Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: April 26, 2005
My god, when I hold my PSP in my hands, it feels like heaven. Never, not in my wildest dreams, did I imagine I would be carrying such a powerful, potential-filled device in my hands. I can watch movies, I can listen to music, I can connect to the internet with the wi-fi connection, and most importantly, play games with near-PS2-quality graphics. The current generation is basically in the palm of my hand. I look at its giant beautiful screen, and I think, "oh my, this could not be better." I might even think, "oh my, this is my favorite console ever."
Of course, I am always brought back to earth once I think a little harder about what I am holding in my hands. This is a console that cost me 250 dollars, and the place I bought it from forced a game on me if I wanted a system, bringing it to an even 300. (That game just happened to be Wipeout Pure, thankfully, which is one of the best racing games this side of F-Zero GX.) And then there's the system itself. That beautiful screen is all you'd ever want to look at... until it gets scratched. And it will; no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, it will be tarnished. And for some of you perfectionists out there, it will hurt. The world's coolest portable is also the world's most delicate, you see. Toting this one around comfortably like a GBA SP (or, to a lesser extent, the NDS) is simply not an option. There will be carry cases, screen protectors, synthetic fiber wipes, etc., etc. And to top it all off, there will be downgraded, irrelevant releases that cost the exact same price as their home console bretheren... many, many games of this ilk...
Games like NBA Street Showdown.
Far from being a worthy reinvisioning of the phenominal NBA Street Vol. 3, Showdown is the bastard child of Vol. 2. The streamlined moves, the refined art style, the beautifully configured controls... all lost here. Some of it is the fault of the hardware; much of it is pure laziness on the part of the developer. After Vol. 3, I've come to expect a great deal from this series, and Showdown, which retails at 50 U.S. dollars, is simply NBA Street Lite. It is not in the same league. It does not play like the same game. And judging by other PSP launch titles, it could be a whole lot easier on the eyes, to boot.
The root of the trouble is in the controls, specifically, the area of special moves. The PS2 versions all enjoy the use of the L2 and R2 buttons for triggering ridiculous tricks for both points and the sake of embarassing the competition. The PSP version is relegated to timing, instead of pressing different buttons. Players must hold down the shoulder buttons in order to gain the separate functions. The timing is hard to pin down, and is far too open to mistakes - a big no-no for the fast-paced nature of a Street-branded game. When it comes to the nuances of the game, unlike Vol. 3, it's hard to feel like you're really in control of your normally fine-tune actions.
The core game remains relatively the same as previous Street endeavours: three-on-three basketball at a furious pace, throwing out the mental leanings of proper NBA-licensed games for edge-of-your-seat action. The action is constantly moving at such a pace that those used to Live or 2K may have to spend a few minutes adjusting; however, those of us weaned on NBA Jam and NFL Blitz -- before Midway gentrified those franchises - will feel right at home.
Normally, I find myself playing through nothing but quick matches when I get into these types of games. The arcade feel of the action simply leads me on an uncontrollable spout of quick-fix desire that I normally cannot deny. But Showdown, which wears thin much quicker than Vol. 3, left me with nothing better to do than to play around with the features as much as possible, instead of perfecting my game. This heavy searching revealed an uncommonly deep character customization process found in the King of the Court mode. I say deep because it had Sims-level customization from the start - within the street ball theme, at least - and provided masses of unlockables through persistent play. It wasn't long before I made a replica of my street-ball loving brother from Chicago and began my reign of terror throughout the streets as "Jonathan." I worked on his weaknesses constantly by assigning skill points accordingly, thanks to the RPG-esque leanings of this mode, and bought as many clothing items as I could to make my baller more and more like my brother. It was great fun.
Still, it would have been a lot more fun if this game was more like Vol. 3 -- which I own, and previously reviewed, in fact - outside of the customization features. My playstyle on the PSP became much more straightforward, and, well, less fun because, in most situations, I did not want to risk executing the wrong move because of the controls. This may sound nitpicky, but it's not. The gameplay really does feel so much more loose that you rarely feel comfortable making any big risks at all. And aren't ridiculous, stupidly risky moments what the Street series is all about?
The PSP versions also takes a massive hit in the graphics department. The geometry is the major offender here; we're talking Nintendo 64-level quality, here. Not cool. The textures and fantastic hardware anti-aliasing keep the game from looking completely like a last-gen relic, but it still isn't very impressive to look at. There are much, much better looking games in the launch lineup. (Ahem, Wipeout Pure.) The nicest stuff you'll see are the menus; no, I'm not making a snide little aside here, I'm serious. On the PSP's high-resolution screen, anything but the best, most sharp presentation would look embarassing, and thankfully, EA delivered every bit of two-dimensional goodness in spades.
What I can't complain about, individual tastes aside (I don't expect abstract noise and dancepunk to pop up in an EA game, after all), is the music. A huge selection of mostly hip-hop tunes are availalble, all of which perfectly complement the atmosphere of this game. Hearing these songs in perfect, hi-fi form made me feel like I was playing the latest and greatest piece of technology available, almost moreso than the graphics. Pick up your GBA SP again and compare - see what I mean? A new era is here.
The final verdict is: fifty bucks? No. Okay game? Yes. Hopefully, when the inevitable sequel to Showdown releases, we will have a spruced up release to compliment the new mechanics and overall sensibilities of the latest NBA Street game along with it. The PSP is far too powerful to be a dumping ground for cheapened cash-ins. Let's stick with the precedent set by Ridge Racer, Untold Legends, and Wipeout Pure, huh EA? Still, I cannot say this is a bad game. But what I can tell you is, unless having a portable Street title is absolutely necessary for you for some strange reason, do yourself a favor and stick with Vol. 3 for now.