Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Big
Release Date: February 8, 2005
The sports-gaming world is in turmoil. With the announcement of mega-publisher Electronic Arts’ acquisition of first the complete NFL players license, then Sega/Take-Two’s popular ESPN license – one revived solely because of the efforts of those companies and developer Visual Concepts – has made things a little scary for fans of the genre. Sega is now completely out of the sports game after signing over their publishing rights for Visual Concepts over to Take-Two. The ESPN license is now a dead-horse for the company either way, which may cause some confusion when the next round of sports games hits the shelves. The third party license for all MLB-related gaming is owned by Take-Two.
Next year, things are going to be a little strange. But right now, the hate for Electronic Arts is boiling within the fan community, even for Madden fans who are worried that, without competition, the series will fall into even more of a static routine every year without a solid competitor like Visual Concepts keeping the development team on their toes. Gaming enthusiasts are always a little worried by power-hungry monolithic organizations like Electronic Arts, and now is an easier time than ever to pile on the hate. But then they have to go release a game like NBA Street Vol. 3 -- a solid, fun attempt at making an NBA game without a straight face. Electronic Arts may be notorious for releasing volleys of mediocre games (Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, the last couple Medal of Honor games), but even the most jaded gamer cannot deny that when these guys hit one out of the park, it flies. Let me drop my journalistic straight face here for a moment, and throw down the best phrase I can think of to describe the feeling of judging a game like Street Vol. 3: It’s a freakin’ slam dunk.
NBA Street is like a version of the Globetrotters with a little more urban attitude colliding head-first into an NBA Players Association meeting. Simplified controls mixed with a heavy dose of unrealistic style are the name of the game, and while that may turn off fans of the more serious sports releases, no one can deny how good it feels to have this formula back in action for the past few years with the Street series. After the phenomenal NBA Jam arcade series faded into irrelevance, nobody really came in to grab the fallen crown. The first Street games were the first worthy releases to seize the place in every older gamer’s heart that needs another ridiculous basketball title, and they did so nicely, but Vol. 3 is the game that seals the deal once and for all: The Street series is here to stay.
What makes this game so important is how flexible it is for so many different types of gamers. While the entire point is to be a simplified, fun to pick up and play alternative to Live, Street Vol. 3’s increased relevance comes from the myriad of added features. Sports freaks can spend time in the 10-week Street Challenge mode,where they will run into an awesome selection of tasks, from trick-point battles where players compete to see who has the best style to little league-sanctioned tournaments with more straight-forward rules… At least, in the world of Street, where aggressiveness and normally unnecessary style are key factors to success.
Extra strange additions add to Vol. 3’s flair. All three versions of the game include rap stars the Beastie Boys as playable characters, although they aren’t very useful. Instead of powering up these strange extra characters, they play like they probably should: Underpowered because of their height and somewhat uncoordinated because, well, these guys are rappers, not NBA stars.
The biggest draw for the Gamecube version is of course the inclusion of the Mario All-Stars team, featuring most of the main cast of the Mushroom Kingdom. Again, most of these characters are stunted by their short statures, but unlike our middle-aged rapping pals, these are videogame characters. They tend to have unnatural abilities, so why not be able to play basketball? If Mario can golf, drive a kart, role-play, play baseball, paint, become missing, all in addition to bopping enemies on the head, there’s a good chance he and his multi-talented friends can play a good game of b-ball, right?
Overall, the little additions don’t make or break the game, but they are a considerably enjoyable addition that one might spend at least a few minutes with before getting back to the meat of the game.
The major downfall for the ‘Cube version of this game is the control setup, which is clearly skewed towards the Dual Shock 2 controller. For the Playstation 2 version, the four shoulder buttons are used to control turbo and tricks, but that simply isn’t available on the Xbox and Gamecube pads, which opted for analog shoulder triggers instead of standard buttons. The Gamecube is also missing the added functionality of the hidden “click” buttons that the analog sticks for the PS2 hide. Slapping the right analog just isn’t as nice and easy to manage as simply hitting a button is. The game isn’t built around it, and it shows.
The main consistency from platform to platform is the graphics. Unlike the generally vanilla appearance of most NBA games, given their simulation nature and the fact that most courts are meant to look as standard as possible, the Street series have the unique characteristic of drastically changing scenery. Various courts from all over the world, in all types of neighborhoods, make appearances in this game. From a U.S. slum to the pristine Venice courts, the game covers a wide range of locales.
Rap video director Hype Williams helped direct this game, and it shows – the camera angles, the lighting (which is exceptional on a technical level, also), and especially the look of each court looks to be straight out of a rap video.
Character models are the biggest weakness graphically, if only because of their simplistic facial features. By the third game in this series, one would think that EA would catch up to the competition in this regard. No dice, this time.
Old school rap tracks make up the soundtrack, but not in the awesome Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas kind of way... instead bringing (dredging?) up old “hitmakers” like House of Pain back from their rightful graves. Court sounds are all fine and dandy, of course, but since you’ll be hearing more of Everlast “rapping” than you will the bouncing of the ball, the Volume 3’s sound gets the poo-poo this time.
This is one of the best arcade sports titles to release. Ever. I’m a big sucker for old-school gaming, but for once, I think the new stuff has caught on when it comes to making a game all-out fun for everybody. Volume 3 has the best balance of complex sports gameplay and pick-up-and-play fun out of any other arcade basketballer out there, and that says a lot, looking at the competition. Midway’s NBA Ballers, a sort of spiritual continuation of it’s phenominal Jam series, may be running up some good competition, but EA’s game is the best in town... for now.