Developer: JC Entertainment
Release Date: Q1 2007
It is within the bounds of possibility that you could sell a million copies of anything in Korea, as long as it was a massive multiplayer online game. Ideally, it should be an MMO you can play with one hand, freeing up the other hand to smoke a cigarette.
Freestyle Street Basketball is, at once, a demonstration of this principle and an idea I'm surprised we haven't seen before now. This is a game where you can create and kit out a cel-shaded cartoon avatar, and then use it to take on your friends, rivals, and worldwide strangers in quick matches of street basketball. It launched in Korea a year and a half ago, where it quickly became surprisingly popular, and Vivendi's hoping to reproduce that success in North America.
The gameplay's been described as "MMO Lite," with an emphasis on speed. Freestyle starts fast and ends fast; you can find and complete a round within five minutes. Create your character, dress him or her up, give him or her a position, then hit the courts; according to Vivendi, you can play anywhere, at any time.
How well you play Freestyle will determine, in large part, how your character's skill improves. You can earn money within the context of the game, which can be used to purchase gear – clothing, temporary tattoos, sneakers, and so on – which in turn will provide skill boosts. You can spend real money to get in-game money, and part of your purchase price for the game will be automatically refunded to you as currency in the game, but you cannot simply buy your way to basketball stardom; the best gear can only be used by players who've reached a certain skill level. You can also only carry five moves in your basketball "arsenal," which will make it difficult for you to simply tank your way through the game.
On the court, the game's pure street ball, whether it's one on one or in teams of five, with full motion capture for all of the moves on the court. Teams in Freestyle take the place of the traditional MMO guild structure. As the game gets bigger, Vivendi's planning a variety of online events to support the game, such as new items available via download, as well as a tournament league.
The game's in the middle of being localized right now. In its current version, Freestyle is 100% generic, cartoony design, but Vivendi's in talks with three music labels and a number of hip-hop clothing lines, to make sure Freestyle has the blatant product placement proper feel for an American street basketball game.
When Freestyle launches, it'll be available both in stores and as a digital download, with no monthly fee required for those who want to play. It's an interesting concept, and it's already achieved widespread appeal in Korea, but it's also a PC exclusive. It'll be interesting to see whether this sort of game will appeal to the North American sports-game audience.
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