More mini-game collection that B-ball title, NBA 07 slaps together some respectable game.
Sony’s first party NBA franchise is one of three basketball series that makes its annual appearance, but the product being released to the Playstation Portable is drastically different than that of the PS2. On the console, players will be able to live the life of an NBA superstar as they rise from nobody and make their mark on the league. On the PSP, however, Sony has given us a slew of mini-games to choose from to act as a diversion for a bland on-court experience.
Many of the same modes from last year make their expected return to the PSP handheld, including exhibition mode and an extensive season mode. Players can take control of their favorite teams for the full 82-game schedule, or choose to play half or quarter of that. The overall depth of the season mode is not as much as what you would find in games like Madden for instance, but all the obvious roster options like trades and free-agent signings are available. Anyone who is bored by playing the whole season can jump directly into a playoff tournament mode instead.
Action on the court is practically unchanged from last year’s outing, meaning that all the flaws from before are making their return. Trying to keep the opposing team from scoring is nearly impossible. Taking a guard to defend a guard usually results in the ball going inside to the center or power forward for an easy two points. If you take the big man on the inside, the ball finds its way to flanking guard for an open three pointer. Trying to play some sort of zone defense doesn’t help either because it usually leaves a huge lane for a slam dunk.
So when the opposing team does miss a shot and you get a rebound, things on the offensive side of the ball are only a little better. The obligatory one-button passing works pretty well for players that are passing into a play, but the directional passing with the X button is borderline terrible. I can’t tell you how many times I would try to dump the ball inside to Shaq-daddy only to have the ball go to another team mate instead. Turnovers were a huge problem during my review time because of the weak controls. Simple plays like a pick or a low-post can be called on the D-pad, but more complicated plays are impossible for the weak A.I. If the screening player had any intelligence, they would automatically make a break for the rim instead of standing there and watching you dribble against two defenders. It may be asking too much, but it’s high time that the computer actually give you a hand on either side of the ball instead of being a liability.
Instead of simply packaging an old game with a new roster and selling it for full-price, SCEA San Diego has gone to some length to add tons of extra content. One of the new modes allows players to challenge a friend or the computer to a pickup game. Ten players are selected from the entire NBA pool and players can choose their teams just as they would if they showed up at the local basketball court. After choosing your lineup, feel free to place Shaq at point guard, Chauncey Billups at power forward, and Kobe Bryant at center. There are no fouls and no shot clock, just like on the playground.
Anyone that wants more structure than the pickup games but is bored to tears by the actual season mode will find solace in the excellent Conquest Mode. Who would have thought that a turn-based strategy game could be so well? After choosing a home city to call your own, players can then select a neighboring city to invade with their starting five and challenge the home squad to a street game. Instead of playing a game to a specific point total, each team has a life bar that is reduced whenever the opposition scores a basket. Three pointers obviously drain a little more than a two-pointer, but a team that is getting whooped can attempt four- and five-point shots to make up ground. There are also other special rules that sound crazy but work really well, like stunning an opposing player and reducing their speed by blocking their shot.
The charm behind Conquest Mode isn’t entirely found on the court. In fact, the compelling strategic choices that you make with each turn are what fuel the appeal of this mode. After expanding your first couple turns, assuming you have won your first couple games, you will have a much larger pool of players to choose from to build their starting squad. As you build your squad, so do the other dominating teams around the nation, so it’s almost a race to build up your squad to compete with the other all-star squads popping up all over the place. You better watch you back, though, as leaving your hometown open to invasion could spell doom if the game doesn’t go your way, erasing all the work you had done to that point and spelling a loss for your squad. Balancing the buffer against gobbling up pro players from weaker teams is great fun, but the main draw is assembling a power house squad full of marquee names and taking on the other coast in what eventually becomes an All-Star game.
Whether you dominate the nation in Conquest mode or play against your friends in pickup games, you can always move over to one of the many mini-games that are available to distract you from how hard it is to play defense. Skeeball, the old boardwalk favorite, makes an appearance here with a movable target for maximum points. Pop-a-Shot is a power-meter based game that is modeled after the mini-basketball game that you would find at the local Chucky Cheese’s or similar theme-based children’s restaurant/arcade. These, along with the surprisingly fun Pinball game, all offer tickets to unlock vintage jerseys and serve as a way to kill a couple minutes instead of locking yourself into a larger time commitment.
NBA 07 is a title that is driven by its different game modes instead of by extensive core gameplay. This game is not a great basketball game, but it gives players plenty of different ways to play and let’s you choose how you want to kill your downtime. The real winner in this whole package is easily the Conquest Mode, which comes out of nowhere to seamless blend strategy into a sports title with undeniable results. There is plenty more here to love than to hate, and for many of us, that’s enough.