Memory Stick Duo – 672 KB
Wi-Fi Compatible (Ad Hoc/Infrastructure)
I will admit that I do enjoy my sports games when playing videogames. When Sony made the announcement that they were entering the portable gaming business with their PSP I had no idea that it would be flooded with sports titles. Everything from Golf to Soccer has made it way to this powerful little machine. Well, 989 Studios (now called 989 Sports) has seemed to make quite a splash with their re-entry into the gaming market, and they have taken aim squarely at the PSP. Their first basketball title for Sony’s new portable, simply titled NBA, is pretty good looking game and demonstrates how early the PSP is into it’s long life cycle.
I remember the first time I opened my PSP and wowed at the size of the screen. It was my hope that the size of it would influence how great games would look when powered up. Well, NBA is a bit of a hit and miss in this area. The colors are extremely bright and vibrant and I attribute this to the quality of the LCD screen. That being said there is no doubt that the screen is big, but people have to remember that this is still a portable game machine, so some of the detail was hard to see. For those ‘bucketheads’ out there, the most detail seen in any single player is during a incredible move or play. During this time the game cuts and zooms in on the specific players face, framing it in a collector card action shot and this is where the detail is seen. In terms of the animations, players seem to move about the court pretty smoothly and the dunk and layups look pretty good. I guess my only complaint is that there could have been more variety in these, but alas what is there is good enough for me. When I look at the whole visual experience I cannot get the thought out of my head that this definitely looks like a 989 Sports game. It is good but I am sure it could have been so much better.
The sound that is emitted from the PSP is a mixed bag and I attribute this to the very small speakers that are built into the machine. It is my belief that they had to save some money somewhere and the speakers was part of this solution. Don’t get me wrong, they sound ok, but this machine really excels with the headphones on.
In terms of NBA, the sounds found in this game get the job done. The crowd seems to be generic but they are there, applause and all. As for the sounds of the bouncing ball and squeaky sneakers, well it may have just been me, but they were not as prevalent as could be. On the flip side it could have been the stadium music that drowned them out, but regardless a basketball game is supposed to have the sound of squeaky sneakers as part of its trademark, but it just didn’t seem to be there. The rest of the package, such as the swish of the net or bounce off of the rim, it is all there. What was evidently missing though was no play-by-play calling. The reason for this I can only assume was to minimize the strain of constantly reading the UMD therefore saving the battery life.
I will be honest with you; basketball has never been my at the top of my list when considering a sports videogame. Hey, I am from Canada so my main stay is Hockey and Football (I also enjoy Soccer), but my editor made sure to assign me a review that would challenge my skills, and challenge them it did.
Like many of Sony’s titles for the PSP, this game has many styles of play to choose from. There is quick play, online, various gaming modes (practice, exhibition, season and playoffs) and mini-games, all which are selectable from the options. Season mode has three lengths of seasons to choose from: 29, 58 or 82 games. The playoffs are also vary in length and can be adjusted to meet one’s own liking from asingle elimination to a ‘best of’ series. The mini-games are short diversions which challenge various skills that the player will need to control this game. Extended play time with the mini-games really helps one hone their skills (e.g. shooting) to remain competitive against the computer. All in all the various modes and play styles are quite well implemented, but I have to point out that they are also expected in any sports game in today’s market.
I am sure many people are wondering how the PSP’s wi-fi mode worked. Well, I have good and bad news to report. First the good news, playing the head to head mode (Ad Hoc) was extremely easy and hiccup free. There seemed to be no strain on the PSP’s hardware and the games were fun, albeit I realized I need lots of practice. The bad news, I didn’t test the online mode (Infrastructure) as I don’t have a wireless router to use. If I do get the chance to hook up across that great network known as the internet I will let you know how it went, but until then I can only leave you with the head to head mode.
Now that I have taken to the time to explain the gaming modes, I need to answer the burning question: How does it control? Well, this is where I was a little disappointed. What limited experience I have with basketball gaming, shooting usually is a game of skill in terms of watching your on-screen player and releasing that shot as your player hits the top of his shot cycle. Well, in NBA this is not the case as 989 Sports tried something a little different. You have to tap the circle button to begin your shot, after this tap you need to tap it again to release it. The first tap causes the ball handler to jump up in the air. As this happens a colored halo around the ball will appear and it will change color to give you a cue as to when you should press the button again to release the shot. There are three colors that will let you know how to shootP: green means it has the best change to hit the hoop, yellow is a maybe and red is pretty much a missed shot. Now this sounds simple you say...well, it isn’t as it is this writer’s opinion that a hold and release of one button is so much more intuitive. Trust me, once you find yourself in the middle of a heated game the whole two tap idea becomes somewhat of a hindrance than an innovation. However, I am sure there are people out there that will master it as it will become second nature for them.
Being a first effort at basketball on the PSP, I did assume there would be issues had with the game, but one area I did not expect that many issues to arise was the overall AI. The PSP has been touted to be almost on par with the PS2 in terms of processing power. Well, if this is the case, I have to ask what happened to the AI in this game? You will find that players will step out of bounds on a regular basis and the coverage of opposing players will all of a sudden become non-existant. I admit that I am not a basketball expert, but isn’t part of defence staying on your man or in your zone? Coverage could have been much better, by both my team and the computer controlled opponent. Regardless, I still did have fun, but I get a sneaking suspicion that hardcore NBA fans/gamers may get turned off by these AI issues.
Finally, for those strategists out there, NBA allows for access to a playbook by tapping on the d-pad. I found that I did not understand much about them as I mentioned before I am not a big basketball fan. However, those that know the game will most likely have a much better understanding of them than I do. There are plays both on defence and on offence. But again I have to reiterate the problems with the AI. Player will find that the problems with it will influence play calling due to the lack of ‘smartness’ that is seen during various times throughout the game.
Not being a die hard basketball fan let me play this game with an open mind. That being said, I couldn’t help but notice that there were glaring issues with AI that made this game a little ‘wonky’ at times. However, the graphics were a pleasing sight and helped this reviewer enjoy the game a little more. That being said, I believe that diehard basketball fans may not be as easily pleased as this hockey loving reviewer. Regardless 989 Sports NBA is a good start to the sports era on the PSP and it can only get better from here.