NBA Street V3

With the original NBA Street, EA Big revitalized arcade sports, a genre that had nearly faded into obscurity. NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, while popular in the early nineties, had been rehashed to the point where both of the top selling series had become niche titles, lounging far below popular sports sims on the sales charts. The NBA Street franchise, now entering its third iteration, must remain fresh lest it join the ranks of the arcade sports also-rans. Can the series make enough improvements besides the customary roster updates to warrant a purchase, or has EA Big regressed to the days of the Tournament Edition?

Gameplay:

Like the previous two games in the series, the bulk of the gameplay in NBA Street V3 is 3-on-3 street basketball contests. In the majority of the games, you can garner trick points and build up your Gamebreaker meter by performing eye-catching dunks, blocks, steals, and yes, tricks (damn this outdated thesaurus!). When the meter is full, you can pull off a Gamebreaker, a shot that adds bonus points you your score, while deducting from the opponent. In the two older Street titles, you were better off keeping outside of the three-point line- you’d gain more points and the opponent would occasionally drop more, too. Also, NBA Street 2 made use of an “unbreakable” Gamebreaker (attainable by “pocketing” your previous Gamebreaker) that was basically a short video of you making an incredible shot that was guaranteed to land. In Street V3, the best option is to take it to the hole. When you initiate one in reasonable proximity to the net, you take flight, with a meter tracking how many points you stand to gain (the opponent always loses one). Do nothing, and you get two points. You can, however, continue to do tricks in mid-air, even dishing the ball off to teammates going sky-high. Do enough tricks, and you’ll get four points for your dunk. Get too zealous, though, and you’ll fudge the Gamebreaker and get nothing. While the aspect of pocketing and neutralizing pocketed Gamebreakers added a welcome level of strategy, this new way of attempting the shot of shots has to be the best implementation of the concept yet, as it further emphasizes the extraordinary arcade action.

Aiding in the procurement of these Gamebreakers is another new addition, the trick stick. While you can still use the x button in conjunction with the left analog stick and the turbo buttons, moving the right analog stick in different directions allow you to pull of the same great moves without changing direction. If there’s any problem with the trick stick, it’s that weaning the player off of using face buttons for trick moves also leads to a much lower incidence of doing trick passes and “off the opponent” moves.

While the gameplay has taken great strides forward, the mode selection has become a bit thinner in NBA Street V3. You still have the Street Challenge mode, where you take a created player and try to make a B-Ball legend out of him (this was called “Be a Legend” mode in Street 2). The mode has a bit more meat to it, as you slowly but surely open up new venues, tournaments, and opponents. Once again, you have the option of stealing one of the opposing team’s players if you win. This time, however, you must spend your street points (used primarily to upgrade your created character’s stats, though you can also unlock items with it too) to purchase a player. The better they are, the more they cost. It’s a nice conflict of interest when you pit picking up a pro against boosting your meager game. Even staying away from higher priced talent will run you into another of the game’s problems- the slow progress of your created character’s progress. You’ll run into decent players and even some pros early on in the game whose stats dwarf yours. So unless you forgo other categories to become a one-trick pony, the created character will be the weak link on the team throughout the majority of the Street Challenge mode.

The biggest loss from Street 2 has to be the lack of a co-op mode. While Be a Legend mode was also single player only, it did have the NBA Challenge mode, where you could play though the entire league (alone or with another player), team by team, playing the legends in each division after you’ve bested all the current day teams. Now, you’re basically relegated to having exhibition games with your friends, or playing the other new mode, Dunk Contest. While Dunk Contest is fun, it’s really doesn’t expand much on the Gamebreaker dunks you’ll pull off time after time in other modes. Sure, you can add little things like props to jump over or passes to yourself, but in the end, the Dunk Contest is more novelty extra than fully-fleshed out gameplay mode.

So, while the overall gameplay in NBA Street V3 has been improved, leading to a more enjoyable single player experience, there’s very little co-op fun to be had.


Graphics:

NBA Street 3 doesn’t really improve much upon on it’s predecessor’s technical merits- Street 2 was a damned fine looking game. Sure, the animation’s a bit smoother, and the characters are a bit more detailed, but there’s no major graphical overhaul in Street 3. The bulk of improvement made in this version has been in the style category. The courts are a little more realistic, and much more ambient, though that has much to do with another change you’ll find out about soon enough.

Sound:

Some of the best changes made in NBA Street 3 were made in the audio category. Games open with a well-delivered semi-poetic description of the court given by a calm, collected narrator. Then, you’re treated to the ever-annoying Bobbito Garcia, a.k.a. DJ Cucumber Slice. While he’ll occasionally slip in a line that makes you laugh, it’s usually for all the wrong reasons. Note to EA: get the court narrator guy to do ALL the announcing next time.

The soundtrack, though sparse at 13 songs, is extremely well done. There are classics like De La Soul’s “Me, Myself, and I” and MC Lyte’s “Ruffneck” mixed with some great current tracks like The Beastie Boys’ “An Open Letter to NYC” and Shells’ “Ladies and Gentlemen”. The songs play with lyrics while in menus, and without during games, which gives the soundtrack a bit more depth. There’s only one track that feels out of place in this game- “Jump Around” by House of Pain. While it’s an undeniable hip-hop classic, it has been butchered to the extent that it’s really impossible to listen to. Large chunks of the song have been edited out for content, and while some are understandable- if dropping “smackin’ the ho” keep this game from an M rating, then go for it- there’s one in particular that is incomprehensible. The word Sega is edited out of the song, for no other reason than petty politics. Whether it’s Sega or EA’s doing, it’s a very petty move.

Once again, the NBA Street series loses points for excluding custom soundtrack ability. Like Def Jam Fight For New York before it, NBA Street risks alienating a lot of folks who just aren’t into rap, when they could extend the olive branch that custom soundtrack provides. Judging by the level of some games that have implemented it, it mustn’t be too difficult to incorporate the feature into the game. For a game with such a paltry song list, it certainly would’ve been welcome.

Replay Value:

Even if the multiplayer isn’t quite up to Street 2 snuff, there are plenty of other reasons to keep playing NBA Street 3. There’s always the bevy of unlockable treats, including The Beastie Boys as a playable team, which almost makes up for the absence of Michael Jordan. The customization options have been greatly improved as well, with tons of clothes to buy for your custom baller, and various accoutrements for your customizable home court, which is another great addition to this game.

The biggest new component of NBA Street 3 is, bar none, the online play. As with some of the other EA Xbox Live games, the service is a bit iffy, and getting bumped from the servers is not at all uncommon. There’s some implementation problems- there’s no skill filter, so you can end up playing against a seasoned pro in one game and a rank amateur in the next. Finally, playing online requires you to create an all new baller and court, which is quite redundant when you’ve already made them for the Street Challenge mode.

Overall:

NBA Street 3 is undoubtedly the best in the series. The single player is much more focused, and the addition of online play, even in it’s weakened form, makes the game a must for any Xbox Live fan looking for a quick sports fix. The game has regressed in some areas, most notably co-op multiplayer, but it shouldn’t keep you from giving Street a shot.