NBA Ballers: Chosen One Review

NBA Ballers: Chosen One is effectively the third installment of a street-style basketball franchise from Midway (we won't count "Rebound" on the PSP) which tries to blend realistic basketball rules and gameplay with the flashy combos we've come to love. EA and Midway actually share the rights to "street" basketball games, so rather than fighting it out year after year like NBA Live and NBA 2K games do, they take turns with one release per company every two years. NBA Street: Homecourt dropped last year to high marks from the critics. Read on to find out if Chosen One was worth the wait, or if you should pick up Homecourt in the bargain bins.

Story Mode is obviously the focus of the game, the premise being that every year after the NBA season is over, the top players in the league and the most promising incoming rookies go through challenges against each other, the winner being crowned the Chosen One. This is broken up into six different episodes, each with five chapters. These range from simple 1 on 1 shoot-outs to 3-point contests to more specific things like stealing the ball a certain number of times and still winning the game. The variants sound entertaining, but they quickly become tiresome and you'll most likely find yourself doing the same moves over and over to defeat your opponents. The intricate side-tasks of getting steals or whatever just become tedious acts that you have to perform to move on, rather than fun goals as they were most likely meant to be.

The fans look away as Chauncey gets stuffed.

Before jumping into story mode, you of course get to go through the process of creating your rookie. This is actually one of the more impressive features in the game due to the myriad of possibilities. Aside from the usual height, weight, skin color, hair, etc. you also get hundreds of options for shirts, shorts, accessories and nicknames. I remember being highly underwhelmed with Homecourt having only a handful of nicknames, but Chosen One really stepped up and has dozens of them to choose from. You'll even unlock more gear as you progress through the story mode, so you're not stuck with your first options.

Once you have your baller ready, story mode kicks off with a live-action segment produced like a talk show with Public Enemy rapper Chuck D as the host. These segments are done very well, but they also serve very little purpose and are skippable to say the least. Jumping into the actual gameplay, you'll have to decide what type of baller you'll be, as your stats will progress based on your performance during the chapters. This is quite a flawed process, however; you can only go as high as 40 in any category to start, making 3-point shots basically impossible and forcing you to use the more direct approach of driving the lane and slamming the ball home to win your games. Each stat will improve by 1 guaranteed after each chapter with bonuses for shooting, dunking, special moves and turbo usage. The speed stat will quickly max out considering turbo is second nature in this type of game.

Howard stretches for the put-down.

The controls are quite complex, moreso than is probably needed. After a while you'll get the hang of them, but certain aspects will frustrate you. If you're simply aiming to get to the basket and dunk, holding the left trigger and hitting X will perform an Act-a-Fool Juke move very similar to the moves in the NBA Street franchise and send you on your merry way with your opponent reeling behind you. However, if you're aiming to fill up your special meter, you'll want to hold the left bumper and hit X for the Act-a-Fool Combo which will set you into a button pressing sequence. Using A, X, Y and both triggers you'll have a split second to respond to the on-screen prompt to continue your combo to a max of five moves. Both types of Act-a-Fool will fill your special meter which you can use at three different levels. Level 1 can be used for a guaranteed shot or steal. Level 2 will be good for a guaranteed shot or block. Level 3 is the big one: the Super-Dunk. In most chapters, this will end the game on the spot with you as the winner. In some cases you'll still have to perform other tasks before this can be done (such as the instance where you have to perform five steals to win) but this quickly becomes a goal for every match.

On defense, when you are on the receiving end of an Act-a-Fool Combo, you also get a button pressing game and can interrupt the opponent's combo if you hit your button before they can hit theirs. In addition, you can foul the opponent (in the form of an over-the-top grab and throw move) but ironically for a street game, you can actually foul out and give your opponent a free 3-point foul shot if you do this too often. You'll also be forced to "clear" the ball if your opponent shoots and hits the rim or else you'll actually score for them as well as avoiding charging or goaltending, both of which will be enforced. For a street game, it has too many rules that severely detract from the care-free nature of the genre. They clearly know this, and some of the chapters will free you of these rules, though when you get the "no ball clearing" chapter (especially the 1v1v1 game) you'll have a melee under the basket of players trying to catch the ball after it goes through the net, immediately laying it back up.

The excitement has yet to kick in.

The graphics in the game are extremely impressive. The menus and cut-scenes are particularly nice, while the actual players and gameplay are very good to look at. There are some clipping problems where your player or the ball will go through the rim and you'll not know whether you scored or not, but they don't happen too often. I think Midway realized it did a good job on the stylized cutscenes and special moves, as they play every single time you use a special and there is no way to skip them. After a while this becomes very annoying, considering they didn't make a large variety and you'll just be watching the same thing you saw a few minutes ago. There isn't much to be said about the audio in sports games, but it is well done nonetheless. Chuck D also does the play-by-play in addition to the live-action stuff, and does a good job despite being a little bland. The music is a bit played down and almost non-present at times which is surprising for a street game, usually focusing on that aspect.

Achievements may be the only reason to really give this game a chance. An extremely easy 900, most of the points are earned by progressing through story mode or doing some off-chance thing like a 3-pointer from beyond half-court. There are some online achievements, but if you manage to get into a game with a friend, you can choose to rematch them. With one minute quarters, the 25 online wins will be done in less than an hour for you and your friend. The last 100 points is extremely tedious, forcing you to play through the entirety of story mode a second time. Trust me when I say, it was bad enough the first time and it won't be any more fun the second. Luckily you can use the same baller, so your stats will allow for a quicker run through.

The score might be lower if there was anything to actually judge it on. Aside from the sounds of the game and the play-by-play, there really isn't anything going on, even in the menus.

The players and environments look good, but some clipping issues (players going through each other or the basket) and some random glitches where you'll literally be merged with your opponent and stick that way until someone scores are unforgivable.

The controls are confusing at first, but you'll soon learn you don't even need all the flash to win and get through the game. A few simple moves that you can perform over and over get the job done.

The announcing and accessories are pretty much the only two highlights of the game. Short, repetitive, boring... every word you don't want associated with your game is exactly how you can sum this one up.

The only plus here is that they're easy. Most of the "miscellaneous" achievements can be done in about a half hour and teaming with a friend will net you all the online stuff (pun intended) in an hour tops. The story mode takes much longer than you'd like, even though it is quite short. However, you're forced to do it twice for absolutely no reason other than that last 100 points.

This game is definitely not the Chosen One. As far as street or arcade-style basketball games go, this is a far cry from what you'd expect. Taking too many strides towards "legitimate" basketball loses all of the charm, and frankly the fun-factor, that we've come to expect from this genre. Homecourt got it right and is a much cheaper, more enjoyable option. Hopefully Ballers learns from this and makes a better game in 2010.

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