Name: NBA Ballers: The Chosen One
Genre: Sports – Street Basketball
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
In the realm of basketball video games there are two categories that titles can fall into: simulation and arcade. Simulation games tend to follow the rules of NBA (or college) basketball, complete with fouls, traveling calls, goaltending, half-court offenses and full-court presses. Arcade games take the opposite approach, favoring high-flying, fantastical dunks, off the forehead passes, and a rules-free environment where fouls and goaltending are unheard of. NBA Ballers: The Chosen One, the third console iteration in the Ballers series, can’t figure out what kind of game it is, and as a result, fails to deliver a decent arcade or simulation experience.
Following in the footsteps of its predecessors (and its predecessors’ predecessors, NBA Jam,) The Chosen One allows you to build your own custom street-baller, then take him through a series of challenges against NBA superstars. The character creation seems to be a focus of the game, but the customization options are very limited, and the facial modifications are barely noticeable. As you complete challenges, you’ll unlock more customization options, like new clothes, jewelry, and even special moves. The problem here is that in order to apply these new options, or even see what these unlocked items are, you need to back out of your season mode game, then back out of season mode entirely, then go into character creation, then choose your baller, then…it takes forever, and there are multiple load screens in-between, each one at least 30 seconds long. The process is agonizingly time consuming, and could have been easily remedied by inserting customization screens in-between games.
Most of the challenges are pretty standard one-on-one or two-on-two matches, but there are some variations. Some games require you to overcome large leads in a limited amount of time while others task you with defeating an opponent without letting him score. These different modes tend to be more frustrating than the regular ones, and some of them are almost impossible. Take, for example, the one-on-one-on-one no ball-check mode. Without the need to bring the ball back after rebounding, the game quickly devolves into an absolute mess, with players dunking the ball, catching their own rebound, then dunking again immediately. It’s one of the silliest and least entertaining game modes in the history of sports games, and in order to advance through the story, you have no choice but to play through it multiple times.
This kind of botched game design would be a lot more forgivable if the core game mechanics were any good. Sadly, that’s not the case. The game’s controls are overly complicated and not terribly responsive, and the structure of the games themselves is nonsensical. In a high-flying, arcadey street-ball game, you don’t expect to see things like personal fouls, goaltending calls and shot clocks, but all of them are here, and are all poorly implemented to boot. Goaltending calls are inconsistent at best, and at times seemingly random, shot clocks don’t always reset when they’re supposed to, and the foul system is ridiculous. When you commit a foul (which are also called arbitrarily,) the action doesn’t stop, unless it’s your fifth foul. When that happens, your opponents get to shoot a free throw, which, for some inexplicable reason, counts for three points, then take possession of the ball. The rules simply don’t make sense, and fail to make the game feel like a full basketball game.
Of course, maybe that’s intentional, as the game’s main focus – crazy jukes and dunks – consist mainly of long, canned animations. Any combination of shoulder buttons gve your baller “Juice,” a sort of turbo mode where all your moves become more extreme and effective. Using enough Juice moves will fill up a meter that allows you to use “Shut-Em-Down” moves. These extremely extreme moves are even more extreme than the extreme moves, allowing you to finish a game with a single dunk, or grab a guaranteed steal or block. During the fifteen second animations for these, you have no control of the action at all. On the whole, the game feels more like a series of interactive cut-scenes than a proper video game.
You’ll also find serious frustration in your computer-controlled teammate, who will consistently throw errant passes, refuse to play defense, and shoot and miss 2 foot jumpers instead of dunking the ball. In one game, my teammate Marcus Camby failed to complete 5 out of 8 in-bound passes. That’s unacceptable. Playing head-to-head against a friend alleviates this problem somewhat, and is easil the game's best feature. There are, however, plenty of technical problems to be found, like crippling collision detection issues, no matter what mode you're playing, preventing even the multiplayer from being anything more than a forgettable five minute diversion.
The game doesn’t look particularly good, either. Character models are nice enough, but suffer from laughable fabric modeling and stilted, choppy animations. Players’ faces are better, and really do look like their NBA counterparts, but characters’ heads are almost cartoonishly big, and feature creepy, lifeless eyes that never blink. At least the courts look nice, with lots of well-rendered, interesting locales in which to play.
Due to a unique arrangement with the NBA, Midway and EA share the license to create games using NBA teams and players. On alternating years, EA makes NBA Street games, and Midway makes NBA Ballers games. This year, the choice is clear: wait for next year’s NBA Street. Ballers is just too glitchy, ugly and frustrating to be worth even a rental.