In the 90's, arcade basketball was big business. Arch Rivals started the trend, NBA Jam took it to the next level, then NBA Showtime took over, and rounding out the 90's and beginning the 21st century EA Big brought us NBA Street. With Street cornering the market on arcade basketball, Midway has taken a new approach to the game, focusing on 1 on 1 ball and living the NBA lifestyle. Overall it's a solid game, but it doesn't really bring anything fresh to the table.
NBA Ballers is presented as a reality show where you take a no name baller up through the ranks, accumulating friends and wealth along the way. As you defeat players of different styles and eras, you will unlock them for use in other modes. Unfortunately, almost everyone in the game is locked, so you're left with a small, disappointing list of players to use at first. The same thing goes for the clothing items for customizing your baller – they're almost all locked too. Before each match, but after the excruciatingly long load times, the announcer, MC Supernatural introduces the player and he'll talk about what kind of match to expect. The games are best out of three, played to eleven pointes with a two minute time limit. If you hit the two minute time limit and nobody has scored eleven points, then the person with the highest score wins the game. In the event of a tie, everyone gets screwed and you have to play that entire game over. In a game that is supposed to be fast paced, it makes no sense that there's no sudden death mode to move things along.
Anyone that has played NBA Street will have a good idea of what kind of moves are in each players' arsenal. You can do all sorts of crazy dribbling, bounce the ball off your opponent's head, pass the ball into the crowd and have a spectator throw you a give and go, and of course, there's a large array of over-the-top dunks for your character to perform. Jukes are performed using the right analog stick, and you can combine them with the "juice" button to perform the really crazy moves that will break your opponent's ankles. The gameplay is fairly well balanced in that the short, faster players will be able to run circles around the big guys around the perimeter, but the taller players will be able to swat away any weak layup that they try to make down low. Since the game is played with both two and three pointers, it adds a little bit of strategy to the game by daring you to not start throwing up brick after brick from three-point land if you fall behind. Instead you have to play better defense and choose higher percentage shots, especially if you're a big man.
The first thing that has to be mentioned when discussing NBA Ballers' graphics is that the player models look incredible. The screen where you select your characters has a large (half the screen) model of the player's head, and they look so lifelike that it's scary. If you've ever seen a behind the scenes clip where they show a picture on a computer screen right after they scan a player's noggin, then you'll have a good idea of what to expect. You'll see moles, individual hairs, and scars, which is sometimes more detail than you want to see. One downside of the terrific player models is that the load times, just to select players is long. Even when you're trying to rapidly scroll through the rosters, you've got to wait for each head to load, and while it's a minor nuisance at first, when coupled with the rest of the load times, it grates the nerves. The courts where the action takes place all look good, and they've all got the standard backgrounds you'd associate with street ball – there are houses at the beach, in the city – you know the drill by now. The framerate is solid and the game moves at a fast clip at all times. There's no progressive scan support, which is disappointing, considering how much effort was put into the game's graphics.
NBA Ballers' soundtrack is a great mix of artists, both well-known and new. There are almost twenty songs in the game, and for the most part, they're very good. Even the songs that aren't as catchy aren't so terribly annoying that you've got to pause the game to hit the mute button. MC Supernatural acts as a host of sorts as he provides the game's intro in a cheesy opening movie, and then later sets up the matchups and finally calls the action. He's remarkably similar to the guy in NBA Street, so if you've played Street before, you'll know exactly what to expect.
The online mode is solid, and fun to play, but it seems like there could have been much more added to the experience. You can only play one on one, or one on one on one, which is a shame because a game of H.O.R.S.E, a three-point shootout, or even a dunk contest would have been appreciated. You can bring your crib and all your in-game winnings online and play your games at home, but it would have been even cooler if you could have gambled some of your winnings. Imagine betting your Escalade, only to lose it and watch it disappear from your backyard.
In the end, what you get out of NBA Ballers is a result of what you put into it. If you take the time to unlock everyone, and you have the time and ability to go online, then you'll have a great time. However, if you are just interested in playing some quick games with good players, you can't, because they're all locked. If you can't get online, or you aren't willing to put in the time it takes to find a good opponent, then you're missing out on a good portion of the game, and if you can't stomach long load times, you'd better go elsewhere. It's a solid effort, but one that could benefit from deeper rosters that are easier to access and some more gameplay options.