Where’s my flaming basketball…
Midway and over-the-top basketball gameplay are no strangers to one another. Arguably the most successful arcade basketball title, NBA Jam took the five-man, rule-bound American sport and turned it into a two-on-two spectacle—with fire and moves which defied gravity nonetheless. However, Midway has since moved onto another arcade b-ball franchise, namely the Ballers series. The latest, NBA Ballers: Chosen One, marks the franchise’s leap onto the current-gen hardware, but the final product couldn’t be further from the exhilarating gameplay of the still-great Jam.
Chosen One follows the story of an unknown, up-and-coming street baller as he (and only he, no women allowed) works to make a name for himself by participating in a fictional, off-season basketball tournament full of the sport’s biggest names. The tournament is broken up into six episodes, each with five chapters, marking the young one’s introduction to the high-profile event, up to his eventual supremacy.
Before you start off on your quest for recognition, stardom and Sprite endorsement deals, you’ll have to make a character. Through a process that involves a limited number of character templates and nigh unrecognizable feature distortion, you’ll soon have your very own phenom to give skill points to and, later, to further customize with tricks and outfits. While character creation and customization is always a nice feature, and even though it is the focus for Chosen One, what’s offered here is mediocre at best; though it’s interesting to have a 6-foot, obese basketball player nicknamed “Nerd,” who was born in 2007.
When will athletes learn to leave the acting up to the actors…
One of the strongest elements to Chosen One, however, is Chuck D who narrates each episode of the tournament, as well as providing in-game announcing. The once Pubic Enemy has found a voice in the games industry (also contributing to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas) with an on-screen presence that saves the overall presentation of the game. For once, we actually have an enjoyable announcer who brings some feeling to his voice-overs. Contrasting Chuck D’s believable hosting, however, is the feels-entirely-scripted acting of the Atlanta Hawks’ Al Horford, who plays the role of the tournament’s star, and your rival.
An enticing menu design rounds out the strengths in presentation, as the rest of the game is one big letdown after another. To keep things short, Chosen One doesn’t exude any of flash or feeling that it means to portray. Yes, there are private jets, helicopters and limos, and you might play a game atop a Dubai rooftop against a NBA superstar who just rolled in with his entourage; but, all of the elements in the game feel static, and lacking in any emotion.
All of the players have the same blank look in their face throughout the game, both in cutscenes and during play, not to mention, characters don’t bother to move their lips while they speak…if they do…which they don’t. Also, most of the character models lack proportionality, as King James’ head is fairly larger than is smaller body.
She’s a one-trick pony…
Equally horrific is the gameplay, which tries to bring something different to the arcade experience, but misses the mark in implementation. Chosen One is an arcade-style basketball game, so you won’t find your traditional five-on-five games here. Instead, game modes are fairly varied with: one-on-one, one-on-one-on-one, two-on-two, shootout challenge, practice and 3 point challenge. Also, throughout the story gameplay, each match will include some sort of special criteria in-order to win.
Although it’s a different way of playing (compared with the game’s Street competitor), the experience is only novel for the first time you play each type of game. Numerous issues encumber each type of game, and make for a paradoxically easy, yet frustrating experience. Along with the general yo-yo difficulty of AI competitors throughout the game, there’s not much help on your side of the ball as you’ll miss easy lay-ups and dunks, and, when playing two-on-two games, you’re partner’s play is simply dimwitted.
Also, small bugs like objects clipping in and out of one-another accompany animation issues from super-moves which are so scripted that you won’t know where you’re going to end up when the brief cutscene, showing your crazy move, ends—in our case, our obese player would sporadically turn thin during gameplay.
Ultimately, games devolve into little more than a school yard ruckus as matches of make-it, take-it and one-on-one-on-one highlight the poor rebound system, with opponents racking up the score while you knock your head against the rim or backboard for the hundredth time. The aforementioned super-moves also make for a game rife with exploitation: If you bide your time and fill up your super-meter, you’ll be able to dish out a game-ending Shut ‘em Down move. Once you figure out the little trick, there’s almost no incentive to play any other way, but it also makes for an extremely repetitive experience.
Along with the Story mode (using only a created character) and Game Mode (using your customized character, NBA players or Legends to play an event of your choice), you’ll also be able to take games online. You can play in any of the game modes, but just like single game matches offline, you’re unable to customize games with any of the specialized criteria you see while playing through the story; lag doesn’t help things much either. Though, it’s not all bad as you can take your created character and use them online with the same look and stats from offline.
Take it to the street; just not with this one…
Nearly an identical, less-than-stellar experience on the PS3 or 360 (save for knowing what you unlock after each episode on the PS3), NBA Ballers: Chosen One feels like a step back for the arcade genre. Commendation is due for trying a different approach to street ball, but when plagued with so many issues, there’s not much reason to cough up the dough with summer just around the corner, with too many other potentially-good titles in the pipeline.
+ Chuck D’s performance is spot-on
+ Customizable character for both online and off
+ I am finally able to dunk over the following: Shaq, Lebron James, and—Go Huskies—Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson
Oh, hell no:
- Repetitive, broken gameplay
- Far too many technical bugs
- Unemotional characters