
The rules are simple. One basket is worth one point, and the first team to get to 21 points is allowed to gloat. How you get there is up to you, as you open up gaps in the defence, shoot from range, or put arses on the floor as you dart in for a dunk.
Almost every aspect of the game is over the top. Players are stylised caricatures of their real selves, lanky beyond all reasonable measures, and capable of defying gravity when the need arises. And that seems to be all the time.
Players leap and stretch and hang in the air, swatting the ball out of the way with well-timed blocks, or showing off to finish off an alley-oop. If something is particularly stylish, a short replay will hopefully clear up what just happened, but even these can be hard to follow, with the pace they go at.
The game feels solid but a little weird in places, where animations look too out of place, especially when you spam the tackle button to no effect. The ball moves at a zippy pace, and your players aren't too far behind, and when they're not jumping 6 feet into the air, they feel pretty grounded.
There are a pass and shoot button, as well as a tackle and block button when you're defending, and the shoulder buttons modify some of your moves by using up your Turbo meter. The more tricks you pull off, the more your Turbo and Gamebreaker gauges fill up, allowing you to really take off.
To put those mechanisms to the test, I decided to head into the career mode, with someone closer to my current form...
The career mode allows you to make a player and team, drafting in some teammates to face the locals and start your long climb to the top. You're able to make a male or female basketballer and can play anyone on your team. It's not a game that worries about realism, so it's not going to care about men vs women. Besides, look at my fat arse. There are plenty of women who will outplay me on the basketball court.
Games are usually closer than this scoreline suggests, but I was playing on the easy difficulty against simple opposition. NBA Street emulates fairly well until there are too many things going on at once, where it slows down a little, but I wasn't put off because I was having fun.
I had absolutely no idea what trick I was going to do at any given moment and hoped that pushing the trick button would be enough for something useful to happen. Skilled players, I'm sure, can pull off the exact trick they need at the precise moment they need it, but that's beyond my comprehension at this point - right now, NBA Street is just a fun, arcade title.
With no idea how long I'd be playing for, or even how well I was playing, I was alerted to the Gamebreaker mechanic. When you've styled so much, you can trigger a Gamebreaker shot, which can increase your score by two or three points, and reduce your opponents by a point too.
If you manage to fill your meter twice before triggering it (apparently your opponent can scupper those plans if they style too much on you), you can swing the scoreline by absurd amounts. One could imagine how difficult it'd be to follow the scoreline live if it weren't visible on a HUD, with teams losing points after getting super dunked on.
After picking ourselves up from the floor after a particularly successful trick, we net a couple more shots to finish our first game of the career mode. For our troubles, we're rewarded with development points to put into our character, and can even draft a player from the losing team. Finally, our reputation goes up, and I've got 3 points of progress.
Sadly, I need another 17 progress points to unlock the second rung of the career ladder. Will that take another six games? Can you score more than 3 per game if you look outstanding while playing it? Are there any other ways to get points outside of the court?
The career mode looks to span the United States, but I'm stuck in New York until I can prove myself. Again and again, perhaps. Do I want to do that?
I'm not going to say I might, but I probably will end up playing some more NBA Street. Even if I'm only capable of playing on the easier difficulty modes, and even if I don't fully understand when and how to pull off better and better tricks, I'm having a great time playing. It's satisfying to achieve even simple things. A block, a trick, a cross-court pass. The animations all make you look far more competent than you are, and arcadey swooshes and lighting effects just add to the enjoyment of what is, perhaps, a silly little game.
There is an excited commentator, though I didn't catch anything he was saying, such was my focus on the action. The music, equally, was likely chosen to hammer home to setting and themes of the street basketball culture, but I couldn't tell you what it sounded like. I was just too absorbed in the gameplay, which was easy to get into, and is bound to be far more in-depth than I realise.
I don't know if I'd call it a quick pick-up and play title, because games might seem to go on for a while, but it's fast-paced and looks exciting, and you'll be able to style on your friends in no time at all.
Just hope they don't dunk on you in return.
With three incarnations of Michael Jordan playable, you can face off against a team of Michaels, if you're suitably insane/skilled.
NBA Street Vol. 2, developed by EA Canada, first released in 2003.
Version played: PlayStation 2, 2003, via emulation.