Basketball makes it way back to the PSP.
Boy, how times change. I remember six months ago checking out the Sony PSP for the first time, just a few days before my 32nd birthday, and getting into a whole new thrill of portable gaming. However, I must admit that some of the sports games released by Sony left me a little less than thrilled. Gretzky NHL did little for me due to the lack of real-life hockey, and World Tour Soccer could've used a little more tightening. The biggest disappointment, however, was NBA, failing to come together under its flawed gameplay and its lackluster visuals. It couldn't buy a bucket, to coin a phrase.
But now, here we are, six months later, and NBA 06 has arrived for the PSP, promising many additional changes and a promise of a better game of hoops-on-the-go. And, for the most part, it delivers. It's not quite the slam dunk that many might be expecting, but, considering it's one of the few hoops games for the system, it's actually a step up in quality.
The first thing you'll notice is the improved gameplay. Like the previous game, you have a color-coding system that works in sync with your basketball shooting. Red means it doesn't have a chance in hell. Yellow means it's probable but not perfect. Green means it's all good, well, most of the time. The mechanics are a little tricky to get used to, but once you do, your shots will end up being "butta". The up-court, down-court action is also much improved, including passing that makes a difference. The only real flaw I ran into was with my dim-witted AI teammates who somehow let players practically walk up to the rim and get a lay-up or a slam dunk.
Another area where this game excels is its visuals. The actions runs at 60 frames per second and the game looks silky smooth, though player faces aren't too impressive. I also find it slightly annoying that certain players wear old jerseys. For example, if you've been recruited to Denver you shouldn't be wearing your old Sonics jersey. That's just asking for a fistfight. Past that, the details look fine, the animation is up to speed, and the game loads up with little trouble.
The basketball noises coming from the PSP speakers are pretty standard. The crowd cheers and boos sound like they normally would, the in-game announcer is all right but fails to really build any kind of personality, and the on-court noises are faithful to the theme, complete with the "thud" you make during a slam dunk. Nothing special here, but also nothing terrible either.
There's also a variety of modes to choose from. You can take on Exhibition Mode and get used to the controls, jump into Season Mode and make yourself a legend with the help of your agent and teammates, take on your favorite rivals in Playoffs Mode, or just goof off in Shoot Around and Free Throw Modes and test your skills. All of these aren't incredibly deep but do have a good structure to them and will keep you plenty busy. You can also challenge someone in two-player b-ball action as well as trade virtual Upper Deck cards with them.
The mode I had the most fun with, however, was the Mini-Games. I had all kinds of fun taking on Skills Challenge, Own the Court, and 3 Point Contest, either against the AI or against a buddy. But the new additions, Horse and Dodgeball, are a treat. Horse is just as it should be, with shot challenge from all around and plenty of opportunities to get ahead. Dodgeball lets you take a smack at fellow NBA players with a high-speed basketball.
What bugs me is this game isn't nearly as deep as the console version. There's no full-blown Story Mode and this is a slight disappointment, as it really could have made this title stand out. The fact it can't inter-connect with the PS2 edition is also a let-down.
However, improvement is improvement and NBA 06 is much improved and certainly worth a look. The fact that the game looks better is nice, and the gameplay's actually worth checking out once you get the hang of it. Next year, we should have a real monster on our hands. As is, it's still maturing, but its fangs are getting sharper.
What's Hot: Much imporved over the previous version.
What's Not: Still falls a little short.