• As a kid I always loved arcade games. Going to the seaside as a child doesn’t conjure up images of sandcastles and ice-cream in my mind, more images of persuading my Dad to part with £5 so I could go on a slot-machine spending frenzy. Kick & Run, Hit The Ice, Final Blow, WrestleMania and NBA Jam were all firm favourites of mine (amongst many others).

    I’ve always been a lover of sports, both watching and playing, but there was something about these OTT sports games that captured my attention. In the case of NBA Jam it was the huge players leaping high into the air, catching the ball (which would be by now on fire) and slamming it into the basket in the most ridiculous way possible. I wanted real basketball to be like this. Inevitably both myself and videogames in general matured and these types of old-school arcade games became a thing of the past. Less and less people went to the arcades, let alone purchased the remakes or clones. However when NBA Street came out on the PS2 that all seemed to change. Suddenly here was a game with its roots firmly planted in early-90’s arcades and was incredibly playable to boot. It achieved critical (and to a certain degree commercial) success and has gone on to become a popular and profitable series.

    NBA Ballers: Chosen One

    Following hot on the heels of NBA Street came NBA Ballers; a one-on-one take of the sport that kept the superhuman tricks and OTT presentation but wrapped it up in a much more concise package, similar in some ways to NBA Jam. It didn’t achieve the same success as NBA Street, both in critical and commercial terms, but it was still a fun albeit limited take on the sport.

    What was fun four years ago though doesn’t necessarily equal fun today. Consoles have moved on to much more powerful levels and the extreme-sports take on conventional sports has been done to death. As a result, these arcade-style sports titles need to push the genre further or risk being discarded as nothing more than polished updates of age-old arcade games that lack the required depth to warrant full priced releases. Unfortunately for NBA Ballers: Chosen One what it does add only seems to frustrate the player at every opportunity, and results in a game that plays worse than it’s four year old predecessor.

    Ballin’

    As is standard with all of these types of games, your first task is to create your player before being allowed to partake in the story mode. As is always the case whenever I’m presented with one of these create-a-character options, I dived in to create the most hideously yet camp looking character you could possibly imagine, with skills loaded up in two areas and completely neglecting all of the other ones. Due to the rather conservative options on offer, I ended up with someone relatively life-like and devoid of any real character.

    The story mode is divided into six episodes, each containing a number of games that you have to win in order to progress. Games are usually won by being the first to score 11 points, but later on you are presented with more varied rules, some of which work and some of which just prove to be frustrating and show up the limited AI. For instance some games can be won by being the first baller to score a three pointer. Unfortunately the AI opponents don’t appear to be told about these stipulations as they carry on with their relentless onslaught of dunks and close-range two pointers. Other games can only be won with the use of the somewhat broken Super dunk move, which immediately ends the game. So effectively your opponent can have an unassailable lead but you can still win the game, purely by performing enough tricks and scoring enough points to trigger one of these game-ending moves.

    It wouldn’t be so bad if the AI opponents used the Act-A-Fool or other special moves with any degree of proficiency, or even managed to counter more than one in ten of your attempts, but there inability to do anything consistently other than score close-range efforts provides very little challenge. The atributes system is also questionable, taking the upgrades out of the hands of the player and instead improving attributes according to how you played the game. Unfortunately, while this may sound logical on paper, it’s implemented poorly and some strange increases in stats occur, sometimes totally at odds with the performance you’ve just put in.

    Balls up

    Multiplayer obviously removes a lot of the AI’s shortcomings and games become much tighter and much more enjoyable, especially with three other players competing in a full-court two- on-two game. However the constant stop-starting of Act-A-Fool button-pressing mini-games and annoying overly long cutscenes continually break up the flow of the game. Bizarrely the online mode removes the option of two-on-two fullcourt games and only offers one-on-one action, limiting the appeal.

    Virtually everything about NBA Ballers: Chosen One is archaic in design. From the stiff animations, to the disappointing cutscenes, to the mechanical controls that feel like a very old FIFA game pretending to offer full analogue control and on to the actual gameplay that feels like a very early PS2 or XBOX launch title, everything is mediocre and as far away from ‘next-gen’ gaming as you would expect. NBA Ballers needed an overhaul in order to compete in today’s market, but virtually everything that has been added has only been to the detriment of the game. Where’s the improved AI, full analogue control and five-on-five action? Where’s the balanced gameplay? Where’s the over-the-top presentation to match the setting?

    NBA Ballers: Chosen One is so far behind other basketball games already available on Xbox 360 (and even many of those released on the last-gen consoles). We’re not saying it’s disastrous, but it is so lacklustre, so tepid, so unrefined and unbalanced that it can not be recommended as anything other than a sub £10 purchase. If this were a XBOX Live download, available for around £10, we would have been a little more forgiving of the games shortfalls. As a full price game, we just can’t let them slide.

    Score: 4/10

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