NBA Street Showdown Review (PSP)
Take your game to the street - literally! The venerable NBA Street series makes it's debut on the PSP platform, so now you can hoop it up anywhere. Does the game lose anything in translation, or is it still the king of the arcade court?
While you shouldn't expect the same flash from the PSP version that you'd see from the PS2 or Xbox versions of the game, NBA Street Showdown still looks quite nice on the PSP's smaller screen. The colors are bold and bright, and the animations are still eye-catching. The player models themselves are a bit blockier, and have less detail than one might expect, but that's a minor issue and an understandable concession to the platform's limitations. All in all, it's a very nice looking game - especially for a handheld.
NBA Street Showdown's audio package does the job. It's nothing spectacular, but then again, it doesn't really have to be. The game sounds are solid and the ambient noises surrounding each court sound just fine. The excellent but limited soundtrack makes it over to the PSP, as well; it fits the game well and sounds very good indeed on the PSP - especially if you're using headphones. EA Pocket Trax is included, as well. With it, you can watch a visualization playing in the background while listening to the game's playlist. I have no idea why EA continues to push it's Trax so hard, or in such odd manners, but they're obviously intent on it, and it's available here for those rare individuals who wish to use it.
If you're familiar with NBA Street, then you'll have a good idea what to expect in NBA Street Showdown. Quick Play will let you match up any two NBA squads and go at it, while King of the Court is much more encompassing. Our own Clay Shaver detailed this mode in his Xbox review of NBA Street v3, so I'll simply touch upon it here. You'll create a player with a look all his own, deck him out in the gear of your choice and take him to the streets. There, you'll challenge both NBA and fictional players in different contest in an effort to "own" their court. As you progress, you'll be able to unlock new items, including shoes and throwback jerseys to further customize to player. It's fun, and since you can tackle one match at a time, it works well on the go.
There are two new mini-games unique to the PSP version of the game: Shot Blocker and Arcade Shootout. Shot Blocker is unique due to it's focus on defense, and provides for a fun diversion. You'll try to block a myriad of different shots, and the farther out you block it, the more points you'll earn. It's surprisingly addictive and a good addition for the on-the-go gamer. Arcade Shootout isn't as entertaining, but it's simple fun. Basically a version of multi-basket Pop-a-Shot, the mini-game's a decent time-killer. Party Play lets up to four players pass the PSP around and compete for the high score. NBA Street Showdown has a robust feature set for a handheld game, and that should endear it to any hoops fan.
Here's where the two paths diverge. NBA Street v3 was all about the "Trick Stick" - the right analog stick and it's ability to make your player into a whirling dervish of roundball trickery. Of course, the PSP has no right analog stick… so needless to say, things have changed - and unfortunately, not for the better. Now, the square button calls for a trick, while the two shoulder buttons modify it. It's not as intuitively fun or challenging, and it gets old after a while. While you can choose to add new tricks into your repertoire, it still doesn't feel fresh, and simply timing a press of the square button removes what was an essential game play element. Controlling your player with the analog nub can be problematic as it's difficult to execute the quick cuts that are often necessary, but the D-Pad doesn't feel as smooth. There's also what appear to be a delay from the button press, especially on jump shots - the player doesn't seem to release the ball at quite the right time. This problem is overcome easily enough with time as you one gets accustomed to it, but it's still unfortunate that it's there. A quick arcade game like NBA Street Showdown has to have rock-solid controls to be truly special, and this title comes up a little bit short in this regard.
NBA Street Showdown has "Ad Hoc" play available. For those new to the PSP, "Ad Hoc" is a fancy way of saying that two PSP's have to be in the same room in order to play each other. Two units can play "pick-up" games against each other this way, but unfortunately, I was not able to test this functionality as I only had one copy of the game and no one else with a PSP nearby.
By no means is NBA Street Showdown a bad game. In fact, it's an entertaining one that faithfully carries on the NBA Street line. However, there's no getting around the slightly dumbed-down game play and the button timing issues. The mini-games are a good addition, however, and the game as a whole provides an impressive amount of depth. If you're a big fan of NBA Street and can live with the console-to-PSP translation issues, you'll probably be very satisfied. If you enjoyed the not-so-subtle chess match of trick and counter-trick, however - this one may not be for you. NBA Street Showdown is a worthy hoops title, and a solid debut - but I can't shake the feeling that Electronic Arts was capable of more, and hopefully next time around, they'll prove it.