NBA Street Homecourt Review
Over a decade ago, sports games were generally more of a simulation. There weren’t many season modes yet, but you could expect to play a more realistic game of basketball or baseball or some such. There were a few notable exceptions to the rule such as Baseball Stars but nothing that really cemented the arcade sports genre.
Enter NBA Jam. Instead of worrying about being as realistic as possible, NBA Jam took some liberties with the game of basketball. You now had a turbo button, there were only two players on the court for each team and many other rules of the game were bent or broken. More importantly, though, the game had some really flashy dunks. In essence, NBA Jam took what seemed to excite people the most about basketball, speed it up and, in doing so, gave rise to a new genre.
NBA Street Homecourt is EA’s newest entry into the NBA Street series. Borrowing the concept of high flying dunks from the Jam series and adding in the ability to do all sorts of crazy tricks, the NBA street series has gained popularity in the recent years. With their most recent release on the next-gen consoles, EA has added in some new features, really spiffed up the graphics and just changed the way that the game plays in general.
The first major feature that has been added is the Trick Remixer. Where before you had a canned series of tricks, EA now allows for a more freeform and natural method of trick creation. Using varying strengths and lengths of pressing the X button and combining it with the left and right bumpers produces an absolutely staggering amount of tricks. I’ve played for awhile and still see new tricks at points. Even the simple things, like using X to do a crossover, are awesome because of the attention paid to detail – rapid tapping makes your player dribble faster while slower tapping leads to a slower dribble. Doing a fast dribble can lead to some different trick moves while a slow dribble will lead to others. And none of this takes into account the ability to also use the Y button for even more tricks. I really can’t describe it as well as it deserves, you need to experience the new system to fully understand how cool it is.
Another change to the way that the game plays is the Gamebreaker system. Before, a Gamebreaker was an automatic negative point against your opponent and a varying amount of positive points for you. Not anymore – when you trigger a Gamebreaker, your opponent will still lose that point, sure. However, you’ll have the ball and now can do a constant string of tricks to build up the Gamebreaker meter to add bonus points to what the eventual score will be for the dunk or shot. With the ability to do double and triple dunks now, there’s the potential for a seven-point swing in the game – truly a Gamebreaker. The best part, though, is that you can even steal an opponent’s Gamebreaker from them by taking the ball. It definitely isn’t easy anymore but truly has the potential to live up to its namesake.
The graphics, though, are the most obvious of the major upgrades. While the past NBA Street games on the last gen of consoles looked pretty nice, Homecourt just looks incredible. The courts, the player models and the animations are just insane. Some of the smaller touches, though, make them really shine. For example, when you do a Gamebreaker, the lighting effect that is used makes the situation feel more tense. And when you slam down the dunk and there’s a flash on the screen of your hometown’s name, the game doesn’t hiccup or slow down one bit. I really can’t say enough about the graphics, though.
You see, the game places a huge emphasis on the concept of your player’s homecourt. Throughout the game, the loading screens will quite often be videos of an NBA player talking about where he grew up, talking about his homecourt. When you get a chance to actually face off against that star during the series of games in Homecourt Challenge, you’ll get to see another video about the homecourt and then a nice lead-in using the game engine. Even as a very casual watcher of basketball, though, I enjoyed the intros. They really help to drive home the game’s overarching concept.
The player creation system is pretty cool – you merge three different ‘heads’ together (two of them are NBA stars) and move the slider to emphasize some features. You’ll also pick a player who you want to “be” like (don’t worry non-NBA fans, you also get to see the player’s stats) and then name him and his hometown. There are three different slots for players, too, which is nice if you have multiple people wanting to play through.
This, however, also leads into a big flaw that I saw in the game. Even though teams are three people, you can’t have multiple guys playing through the Homecourt Challenge. I can understand not having three created players in, but why can’t I have my brother take control of a player on my team? It seems like something small, but for those that like to coop through season-style modes with a friend, it’s going to hurt.
Outside of the Homecourt Challege mode, you can play in a variety of games, ranging from a game with no tricks or Gamebreakers to a game where the only way to score is by dunking the ball. However, outside of playing those offline with a friend or online over Live, there’s not much else to do. More variety in game modes would have been a boon.
Overall, Homecourt is well worth a pickup if you’re looking for an arcade basketball game. The awesome new Gamebreaker system, revised trick system and incredible graphics make for what is arguably EA’s best next-gen sports title yet. However, the lack of a multiplayer Homecourt Challenge mode keeps this game away from being the best arcade sports title ever.