|Developer: EA Canada||Publisher: Electronic Arts|
|Release Date: February 19, 2007||Also On: PS3 & Xbox 360|
Every generation leap forces developers to make some big decisions when it comes to their sequels. The most important is whether or not to re-use the current generation's engine and port it to the next-gen, only reuse bits and pieces or, in some cases, start from the ground up like the previous-gen version never existed. While all of these choices have their pro's and con's the best in the long run is almost always starting from scratch. The downside to this method is, of course, that the first offering on the new systems will be sub-par.
What does this have to do with NBA Street Homecourt? This is one of the few examples that I can think of that a development team started completely from scratch and has a solid base to build on for future titles but also doesn't waste your money and disappoint. Back in 2002 NBA Street brought that NBA Jam arcade feel back to the front of everyone's minds and inspired some imitators. While some of the imitators were legitimately good games (NBA Ballers and NBA Jam) and some were not (And1 Streetball) none even came close to matching what NBA Street did. Bringing over-the-top gameplay that was immediately fun and deceptively deep in the long run.
Enough reminiscing, what's new with Homecourt, you ask? Like I said, everything. From the graphics and animation to the gameplay, everything has been built from the ground up with nothing ported over from the PS2/Xbox generation. This allowed the developers to start from scratch and not have to deal with any of the shortcomings of the previous titles. The ball now has independent physics which allows for all new dribbling animations (sounds boring, it's not).
The X/Square button (Xbox and PlayStation 2 respectively) switches the ball from one hand to the other. If it's tapped it will be a normal dribble. If pushed, the ball carrier will slightly palm the ball and bring it higher off the ground before bounding again. Finally, if the button is held the animation will be much more extravagant. Either of the two bumpers can be used to modify the dribbling. One dribbles between the legs and the other behind the back. When watching a player proficient at the dribbling system dribble it can be amazing looking. The animation is silky smooth and flows just like it would in real life. The dribbling isn't the only thing that shares this tap, push, hold system Most importantly, and most fun, is the dunking.
EA has simplified things a bit with the dunking. It works exactly the same as the dribbling system. Tap, push, hold with the bumpers as modifiers. Tapping yields a layup, pushing delivers a full on dunk and holding pays off with the absolutely brilliant double dunk. Unless you hold too long, that is. If the dunk button is held even a split second after the players hand hits the rim it'll bounce off and you'll look like a showboat that can't even do it right. The risk/reward system never gets old. Go for the one point dunk or go for the two pointer and risk bricking it and looking completely ridiculous? It's up to you. It's all great fun and it never gets old.
After playing the game for a few minutes I had figured I had mastered the concepts of it. Pretty boring to master a game in three minutes, right? Luckily the development team created master player types. How these work there are stars in certain areas. Shooting, Dunking, Power, Dribbling, etc... These players aren't just good at these types they're perfect. Master shooters don't miss within a reasonable distance (which is quite far), Master stealers steal MUCH easier than even great players. It adds an interesting rock-paper-scissors match to every contest. You could easily go with three Master dunkers but then you'll have no big man or someone that can be of any real use on defense. In my opinion, if the master players hadn't been present the game would have absolutely no lasting appeal. Hats off to EA for adding depth so that the hardcore players have something to play after the initial rush of excitement.
The visuals are breathtaking. The game has extremely high resolution textures and having less players on screen allows higher polygon counts. For the first time in the series the environments are fully 3D instead of the camera sitting behind that fourth wall the whole time. The players look amazing, about on par with the boxers from Fight Night but with six on-screen at one time. I also can't say enough about the environments. My jaw nearly hit the floor when we were being shown the Venice Beach courts. Everything from vending machines to stains on the asphalt were spot on. As for framerate, try sixty frames per second running at 720p. In other words it's silky smooth.
After playing a near final version of the game I can attest to the fact that it's going to be a hit. Being able to pick up and play a game this deep and compete against players that have been playing for some time isn't easy to accomplish. Gorgeous visuals, fun, rewarding gameplay and an awesome soundtrack will hopefully lead to an awesome game.