IGN Review of NBA Ballers: Chosen One
When NBA Ballers first launched back in 2004 on Xbox and PS2 it was all about delivering simple, unadulterated, over-the-top basketball fun. And it came through in spades for hoops fans. Now we're four years removed from the series' inaugural outing and it's making its debut on Xbox 360 and PS3 with NBA Ballers: Chosen with revamped visuals and a few new gameplay mechanics. It's just too bad that nearly every addition to the NBA Ballers formula is poorly conceived and almost always annoyingly implemented.
As with all NBA Ballers games, players are tasked with first creating their custom b-baller. The create-a-player system, while not as deep as what you'd find in Tiger Woods Golf, still suffices for the most part. You'll pick a nickname, assign an allotment of attribute points to get your career rolling, and then take to the court for the very first time. Attribute progression is handled a bit differently in Chosen One than in most arcade sports titles. Rather than assigning point values after conquering your competition, the game auto-assigns these points based on how you played the game. In theory it sounds great and is something that I've always wanted in my sports games. Now if only it actually worked.
There were several competitions when I would nail four three-pointers, jam home five dunks and get a +1 or 2 in both categories while others, like my player's speed, would nearly always get a +4. Every category gets a bump of +1 when you win a game, but it's clear that your progression is slowed to ensure that dunk-happy players can't rule the air up there too early in their careers. If I want to dunk the ball eleven times to win a game then I should reap the benefits and deal with the consequences of that.
The structure of the career mode in Chosen One is pretty solid, with six episodes and a handful of chapters (sets of games to win) per episode. Each episode kicks off with an introduction from Chuck D. about the type of competition that you'll be up against. He speaks to you while sitting in a flashy NBA TV studio set and it's fairly effective, though a little contrived.
Once you've listened to Chuck D. do his thing it's time to take to the court. Unlike past Ballers titles which constrained players to one-on-one duels (or one-on-one affairs), you will now be able to play a good old fashioned two-on-two full-court game if you so desire. There are also different rules that the computer will throw at you in an attempt to keep things fresh. This helps through the first two episodes, but after that you've pretty much seen all that the game has to offer.
One of the more confusing (and annoying) rule decisions is the "no take back" variant. As any real basketball player knows, that means you don't have to take the ball out beyond the three-point line after your opponent shoots up a brick. Sadly that also means that you don't need to check the ball after made baskets. Essentially gameplay is then dumbed down to sitting under the basket, hoping the ball happens to come to you, and then trying to throw it down without getting blocked. Playing a one-on-one-on-one game with this rule set feels nearly completely devoid of skill, making losses all the more frustrating.
Luckily the vast majority of the career mode games are played under more traditional rule sets, which is when you'll get the chance to explore the new gameplay mechanics of Chosen One. The biggest of these additions is sadly one of the things that cripples the game. We're talking about the combo system, activated by pressing the left shoulder button and X (square on PS3). Doing so displays a button prompt on the screen. Press it before your opponent does and your character will pull off a stylish move and another prompt will appear, succeed with the second, and another will pop up. Your position (center, forward, or guard) determines exactly how many moves can be linked together, but the more you're able to link the higher your super-move meter builds.
On the upside the combo mechanic does a good job of varying the timing between button presses and the combination of buttons so a veteran player will never have the upper-hand on a newbie. The downside, which far outweighs the positive, is that the combo system winds up completely dominating the gameplay. I was able to work my way through the majority of the career mode games by activating combo after combo after combo. Completing one successful string of combos gives you a score multiplier which adds an additional two points if you can quickly score a basket, something that feels a little cheap if you're on the losing end. It also nets you a level one super-move, complete another and you'll get a level two move, and get lucky enough to nail three consecutive combos without your opponent making a bucket and you'll earn the game ending level three super-move. That's right, no matter if you're losing 40-2, if you pull off a level three super-move it's an auto-win.
The super-move is the second piece to the game busting additions. After completing a combo or a few of the Act a Fool moves that fans of previous Ballers titles will remember, you'll earn energy towards your super-move meter. A level one super-move can be used to pull off a steal or a fancy dribble. A level two super-move lets you pull off a super-shot or a super-block and a level three move is a game ending slamma jamma.
But none of that sounds too debilitating, right? Well, it's more the presentation of the super-move that destroys the experience. Activating any super-move automatically starts a six to seven second cutscene. That's right, a cutscene that cannot be skipped comes in and completely disrupts the flow of the gameplay. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if you could quickly bypass it or if it wasn't presented with identical camera angles each and every time. Then there's the fact that the animations that are activated simply aren't cool. Soaring thirty feet in the air and pulling off acrobatic moves before stuffing the ball would have been preferable to seeing your player kick the ball around with his feet and then shooting it like a seal would at Sea World. Oh, and when the ball goes through the basket when using a super-move the net doesn't react at all which makes it feel amazingly artificial.
The rest of the core gameplay from past Ballers games is still intact and plays just as you remember. Three-pointers were said to be a little tougher this time around but I had no problem bringing the rain once I got my shooting attribute up to a respectable level. The animations seemed a little too rigid in all aspects of Chosen One. Whether it's performing a simple flick of the right stick or doing a bona fide Act a Fool move, it didn't feel like the fluidity had progressed from the Xbox versions. Breaking out of an animation is another thing that Chosen One lacks. There were moments when I felt a little out of control of my player when using the right stick alone.
Another failing of the solo action is the artificial intelligence. Here's how the bulk of my games went. Check the ball, perform full combo, dunk the ball, get level one super-move. Check the ball, perform super-steal, perform full combo, dunk the ball, get level one super-move. Repeat until victory. There are different win conditions that force you to change your strategy bit, but the AI is just as stupid regardless of the rules.
So by this point you should have realized that the single-player aspect of Chosen One isn't the main draw. It's more a means to the end of getting your custom player to a level where he can compete effectively online or against your buddies locally. That's where the real fun of Ballers has always been and it's no different here. You can now hook up four players on one system and participate in a two-on-two full court game. That's when the smack talk can really get going and when Ballers is at its best. Of course you can also take the game online, but that's only for the standard one-on-one games. Still fun, but not quite the same as linking with three other friends and letting the good times roll.
Visually NBA Ballers: Chosen is a mixed bag of sorts. The extravagant environments look good and the zany introductions, while completely ridiculous, are kinda cool nonetheless (though the video quality is poor). The real problem with the look of the game is the aforementioned rigid animations which simply don't pack the wow factor that you'd like from a title like this. The player models look solid, if not a bit misshapen here and there. It's always obvious if you're playing Shaq or Dwight Howard, but some details are just slightly off.
The audio portion follows suit with a soundtrack that is serviceable, but features nothing that you'll catch yourself singing after the fact. On the court the rim rattles with authenticity and the commentary does its job, but like the rest of the package there's nothing memorable about it.
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