Basketball gaming falls into one of two camps: The one of faithful simulation style play to college or professional leagues, and arcade style, over the top antics. While the former often mix accurate character modeling and traditional league based features like seasonal standings and matches, the latter typically focuses upon larger than life trick moves coupled with explosive fireworks or other sensational effects. Well, EA’s managed to merge the best features of both game types for their latest installment of the popular NBA Street series. Lace up your favorite high tops and practice your crossover, because we’re taking to the court in NBA Street V3.
The basics of Street V3 really haven’t changed much from the first title in the franchise. Players still take on teams in a fast paced three on three game. With gameplay more derivative of the Harlem Globetrotters than the NBA, players bust insane ankle-breaking moves to confuse and fake out opponents on their way to the hoop. Combining these steps or additional tricks can help build up your Gamebreaker Meter, which can be used to trigger a potentially tide turning shot or slam, adding multiple points to your side while taking away some from the other squad.
A number of tweaks have been made to accelerate the pace of the game, making matches a much harder fought battle on the hardcourt. First of all, the number of tricks have been dramatically increased from before, making the on-court embarrassment of friends and computer players alike even greater. Thanks to the newly dubbed “trick stick,” (a.k.a. the right analog stick, or C stick for Gamecube owners) players can break out a trick by slapping the stick in any one of eight directions. When combined with any one or a mix of turbo buttons, you can trigger even more complex fakes or jukes to the basket. At the highest level, you can pull off jaw-dropping moves, but there’s one caveat to this: You have to have a player with ball handling skills, or else you risk coughing up the ball all the time. For instance, Shaquille O’Neal isn’t nearly as good at handling the ball as Allen Iverson is, so you shouldn’t try to bounce the ball behind his back. Vets of the other two Street games will also remember moves like passing the ball off rival’s heads or feet as well as bounce passing the ball off the backboard, which make a definite return in V3.
Gamebreakers have been augmented as well. First of all, you no longer have the ability to cancel out a rival team’s Gamebreaker. Sorry! If that’s a problem, play some defense and stop them from getting one in the first place…You also no longer have the option of stockpiling Gamebreakers to create unblockable slams or shots. Instead, your Gamebreaker meter lasts much longer, allowing you to pick the best time to trigger the momentum swinging move. You have the option of pulling up and taking a shot from long range for 2 points, although there is a risk of the shot being blocked. You can also drive the lane and go for a slam. However, you’re not limited once you takeoff from the ground. While airborne, you can attempt to pull off additional tricks and even pass the ball back to your teammates, who will jump towards the basket as well for potential alley-oops. Each pass gives you extra time to pull off more tricks, which can boost the score of the dunk up to a maximum of four points. Since each successful Gamebreaker subtracts a point from the opposing team, this means a possible swing of 5 points, which can literally distance any chance of a comeback in a tight game. There’s a small danger to pulling off too many mid-air moves though; if you don’t spend a little time focusing on completing the dunk, you’ll fall flat on your butt and lose the Gamebreaker (as well as any trick points you accumulated).
You have the option to practice your moves and your shot timing in the practice mode, or even engage a quick pickup game with any one of the 30 NBA squads, NBA Legends or Street teams. You also have the chance to take on a group of players in a dunk contest. Reminiscent of NBA Live 2005’s contest, yet infinitely easier, you use the trick stick and turbo buttons in concert to land the most impressive dunk you can in front of three judges. You can choose to pass the ball to yourself off the backboard, kick the rock up in the air and catch it in flight, or even leap over objects before you hit the basket. We’re talking about Port-a-Pottys, basketball racks and trophies to elevate over…
The meat of V3s gameplay is the Street Challenge, where you create a character and attempt to create your own basketball legend on renowned courts around the country. Not only will you enter the create a character mode, picking and choosing from a wide variety of body types, facial structures and the like, but you’ll also create a home court that you’ll build from the asphalt up. You also pick a starting squad that you’ll challenge other teams on their courts over the course of 10 weeks. You’ll start off slow, and you won’t be able to take on every team or walk onto every court in the land, because you’re an unknown baller. You’ll have to make a name for yourself by defeating some squads in a couple of matches before you can call the shots on any one of the courts around the nation. Some of these games will be standard 3-on-3 street matches, although there are some games with other stipulations, such as no Gamebreakers or trick points in the match, or scores coming only from dunks or three pointers. Winning will ensure an increase in your rep, as well as a number of points that you can use to boost your character’s skills, buy new gear from the Reebok store or renovate your home court.
Success also allows you the option to pick a rival player from the opposing team to join your squad. This gives you a chance to build up your crew to formidably take on some of the pro teams. What’s more, a successful record will gain you invites to join NBA Street Team Leagues, newer challenges, or even find players offering to join your team for free. However, you can only field a group of five players, so inevitably you’ll have to cut a player. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, as this often annoys the released baller. In fact, it’s a good way to gain rivals, who’ll regularly challenge you through the 10 weeks. You won’t want to duck these dares, because you’ll lose respect from your team and ultimately the rest of the ballers on the street. It’s a balance of picking events, handling the respect of players on your team and the street, and it’s one of the best additions to the series to date: in effect, you're a street GM, and it easily elevates the Street franchise to a new level.
Visually, this is one of the sharpest Street titles to date, with accurate character models for NBA stars, although there are a number of players who are either tweaked physically to look a bit more cut or larger than they actually are. Facially, however, the models are rather solid, and it’s easy to pick out specific players. Character animations are incredibly slick, especially when you chain tricks together. You will, however, notice some animation jumps and skips based on certain commands. However, the true graphical stars of the game are the courts. Full of incredible light blooms, light shading (particularly ones that match the flavor of the court when you acquire a Gamebreaker) and detailed court ambience, the courts easily steal the show when you’re playing the game.
Now, other reviews have commented on issues with sound, particularly as far as DJ Bobbito is concerned. Personally, I didn’t mind him, but I also didn’t really find myself paying too much attention to him, blocking out much of what he was saying in favor of gameplay. What I did notice is that the number and kinds of lines he uses in V3 are greatly increased, and the amount of repetition is significantly decreased in each match. The music ranges from new Beastie Boys cuts to Old School De La Soul and even MC Lyte and House of Pain. It’s one of those titles where even if you hate the music, you’ll probably find at least one song you can listen to. I would've liked a few more tracks, but that's just a personal preference.
I've already mentioned the exceptional Street Challenge mode, which can easily take more than forty hours to complete (and that's if you don't spend time fully tweaking every aspect of your court and character). It also fosters a ton of replayability – you'll always wonder what player you could've picked if you chose the long range shootout instead of the dunk contest, or how you might've been better off with a different kind of squad. V3 also features a solid online component for Xbox and PS2 owners to meet up and challenge other players. But it's much better than other online sports titles because you can create a separate "online baller" from your offline persona, complete with their own online home court, that you can challenge other players with. What's more, you can acquire points to customize that character and their court just as you would in the standard street challenge mode, and check out their ranking against other world ranked players with accurate win/loss stat tracking handled by EA's servers.
While Gamecube owners don't have the option to take advantage of this feature, they do have the choice of playing with the Nintendo All-Stars: Mario, Luigi and Peach are playable ballers in the game, adding a specific Gamecube flair to the Street series. The trademark characters even have their own court replete with standard Super Mario touches to break ankles on. While it may seem a little strange to see everyone's favorite plumber dunking on an NBA star, it doesn't feel completely out of place with the slick, gravity defying moves of the rest of the game. This even extends to the "hidden" Beastie Boys squad – watching Ad-Rock, MCA or Mike D schooling an NBA player seems a bit odd, but believable in context.
However, one of the things that doesn't seem particularly fair in V3 is the unbalanced attention towards speedier guards and forwards over larger centers or power positions. Many of the big fellas, like Shaq, Yao or other larger men might seem like a virtual lock to reject shots. Typically you'd be right, with the exception that 1) their ball handling skills suck and 2) they're usually much slower than the other players, so you can run rings past them. What's more, if you pump fake or even shoot before they can get set, there's no way to block the shot. This usually results in abandoning these lanky players in favor of perimeter players with dunking and ball skills, which almost begs the question as to why their included in the first place.
Speaking of handling, V3 also seems to have been particularly designed for PS2 controllers. Thanks to the four shoulder buttons, it's easier to trigger turbo for tricks or as boosts of speed than on the Xbox or Gamecube, which have fewer buttons mapped for it. In fact, you might notice that attempting to trigger more complicated moves on these two consoles are a bit harder to pull off because the controller's sensitivity isn't as slick as it is on the PS2.
These minor issues aside, NBA Street V3 is easily one of the best sports titles that have come along recently. The expansive and highly replayable Street Challenge mode can absorb gamers for months, and the level of customization is truly massive. Couple this with a redesigned, expansive trick and Gamebreaker system and you have a classic game that raises the bar of sports gaming. If you're a basketball fan, you owe it to yourself to get this game.