When NBA Street came out in 2001, it turned the game of basketball upside down in ways that no one had expected. Sure, action-sports titles had come out before (anyone remember NBA Jam?), and so had “urban” basketball games, but Street seemed to trump all of them by infusing the genre with eye-catching trick moves, solid sound (love him or hate him, you will acknowledge Joe The Show), and a dose of street attitude. Plus, the 3-on-3 gameplay, coupled with a solid control scheme, really appealed to gamers. Now, everyone knows that all sports evolve over time, based on new athletes, plays, etc. Interestingly enough, for the sequel, EA Sports Big reached back in time, giving NBA Street 2 a dose of funk so deep you’d swear George Clinton designed the game.
Street 2 takes the circuit and goal based modes and revamps them completely, expanding their gameplay. To just jump into the game, there’s a pickup mode, which will let you choose any NBA team, Street All Star team or Old School Team (more on these later). However, you’re no longer restrained to playing the game to 21. With the new My Rules setting, a match can be established with completely different parameters, such as only scoring on dunks, winning by achieving gamebreakers, or hitting a set number of trick points. If you feel generous, or you want an extra challenge, you can spot the other team a couple of points and see how good you are at pulling off a comeback.
Aside from that, there’s the NBA challenge, which pits you against teams in specific regions, culminating with a final match against a team of NBA legends who played in that particular area. The create-a-player still exists, but in Street 2 it’s evolved into the new Be-A-Legend mode. Here, you take a created character, match them up with a few other ballers, and strike out to make a name for yourself and your skills. Starting in New York and hopping to towns like Philly and Seattle, you’ll step on some of the most well known street courts, taking on all comers in a number of challenges. Successfully beating teams gives you the option to add to your squad from the loser’s team. Finally, if you want to brush up on your skills, there’s Street School, which will teach you everything you need to know about breaking fools off.
Even if you’ve perfected your Double Cross, your crossover is Off The Chain and your slams are always Dunkalicious, you’ll want to spend a little extra time under Stretch’s tutelage, because there are some completely new moves that put some of the old ones to shame. Taking a page from the Harlem Globetrotters, players can fake out opponents by pulling a Back To Papa, a bounce pass to you off the backboard. For an insult to someone’s pride, you can hit an Off Tha Heezay, a slick maneuver where you bounce the ball off a defender’s head. If you’d rather make the play than make an assist, you can dish the ball to another player, and, with a nice bit of analog stick control, alley-oop to yourself.
Of course, performing all these tricks powers up your trick meter, allowing you to pull off a Gamebreaker, a specialized trick shot that increases your score while taking points away from your opponents. More improved than the original, Street 2’s Gamebreakers grants players more strategy in how they want to beat teams. If the other team is starting to gain momentum, you can squash that by sacrificing your gamebreaker, clearing both sides trick meters. Or you can refill the gauge a second time, triggering an unblockable shot or slam. These superpowered moves can net you up to six points, which can break the back of any challenging squad. Gamebreakers, trick moves, and winning games will net players reward points that can be used to unlock courts, jerseys, or development points for created characters, among other secrets.
Graphically, Street 2 comes across much slicker than its predecessor, with a cleaner, stylized attention to details that matches the throwback flavor of the title. From the title screens to the trick move descriptions, the curved, 70s-influenced words give an old school feel to the title. It’s obvious that the designers are great fans of the sport. The character models of each player have been smoothed out, eliminating many of the hard edges from the previous title. NBA ballers now look much more like their real-life counterparts, with more facial animation that can be seen, especially during close ups or replays. This carries over to the legends and their trademark moves, like Daryl Dawkins’ trademarked “Chocolate Thunder” dunk, which looks like the Man from Planet Lovetron never retired from the game. Animation of trick moves is incredibly tight, and infused with a ton of attitude. From the quickest ankle-breaking maneuver to showing off with knee dribbles to celebratory dances, every play you make seems feels like it could be a candidate for SportsCenter’s highlight reel. Courts and backgrounds are also more detailed than before, with more action in the background, like fans talking on cell phones and cars passing by on the street. There isn’t a single feature that hasn’t been improved on in some way. In fact, the only glitch that you might run into is a problem with the camera tracking in-game action. The camera does a decent job of following what’s happening on the court, with close-ups for most ball movement expanding to wider shots for alley-oops, but there are some moments when the camera will adjust mistakenly, which can sometimes fake a player out, committing a bad pass. It can also lose other players as the ball races from one side of the court to the other.
Sound has definitely been improved in Street 2, primarily in the voice over arena, the most noticeable of which is Bobbito Garcia, a DJ from New York who replaces Joe “the Show.” For those of you who are concerned, Bobbito is much better than Joe for multiple reasons: 1) Bobbito is much more comfortable with hip hop slang than Joe ever was, proving that there was no future in Joe’s frontin’. 2) Bobbito will make more comments about action in the game than Joe ever did, making him seem like much more of an announcer/commentator than Joe did. 3) With a little Nuyorican flava and a couple out of left field phrases, Bobbito provides that feeling of playing street ball with a sucka that knows when to talk smack and when to shut the hell up. Nice move getting this guy, EA! Reaching into the classic hip-hop arena to spice up the soundtrack, classics from artists like Black Sheep and Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth mesh nicely with Nelly and Just Blaze, among others, to provide a thumping backdrop for the game. There are even samples and effects that are attached to tricks, like Off Tha Heezay and Back 2 Papa that adds a very nice touch. Unfortunately, just like Vendetta, all the songs during play are instrumental versions. You’d hope that, given the number of options that Street 2 gives you, they’d provide you the chance to specify lyrics or instrumental versions of songs. You’d also think that there’d be more old school songs to match the old school vibe the game gives off.
Street 2 is such a well-made game that it’s hard to find many flaws within it. In fact, there are only two things that come to mind that slightly hamper gameplay. One of them is the radical difference in control between each version. Granted, each one is going to be different than the other because of the unique nature of each system’s controller, but the PS2’s control scheme is definitely better than that of the Gamecube’s and the Xbox, both of which have one less control button for the game and take some time to adjust and get used to. The only other thing is that some of the play can be circuitous, which downplays some of the secrets that you can unlock in the game. Why use the reward points on courses, jerseys or players when you can receive all of them by going through every mode? There’s nothing that’s exclusively hidden to players that they’ll need to store points up for, which basically turns the secrets into time release features of the title.
Even with some of the problems that I’ve raised, NBA Street 2 is a huge leap forward in the evolution of street basketball. It has numerous options, solid control, and engaging gameplay that will appease hardcore fans and casual ballers alike. Even better, it’s incredibly easy to pick up and learn how to play, meaning that just about anyone can grab a controller and throw up a challenge to the resident king of the courts. So lace up your sneakers, grab your squad and get ready to throw down, because if you play games, you should slam this title into your system as soon as you can.