NBA STREET Homecourt Full Review and Screenshots
To hell with birdsong, the three little words and all that other corny crap: The sweetest sound I ever heard was a string of semi-articulate curses punctuated by the exclamation above.
Surrounded by some of the industry’s finest at the EA Sports studio in Burnaby, B.C., I was left grinning and nodding like a bobblehead in the breeze when the talk turned to graphics engines, pixel shaders and countless other concepts as unfamiliar to me as a happy woman. All of this highbrow preamble left me nervous that this was a project aimed at the hardcore gamers, and that I and the rest of the streetball community would feel alienated by the final product.
When the game itself was unveiled, however, the technobabble was quickly replaced by the sort of screams more often heard in the bleachers at Rucker Park. Cold analysis was drowned out by laughter and casual cursing, and I was back in my comfort zone. You see, even the digital illuminati are reduced to the level of a sugar-filled six-year-old when confronted with a videogame so pant-pissingly fun that “Oh, shit!” is all you can really say about it.
“Oh, shit!” is a good thing, though. “Oh, shit!” let me know that entertainment was in store. “Oh, shit!” meant that the game was hot. “Oh, shit!” was exactly what I wanted to hear.
Rather than post a review by way of listing expletives, however, I’ll drop my personal observations on NBA STREET Homecourt as a streetball fan so that those of you without a degree in Computer Sciences can appreciate a game so impressive that I bought an XBOX 360 in anticipation of its release. Let’s get right into it.
You don’t have to be a mechanic to know that Bentleys are nice cars, and you don’t have to be a technology buff to appreciate Homecourt’s Halle Berry-ish graphics either. From the super-realistic facial models to the cinematic lighting, every visual aspect of this game reeks of the designers’ obsessive attention to detail. Close scrutiny of the court surface at Venice Beach, for example, reveals oil stains, sneaker prints and manhole covers recreated with such a level of precision that it’s a wonder this project took only a few years to complete. Zooming out a little allows you to take a gander at the surrounding neighbourhood, complete with legible street signs, pedestrians, cyclists and the all the other sights and sounds you’d expect to find trimming the court on a sunny day in L.A.
With the NBA for the first time giving permission for a shirts-and-skins option, the player models are now all sinew and sweat, with the arcade feel in no way detracting from the game’s lifelike look. Furthermore, the MoCap (that’s “Motion Capture” to you grown-ups) work done by YPA affiliates and HoopsVibe favourites Joey “King Handles” Haywood and Roberto “Exile” Yong lend the characters a fluidity and grace that make the moves – and the transitions between them – look smoother than a greased weasel.
As in the previous editions in the Street series, simply mashing the controller furiously will result in plays that would make the cut in any mixtape. Putting together the highest-scoring sequences, however, requires some forethought and coordination between the two trick buttons and the bumpers, now used as modifiers which can, for example, turn a simple shake into an eye-popping slip-and-slide combo that will likely leave your defender with his panties around his shattered ankles. Even I, an inexperienced gamer at best, felt like a pro within five minutes, busting out head-pops, stiff-leg crosses and jaw-dropping juggles with ease.
The trick system works on a simple principle, with the length of time for which the button is depressed determining the complexity of the play. Thus, pressing and releasing “X” results in a more difficult move than simply tapping it, while holding it down triggers a tougher trick still. Add to that the “Y” button and the two modifiers, and you have more potential highlights in your repertoire than A.I., Skip and the whole AND1 squad combined. Sound fun? It is.
I almost considered omitting this section so as not to spoil the surprise, but on further consideration I realised that it would take far more than mere words to capture the “Holy crap!” factor of the multifarious dunks executable in Homecourt. You could multiply Ron Artest by Tom Cruise and the result still wouldn’t be half as crazy as some of the slams you’ll see in this joint. From double- and triple-crushes (yes, you can execute three-point stuffs while on a Gamebreaker – more of which later) to two-man jump-off jams, the dunking dynamics in this game feel more Slamball than streetball, and that’s a great thing. Simulation junkies can say what they want, but there’s nothing quite like leaping off of Shaq’s back, catching the upper edge of the backboard and jumping downwards to finish the play.
There are dangers to biting off more than you chew, though, there being every chance that a defender will meet you fifteen feet from the floor and send you back to earth with the sort of challenge that would usually result in a suspension and a fine. What’s more, failing to release the dunk button in time will send your player flailing unceremoniously to the blacktop, often in a hilarious manner. My first attempt at a double-dunk, for example, ended with Carmelo hanging from the rim by his leg before unhooking himself and falling into a heap. If that doesn’t make you smile, you should ask your doctor about having the stick removed from your butt.
Initiating a Gamebreaker – performed by dribbling to the middle of the court and hitting “Y” with a full Trick Meter – ranks up there with gobbling ghosts in Pac-Man and chewing on someone’s skull as Blanka in Street Fighter II as one of the most satisfying gaming experiences you’ll ever have. A whole host of tricks unavailable during regular gameplay are now at your disposal, including B-boy-type handstands and spins that make the freestyles look more like dance routines with a defender.
Clown your opponent for too long, however, and you run the risk of turning the ball and the Gamebreaker over, as I did on more than one occasion while trying to get Yao to stand on his head. There are numerous other features – the aforementioned triple-dunk, for one – that I could detail here, but I’ll leave them for you to discover yourselves. For now, just know that there’s more incentive than ever to rack up trick points.
Besides being as easy on the eye as any game I’ve seen, Homecourt also gives you cause to turn your speakers up to eleven, boasting a soundtrack which includes such diverse artists as The Jackson Five, Chris Joss and Pharoahe Monch. Background tracks aside, you should also keep your ears cocked for the “intelligent audio” feature, whereby real-life recordings are spliced seamlessly with the onscreen action. Opponents heckle missed dunks, turnovers and flubbed tricks, and players regularly call out the game score or otherwise pass commentary on the action, as they would in a real game of streetball. The cacophonous blend of the murmuring crowd, squeaking sneakers and meaty thuds as post players tussle in the paint mean that you could close your eyes and be forgiven for thinking you were at the park.
The “Story Mode” is another welcome inclusion in the game, challenging you to work your way through the ranks of the streetball world by defeating increasingly difficult teams in order to level up and graduate to tougher courts. The “Create Baller” feature which precedes the start of this mode is worthy of an article itself, with the “Morph Stick” – an invention which allows you to blend the faces of up to three NBA players together – being unique to Homecourt. Once in the game, your on-court actions determine the improvements in your skills (i.e. swatting shots ups your “blocks” rating; throwing it down makes you a better dunker), with unlockable custom clothing being your reward for progressing further. Whether a mode you attempt to beat in an afternoon or over the course of weeks, it’s an extra which will undoubtedly add hours to your enjoyment of the game.
And how about online gameplay? Well, I wish I could let you in on a secret or two, but the truth is that EA were coy even with us when the issue of interweb integration was introduced to the conversation. Given what I saw of the game in general, I can only assume that their reticence bodes well for Homecourt’s online features. All I know for certain at present is that you’ll be able to take your created player from the “Story Mode” online. Beyond that, I know as much as George Bush does about Kwanzaa.
Short of an allergy to fun, I can’t think of any reason not to pick this game up as soon as it drops. I may be biased as a streetball fan, but, to me, NBA STREET Homecourt ranks alongside three-day weekends, gangster movies, boobs, fried chicken and rainbows as one of the unequivocally fantastic things in life. Just hook me up with a comfortable chair, a flatscreen and a family bag of Cheetos, and I could be gone with this for days. (As an aside, you might wish to break it off with your girlfriend and get rid of anyone or anything else that could cut into your playing time. I, for one, plan to have the neighbours look after my fish for a few weeks.)
If you’ve stuck with the article all this way, I offer you my congratulations. Unfortunately, your efforts were unnecessary. This review may run to 1600-plus words, but the sentiment of the piece can be fairly summarised in two, and they’re two which you’re likely to hear – and say – an awful lot due to this game: “Oh, shit!”
“Oh, shit!” indeed.