Once the king of arcade-style entertainment, Midway's next-gen library has thus far been a royal disappointment. Enter NBA Ballers: Chosen One, the next best link to the publisher's prolific past outside of a new Mortal Kombat. The spiritual successor to the company's classic NBA Jam franchise, will it be enough to dethrone NBA Street: Homecourt as the current street ball champ?
One of the most compelling reasons to play sports games is that they don't follow scripts, but NBA Ballers' story mode has traditionally been one of its most distinguishing features. Chosen One, however, offers the weakest narrative of the series. Your goal is to take an unheralded rookie and make him a star. He goes up against the game's hottest players in a televised tournament spanning six "episodes" hosted by rap artist Chuck D. It sounds decent in theory, yet other than some slick-looking, prerendered video sequences that introduce each episode, there's nothing tying the story together other than a loose collection of matches.
Chosen One's main lure is the story mode, which has you creating a center, forward, or guard with generic-looking features and assigning him a pre-defined nickname (like flapjack or jellyroll) that Chuck D will use during his in-game commentary. You start off with 480 points to spend in 16 categories, such as speed, power, and stamina. From there it's on to the television show, where you'll perform specific challenges across 30 chapters making up the six episodes. Goals vary from chapter to chapter, as you compete in a combination of one-on-one, two-on-two, and cutthroat matches against the league's biggest stars. Rule variations include no checks or clears, which has everyone piled up near the basket looking for quick and cheesy scores; no fouls; and timed matches spanning one or more rounds.
The early going can be incredibly frustrating. Your created athlete starts off with limited skills, so he'll toss up bricks a plenty. The strange part is you can't directly increase weaker stats at the end of each chapter; the game automatically decides which attributes to enhance based on your play style.
NBA Ballers makes its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 debut with online support, but it’s fairly limited compared to the competition. There are only 80 current and former NBA stars to play with, so don’t expect to field the starting five from your favorite squad.
As in the two previous NBA Ballers, the on-court action here is more exaggerated than Donald Trump's hair. You have a turbo button and a slew of flamboyant moves designed to not only shake and bake your opponent, but to embarrass him as well. Players can do things like pass off backboards, bounce balls off heads and feet, initiate one-man alley-oops, throw balls to a sideline onlooker, and perform "act-a-fool" combos by following a string of on-screen, one-button commands.
The latter is new to the series, but it is more annoying than entertaining. The camera zooms in on the one-on-one showdown like it's a fight instead of a basketball match. The action grinds to a halt as you time each button press and watch your player perform automatic combos instead of, as crazy as it sounds, directly controlling them.
Yet the act-a-fool combo system isn't nearly as silly as the new "shut 'em down" super moves, which are juiced-up jukes, steals, shots, blocks, and dunks. Super moves become available as you fill up a meter that can be powered up to three levels. The first level lets you perform a dramatic juke or steal, while the second unlocks shots and blocks. The third tier lets you perform earlier super moves as well as super dunks.
Super moves are highly cinematic sequences similar to gamebreakers in the Street series. Once you activate one, you sit back and watch the show. The screen goes black as the athlete performs an elaborate move with stylish camera angles, freeze frames, and slow motion effects desperately trying to sell you on the "coolness" of it all. Having to watch the same lengthy animation sequences each time quickly grows tiresome.
The jukes and flashy moves don't always work as you'd expect, since you have to be positioned within a narrow zone next to an opponent to pull them off. Collision detection is dodgy, there are frame rate hiccups, and the camera often obstructs your view of the basket and even has a few blind spots in the far corners of the court. And yes, the computer AI can be as cheap as a bottle of two-buck chuck, with an irritating tendency to come from behind in the final seconds with superhuman displays of athletic prowess.
Chosen One looks fantastic--for a PS2 game. Its appearance on PS3 is decidedly average with character models that are clearly a few polygons short of convincing. The faces are recognizable, but the spindly arms and legs and strange bodies look cobbled together by Dr. Frankenstein. Onlookers dance and sway with the same animations, and clothing looks plastered on the athletes. While the six main venues are diverse and exotic--from Miami International Airport to the Kunlun Mountains of China--they are little more than wallpaper. The worst aspect of the presentation is that you'll witness more loading sequences than a dock worker. Expect to sit through 20-30 seconds of "helpful tips" before being able to start each mode.
Basketball should be fast-paced and fluid, yet Chosen One constantly slams on the brakes with impractical design decisions. Irritating computer AI, frustrating challenges, sloppy controls, and an over-reliance on performing specific combos to win are not what you want in a street ball game. While the multiplayer aspect has more legs than the single-player game, primarily since you can set up the rules to your liking, most will find the price of admission too costly. Save the money slated for this game towards a new pair of Air Jordans. They look better and are guaranteed to offer more mileage.
Reviewed on PlayStation 3.