NBA Baller Beats preview
by Ozzie Mejia, shacknews.com, Aug 23, 2012 10:00AM PDT
After some clunky Kinect experiences, I approached NBA Baller Beats with a sense of lowered expectations. I've seen a number of Kinect games falter because of control issues and I didn't feel confident about adding an extra peripheral to the equation. However, Majesco Entertainment and HB Studios washed away any doubts I had after I went hands-on with the game for the first time. On top of being a fun rhythm game and a sound teacher of fundamental dribbling skills, NBA Baller Beats is one of the most responsive Kinect titles I've seen to date.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, NBA Baller Beats is a rhythm game played solely by dribbling a basketball. Players can select from three varying difficulty levels (Rookie, Pro, and Baller) and from 30 licensed tracks that include songs from Queen, Kanye West, and DJ Tiesto. The object is to dribble to the beat of the song in order to follow along with a highway of basketball-shaped notes, while performing different ball handling skills in order to increase your multiplier.
It was an interesting concept, but right off the bat, I had to ask the Majesco reps about playing NBA Baller Beats on different surfaces. After all, basketball is meant for the hard court and my home office is fully carpeted. The reps have addressed this concern, noting that the game has been tested atop multiple surfaces and that any ball (as long as it's not black) can be detected by the Kinect camera. Anyone that does have a hard floor, however, can take advantage of the officially-licensed NBA game ball replica from Spalding that comes packaged with the game at no extra charge.
With that issue out of the way, I watched a demo of the Rookie setting on Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust" to familiarize myself with the control mechanics. They mostly consists of a couple of dribbles on a designated hand before performing crossovers to switch to the other hand or pump fakes and side pass motions. The Kinect camera had no issue picking any of these motions up, a pleasant surprise given the peripheral's notorious history of not reading certain gestures.
After sitting on the bench, I grabbed hold of the rock for The Gorillaz' "Plastic Beach." Given that it's been years since I picked up a basketball, I relied on my sense of rhythm to carry me through the song. My ball handling skills were uglier than an Andrew Bynum three-pointer, but I was able to maintain a good sense of rhythm and finish with a decent score. To help illustrate what aspects of my game needed work, the Kinect camera takes several pictures over the course of the song and shows them off once it's over. Players can post these pictures to Facebook or Twitter, if they so desire.
Finally, a round of Versus mode was in order, so I went mano-a-mano with Shacknews Daily host and baller Ryan Calavano. Versus mode sees up to eight players take turns playing through a portion of a song with the winner finishing with the highest score. Playing through LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem," it was interesting to note that for all of Ryan's skills, he struggled with the rhythm aspect of the game. Meanwhile, I flubbed around with the ball, but still managed to dribble to the beat and perform the moves indicated. At the end of the song, I had crushed Ryan, which illustrated an interesting contrast between an experienced basketball player and myself, an experienced rhythm game player.
That isn't to say that NBA Baller Beats has nothing to offer a skilled veteran. The game's Baller difficulty (played to DJ Tiesto's "C'Mon") featured numerous chains of basketball moves, all of which had to be performed to Tiesto's sick beats. The moves were also more advanced, featuring such maneuvers as a between-the-legs dribble and a behind-the-back dribble that Kinect had no trouble reading.
If there is one drawback to the game, it is that you need a good amount of space to play. Play in cramped quarters and one bad bounce of that Spalding basketball could have you in the market for a new flat-screen TV.
NBA Baller Beats has the potential to teach some great ball-handling skills. Through several rounds of practice, players learn to perform crossover dribbles and pump fakes on rhythm. Also, since players are forced to look ahead at the screen for notes and instructions at all times, they learn to take the important skill of always looking straight ahead to the basketball court. Anyone looking to kick the bad habit of looking down as they dribble may want to look into this game. On top of that, it's a fun and intense cardio workout for anyone looking to refine their skills before playing pickup at the local park.
NBA Baller Beats will be available on Xbox 360 on September 11.