NBA '08 Review (PSP)

In the NBA, it’s important for players to know their role and attempt to stay within it. Guys like Shaq and Ben Wallace aren’t going to start floating beyond the 3-point line jacking up 3’s. Earl Boykins isn’t going to go low post. Antoine Walker isn’t going to pass up that jumper and focus exclusively on his defense. Players in the NBA know what they bring to the table and tend to stick with what works.

In the world on NBA games, the NBA series that comes from the team at Sony often flies under the radar for many gamers. Not usually mentioned in the same breath as those two other releases in the hard-court battle for your gaming bucks, the team from SCE Studios – San Diego continues to churn out quality games for the Sony gaming systems. Often equally lost in the shuffle is the fight for hoops supremacy in the portable market. While one of the “big boys” does not even release their title on a handheld platform, NBA 08 brings its wares to the PSP for a second season after a bonafide sleeper last year.

NBA 08, which includes the tag “Featuring Block Party” on its PSP release, could have easily been a simple port from the consoles. We see it all the time on handhelds. We throw down an additional $40 or $50 to play a stripped down and graphically inferior version of what we’re enjoying at home. Instead, to their credit and our luck, the team at Sony once again decided to build an NBA experience that is not only unique from what you get on the PS2 and PS3, but a perfectly designed game for the on-the-go style that most people use their PSP in.

NBA 08 goes heavy on the fun factor by making their mini-games the meat and potatoes of the release instead of the standard 5-on-5 basketball action. The mini-games are actually split into a couple categories, Mini-games which includes a lot of returning favorites from last year including HORSE and Dodgeball, as well as one of my favorites – Elimination. Elimination starts out on the surface as a straight game of hoops, but once your players start to score, the game takes a turn. After one of your guys scores six points, he is eliminated from the game leaving your opponent with the NBA equivalent of a power play. However, as a bonus for losing a guy (and to level the playing field), your team receives a random ability increase every time you lose a player. A great idea for a twist on hoops, and a great time through really solid execution.

Another great fun find is over in arcade mode with a game called Shootin’ Bricks. This mode, which is found over on the Carnival side, took me back to my youth and a game called Breakout. You’ve seen the concept thousands of times; an old school Pong paddle sliding horizontally to keep a ball “in the air” and breaking out the blocks above. There’s nothing really new or revolutionary in this mode, but the vibrant colors and fun patterns set over a cool hardwood background made me smile every time I fired it up.

While the mini-games are a blast, my favorite part of NBA 08 is another returning favorite from NBA 07. Conquest mode, which is almost like a combinations of NBA Street, meets RPG with a pinch of Risk, is a surprisingly deep and pleasurable mode that really needs to make the jump from the PSP in future releases. In Conquest, you are taking your team to different NBA cities and through the streets and NBA arenas in an attempt to take them over through success on the court. Along the way you can train and improve your team by either working with the guys you have, or adding Superstars from the wreckage you left behind you. Again, not a new concept per se, but one that works perfectly on this format. Another great example of NBA 08 embracing the platform by showcasing fun over all else.

That’s not to say that you can’t find a real basketball experience with the game. In the Season mode, you’ll find a fairly deep simulation that focuses on team’s success and chemistry, which plays pretty well on the court. There are certainly some nagging issues that detract a little bit from the 5-on-5 gameplay. Spacing is an issue, but one that you almost expect when you’re dealing with a handheld. I have to think that the idea of getting NBA quality spacing and rotation on that PSP screen would be a nightmare. The animations and player models also seem to have a weight issue. Not a “lay off the Twinkies” weight issue, but more of a feeling of awkward momentum and no real feeling of proper movement which causes the game to play a little fast and “arcade-ish” at times.

The graphics and overall presentation is some of the best we’ve seen on the PSP. I’d put the graphics on par with a very late PS1 game and even close to some of the less graphically polished PS2 releases. The animations do get a little herky jerky at times and can bog down the framerate, but it’s a pretty smooth experience overall – which is critical in a timing based situation like jump shooting. Commentary is tag-teamed by Ian Eagle and Mark Jackson, who combine with a pretty intelligent crowd to create a nice audio treat that flows very well with the feel of the game.

For me, the role of handheld gaming in the industry is about fun. It’s about tuning out distractions, clicking off your brain for a few minutes and just killing some time. NBA 08 embraces that role by providing a fun alternative to the usual fare during basketball release season. If you’re buying it in hopes of seeing a perfectly executed Triangle Offense – you’ll probably want to pass. If you want a great game of X’s and O’s – it’s not for you. NBA 08 is fun. What else are you looking for?

NBA '08 Score
out of 10