I must admit, I’m a huge NBA geek. For the past three years I’ve played fantasy basketball leagues, so when I was given the opportunity to review NBA Ballers: Chosen One for the PlayStation 3 I jumped at the chance. This year Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic is the cover athlete. Luckily for them and their playoff chances, there is no Madden-like “curse” on Ballers. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of Ballers, think back to NBA Jam the old Midway arcade hit that featured 2-on-2 action featuring some of the biggest superstars the game had to offer. This time around, though, you might go it alone, or you might play against more than one opponent. The main game comes from the Create A Player mode where you will (drumroll) create a player of your own liking. After you do such, you begin your journey to become the “Chosen One”. In the story mode you will be faced with various scenarios to overcome. Some will be simple like playing up to 11. Others will be more difficult like overcoming a 20 point deficit with only a limited amount of time. Get past all of the scenarios presented to you in story mode and you just may have what it takes to be the “Chosen One”.
In terms of graphics, NBA Ballers is a good looking game. The players for the most part look very much like their real life counterparts. So, if you’re a fan of “the Association” you should recognize these players right from the opening whistle. Everyone, except for Lebron James, who for some reason looks a little deformed. I don’t know that there’s much that you can do to “dress up” a basketball court, so the environments are decent enough to look at, though you’ll be seeing the same ones over and over again and there’s not much in the way of interaction with them. You can pass the ball out to a member of the crowd for an alley-oop, but that’s about the extent of it. There’s also not much attention to many of the non-NBA stars in the game, so when you see people walking around in the cinematics before your game starts, they look very cartoon-like as opposed to the “ballers” themselves who look more photo realistic. The animations are fairly fluid, though there seem to be collision detection problems around the basket. Namely sometimes when you go up for the dunk and you’re too close to the hoop you end up hitting the rear of the backboard, other times there seems to be no problems magically dunking the ball right through the glass. A little on the weird side and frustrating if you end up on the losing end of a game because of wonky physics.
On the flipside the audio to NBA Ballers is great. With beats made by Just Blaze the music is distinctly hip hop and fits the feel of the game: young, urban, hip (dope, phat, tight, or whatever adjective is being used on the streets these days), etc. Commentary is provided by rap icon, Chuck D. of Public Enemy fame. The commentary is cool the first couple of times you hear it, but after a while like any sports game it gets tired and stale. Still, it is a bigger jump from the graphics, which are pretty average even for a sports game.
The biggest disappointment in Ballers, though, has got to be the gameplay. You can customize your character with special moves that you unlock throughout the story mode, but they’re far from being cool after the first time you view them. The biggest issue is that instead of just watching them perform a special move, you get to see a cutscene that goes on for ten to fifteen seconds (one that you can’t even skip, mind you) which disrupts the whole flow of the game. Act-A-Fool moves which include special dribbles, spin moves, and stuff you’d see in a street competition are cool, but aren’t even necessary in the game. Stuff like Alley Oop’s and Crowd Alley Oop’s may look cool beyond the first few times, as do many of the dunks. Dunks, by the way, are pretty much all you need to do to win the game under most circumstances. Beyond this, though, it’s generally just a one-on-one game that wears thin after a few hours. Worse yet are the loading times for the game. The whole point of having the hard drive on the PlayStation 3 was to decrease load times among other things. You could spend as long as three minutes from the time you get a “game over” screen to the time you’re playing another game and that’s almost entirely due to loading. That’s poor. There are many games that utilize more information than this that don’t take nearly this long to load up. For a game that considers itself as “next-gen” to be so slow is beyond inexcusable.
Sure, the “Create A Player” mode is pretty cool, customize your baller, take him through the ranks of some of the NBA’s best talent and get better as you progress. It’s fun for a while, but then the computer gets to pulling off some cheap moves and then the game just becomes frustrating and so un-fun that it’s borderline unplayable. This might be a good game for a couple of friends to fire up over a weekend, but beyond that I can’t see any sort of staying power. Of course if you really feel up to the challenge (and subsequent punishment) you could always take it online and play against the world, you know, if you want to subject yourself to that, though without achievements like you’d get on the Xbox 360 version, I don’t know why you’d want to.
Bottom line here is that if you’re looking for a good basketball game, you may want to reconsider NBA Ballers: Chosen One. It’s rental worthy, and from there you can decide just how much fun you could manage out of this. Basketball is a great game, but for whatever reason it doesn’t translate over to the digital realm as well as other sports. You’re probably better off picking up a real basketball and just hitting the local park for a pick-up game. It’d probably cost you less in the end.
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