Thrills and skills.
Baseball may be as American as apple pie and football might have unbridled testosterone appeal, but no sport can match basketball's combination of athletic prowess and cutting edge style. Basketball commercials are like MTV shorts, all hectic hip-hip cool, celebrating individual players as if they were top grossing box-office stars. Be like Mike? How about KG or Shaq or AI or Kobe?
But by and large, basketball video games haven't gotten the same kind of love. Though last year's batch of games helped establish basketball as a serious sports contender, it has a long history of playing second banana to gridiron giants like Madden.
EA Big changed all that with the original NBA Street, an action-packed roundball foray overflowing with wicked juke moves, monster dunking and serious style. After a long wait, NBA Street Vol. 2 thunders down the court like Magic leading the break, and the results are similar - an easy score.
If you didn't play the first game, then either you didn't own a console system or Kevin Duckworth sat on your head. The series takes where NBA Jam left off so many years ago, pitting three-on-three in a fast-paced game of arcade basketball, with heavy emphasis on combo moves and over the top jams. Vol. 2 is largely an upgraded version of that with more than a few new welcome twists along the way.
The most notable change is the revamped single-player modes. The Street School teaches you the basics along with the new features. Standard Pick-Up games let you play it Exhibition style and even gain reward points for winning. Taking that a step further is NBA Challenge, which puts you up against actual NBA teams and allows you to unlock a bevy of legendary NBA players. But the most compelling of the lot is the Be a Legend mode.
Be A Legend lets you build a baller using a fairly robust creator, which is different than the original. The past game let you tweak height and weight along the way, while now you pick from one of four pre-set sizes that cannot be altered. However, the bigger you are, the more Development points it will initially cost, so an XXL beefcake won't start off with as many skills as a 5'7" wimp. He'll just want more donuts.
You then start playing pick-up games on street courts around the country. As you progress, you'll gain more Development points to bolster your character's stats (Shooting, Rebounding, Handles, Power, Dunks, Steals, Blocks), unlock outfits and shoes and even purchase new moves. Yep - you can customize every single move this time, unlike the fixed move sets in NBA Street. Go ahead and map out the Fro Fake to a certain button combination. It's a great change that gives you much more control over your character's ability.
To make choosing moves easier, they even included funny little in-engine film reels of guys puling off the jukes. It's like shopping for skills. Very cool.
You opponents include local gym rats, actual NBA players and of course the game's own Bosses, such as the groovy cover boy Stretch or the grown-up version of last year's Bonafide. Beat a team and you can add one of the losers to your team of 5 (though you only play with three at any one time), so as you progress and beat better teams, your team in turn gets better. Reaching milestones and beating the bosses unlocks Boss signature moves as well as signature moves and/or throwback jerseys for the NBA Legends.
For an aging fart like me, the inclusion of such a wide range of classic NBA stars is really, really cool. Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Isaiah Thomas, Bob Cousy, Connie Hawkins, Magic Johnson, James Worthy...the list goes on. It's great seeing a game pay homage to some forgotten idols like the high-flying (and occasionally high on cocaine) David Thompson.
Be A Legend is a fantastic career mode and will take quite some time to complete. And at about halfway through, you'll gain one of the coolest things in any sports game to date - a Nickname based on how you play. One of my crazy trickmeister ballers earned the nickname Static (he's electric), while my dunking monster gained the name Runway. The announcer will even start calling your guy by his nickname during play. This is the kind of addition that gamers talk about but developers always fail to include. Well, not anymore.
Once you beat or grow tired of Be A Legend (which will take a long time either way), you can hop into NBA Challenge and unlock even more stuff, including Development points to use back in Be A Legend. You can play as any NBA team or even build a custom one (with or without your custom baller) as you plow through every team in the league, not to mention one Legends team per division.
Regardless of what mode you play, NBA Street Vol. 2 serves up rock solid gameplay and some terrific new additions. You can make kick passes, toss the ball of the backboard and even bounce it off your opponent's head. Tack on a slew of new tricks and dunks and you've got more ways to embarrass people than a full season of American Idol.
Things have changed a bit on the defensive end by way of trick counters, sort of the equivalent of a combo breaker in Killer Instinct. If you time it right you can steal the ball from an opponent in mid-juke, adding a layer of tension to what used to devolve into frantic swiping. Blocks are still a little easy to come by and the edge goes to taller, stronger players in general.
The Gamebreaker feature even got a facelift, now with a "Level 2" Gamebreaker option. Get the meter up once and you can 'pocket' your Gamebreaker; get it up again and you can pull off an unblockable super shot that subtracts even more from the other team's score. To combat this, you can wipe off an opponent's pocketed Gamebreaker by filling up your meter and squashing theirs. It's just more icing on the cake.
Though virtually identical, the three versions of NBA Street Vol. 2 differ when it comes to control. The PS2 is the native platform for the series and hence the most accessible, mapping out the trick moves to the four triggers. Due to their respective lack of four triggers, the Xbox and Gamecube versions are a little friskier. Both feature two different trick buttons, while the Xbox uses the left-stick click and the Gamecube uses the Z-button as a third turbo. Using new math, though, you'll find that every version features 5 buttons used to perform different tricks. The PS2 certainly wins out in terms of intuitiveness, but you're not really losing any moves with the other versions.
The other difference in the three is found in the graphics, but it's hardly worth mentioning. NBA Street Vol. 2 looks very good, with smooth framerates and solid animations, particularly when you consider the zaniness of some of the moves and dunks. The textures are fine and the players look passably like their real-world counterparts. As usual, the Xbox looks the sharpest, with the PS2 and Gamecube just a bit foggier. A few selectable camera angles give a good view of the action.
NBA Street Vol. 2 scores more points with its sound. A full complement of hip-hop leads the way, though regrettably you cannot customize your playlist in the Xbox version. New York DJ Cucumber Slice handles the announcing, which is surprisingly varied and fun. He can get annoying, but is that a surprise?
Rounding out this package is the Multiplayer, which supports up to 4 players for a frantic, trash-talking couch war. No version is playable online, but the game doesn't really suffer from it.
If there's one thing wrong with NBA Street Vol. 2, it's the same thing as its forbear. The game can get a little redundant, and while there are a ton of ways to play, it still boils down to juking like mad to build up your Gamebreaker meter, then going for the knockout. More specific challenge modes or even some sort of Franchise experience would add some depth.
Not that it really needs it, however. NBA Street Vol. 2 does what any good sequel should do - it betters the original. A burly single-player, exciting multiplayer and plenty of nifty additions makes for a Hall of Famer in only its second outing.