NBA Ballers Review (Xbox)

In 2004, you can’t turn on the television to any station short of Lifetime or the Food Network without being inundated with two types of programming: reality shows and shows about “bling bling”. From “Survivor”, “The Apprentice”, and “Dream Job” to “Cribs”, “Players”, and “Rides”, America is in love with real people doing (and celebrities buying), wearing, and driving very unreal things. Midway and their over-the-top Midway Sports lineup have given an “Extreme Makeover” to yesterday’s basketball titles. “NBA Ballers” hits the scene with flash, flair, and enough diamonds and gold to shoot a rap video. But, as they say, all that glitters isn’t gold. Is “NBA Ballers” 14-karat or cubic zirconia?

Rags to Riches. That’s it. That’s all I need to say as far as game modes go in “NBA Ballers”. Sure, you have some one-on-one matches, play with your buddies, and even practice, but “NBA Ballers” could have been called Rags to Riches. That is where you’ll spend 99.9% of your gameplay time. The backstory is simple, “The Man” wants to cash in on the reality TV craze and take a common street baller and make him a star. Win the tournaments and you get credits. Credits spend like money. Use them to buy new fly gear, slammin’ rides, and special abilities for the next tourney. It’s simple and very well done.

You’ll start by creating your baller. Tweak his look to just your liking. Some of the options are a little limited at first, but you should certainly be able to find the look you want. From there, you’ll take your pool of attribute points and spread them out. I personally chose Ben Wallace as my style of player and loaded my baller up with defensive skills and rebounding, while leaving his mid-range and long distance skills at a minimum. You’ll accrue more attribute points as you make your way through the mode, but the neat thing is that you don’t have control over where they go. If you grab a lot of rebounds in a tournament, your rebounding may jump by 5 or 6 points. However, if you don’t shoot (and make) any 3’s, that stat will only increase by 1. I really like the progression engine that’s in place. It fit the “evolving skills” premise behind the game.

The game itself uses a classic best-of-three format in games to 11 (or two minutes, which ever comes first). Sometimes they’ll throw a twist into the mix with a “Special Rules” match. Those matches can be anything from “Game to 30”, “Must have 5 steals”, or “Must ‘Bring Da House Down’ to Win”. These matches really add a ton of challenge and replay to the game. I have to tell you, playing a “No 3pts Allowed” match with Peja Stojakovic is a challenge to say the least. These tournaments increase in difficulty as you make your way through the TV grid, taking on fake ballers, real NBA Superstars, and Legends. The “NBA Ballers” roster clearly locked down right around the trade deadline of this year, because Rasheed Wallace plays in his Atlanta Hawks gear, which he actually only wore for one game.

The gameplay itself really taps into the feel of its extreme streetball predecessors “NBA Street” and “NBA Jam”. While the jukes, jab steps and spin moves are smooth, this game plays a little bit more physical than the others. I think it gives it a more street feel than the others. The button combinations do take a little getting use to, but after a while they feel very natural. You’ll be pulling off some phat “Stunt Dunks” in no time.

Blazing chains, sparkling diamonds, and pimpin’ rides are not all of the eye candy that you’ll find in “NBA Ballers”. This game is visually beautiful. The player models seem to run, jump, shoot and strut like their real-life counterparts. The faces in Ballers are loaded with more details than have ever been seen in a basketball or any other sports title. When you’re playing one on one with Carmelo, Grant Hill, or ‘Rip’ Hamilton, it really looks like you are playing against these NBA Superstars. The animations run silky smooth during gameplay and cut scenes with little to no framerate stutters. This game is really a visual treat.

Nearly as nice on the ears as it is on the eyes, “NBA Ballers” rolls out a nice array of hip-hop sounds to add to your story. Artists on the soundtrack include Jurassic 5, DJ Rocky Rock and MC Supernatural, who also contributes a pretty solid play-by-play track. The sounds in this title are completely dominated by the hip-hop tracks. With the over the top gameplay, real basketball sounds go out the window with every between the legs, head pass, self alley-oop. Actually, not trying to sound like real basketball and sticking to the urban feel of this title turns out to be a huge plus.

When all is said and done, the first decade of the 21st Century will likely be partially defined by our obsession with reality TV. That, combined with our eternal interest in the lifestyles of the rich and…well…they don’t even really have to be famous… Midway’s “NBA Ballers” has struck a brilliant chord with what is hot in today’s culture. With a fun and exciting gameplay, rich and impressive visuals, and an overall great feel to the game, “NBA Ballers” is primed and ready to challenge for its share of the arcade style sports market. It’s worth a play, Playa. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m having some 22’s added to my Xbox.

NBA Ballers Score
out of 10