Release Date: 10/28/2002
It is no secret that Konami hasn’t exactly been hitting homeruns lately in terms of so-called “extreme” sports titles, but now they’ve gone too far. Not only do they have to butcher the Tony Hawk games with their Evolution Skating series, or the SSX games with their Evolution Snowboarding series, but now they are making me hate the timeless sport of basketball too? NBA Starting Five seems like a project that the developers really worked hard at, until they got to the game play facet of the title, at which point I think they must have called it a day, went home, and forgot to ever clock in again. How can I put this, imagine a kickass b-ball game like NBA2K3, take away any sign of cohesive post-up dynamics, consistent shot percentages, or passing and rebounding simplicity, stir in a healthy dose of completely unresponsive and illogical game play, and the end result will be something eerily similar to NBA Starting Five.
Pinpointing exactly what makes Starting Five such a complete and utter failure isn’t exactly challenging – more time consuming than anything. But I’ll just touch upon the most notable reasons since I don’t want write a book about a crappy b-ball game any more than you want to read one. First off, actually moving your player around is an exercise in frustration. The character you are in control of takes way too long to respond, and when you finally do get him moving he will slowly keep moving once you’ve taken your thumb off the analog-stick, which makes precision defense all but impossible. Furthermore, the rebounding in Starting Five is a complete joke. A rebounded ball may drop right in front of one of your teammates but half the time they’ll just ignore it, and if you attempt to pick up the ball you better make sure that you get right up on it and give your character adequate time to let the ball roll around by his feet before he actually grabs it. Expect to constantly have the ball turned over on account of stupid AI that likes to linger in the lane causing irritating 3-second violations. And don’t expect to pull off any fancy-dan post-up maneuvers since there are none. To make matters worse the AI doesn’t seem to be crippled by any of these problems, everything is a piece of cake for the challenging team.
The game’s most eye-catching offering comes in the form of the included franchise mode, which actually is pretty fleshed out in contrast to the rest of the experience. You’ll be able to choose your team and play through a plethora of seasons, trading players, signing free agents, scoping out prospective rookies, etc. This works off a points system wherein you’ll be given 1000 points and be able to spend them any way you see fit. There are some interesting eventual changes to your roster and overall team strategy that can evolve through the franchise mode but for the most part it is business as usual. Which is to say that you’ll be playing a seemingly-endless amount of boring, sometimes-frustrating season games until you finally rack up enough wins to hit the playoffs and the championship.
When you are on defense there are a few moves that you can execute to help keep the dogs at bay. Though none of them are particularly useful or interesting. For example, by holding the square-button you can put your arms out in an attempt to guard, but 99% of the time you’ll have to be facing in a particular direction since the players don’t seem to like to rotate their bodies so as to guard from multiple directions. While you are guarding the opponent you can throw your hands up in the air, don’t ask me why, maybe to distract the person your guarding? It serves no purpose at all, doesn’t help to block or anything. By hitting the triangle-button when on offense you can do a little twirl maneuver or quick-dribble, but the computer hardly seems phased by these “fast breaks” and very rarely does doing this allow you to break out of their impenetrable defense.
Visually, NBA Starting Five isn’t really lacking in any notable ways. The various textures used on the players are pulled off pretty well. Delivering character models that look like their real-life counterparts is a whole other story though. The facial construction system that the developers used seem far too generic, like they modeled a few faces and created the rest with multiple combinations of the same pieces. The animations look good though, as does the various courts and pre-game lineup announcement sequences, but it isn’t anything that hasn’t already been done in other basketball games countless times before.
Starting Fives auditory presentation is at best adequate and at worst annoying enough to make you instinctively reach for the mute-button on multiple occasions. The “rap” song that constantly drones in and out when the game is paused or during the game’s opening title screen sounds like a local advertisement song. Or, if you’ve had the misfortune to hear the “Pokemon Rap” song then you’ll know exactly what you are getting into. It’s crap. The two commentators who will attempt to voice play by play quips aren’t anything to write home about. The first few games you play will be marginally enhanced by their added quips and statements, but you’ll quickly grow irritated by their inability to say anything new.
I don’t know whether this game is more of a simulation or an arcade take on the sport of basketball, but either way it doesn’t offer much in the way of realism or entertainment so the point is completely moot. A few basketball fans may find a few hours of entertainment in the franchise mode of play, but the horrible play mechanics relegate NBA Starting Five to mediocrity.