Madden's still a long way away for PSP owners, so anyone wanting to get a pigskin fix on the go, only has one choice; NFL Street 2 Unleashed. Basically a port of the console game with a few new mini-games added, Unleashed is a decent port that shares many good things with its big brother on the PS2, many of the same flaws, and a few new problems like outdated rosters and atrocious load times.
NFL Street 2 pits two teams of seven players head to head, and forces each player to play both offense and defense. Since defense is a distant second when it comes to Street 2's priorities, most of your players will likely be selected based on their offensive prowess, and you'll be hoping to simply out score your opponent. The playbook is small (compared to Madden), and it's broken down into passing, running, and trick plays. If you choose a run or a pass, you can select short, medium, or long based on the amount of yards you need for a first down. There are no field goals in the game, so once you score you can run a short yardage play for one point, or a play from further out to go for two.
Matriculating the ball down the field must not only be done with substance, but style as well. Performing fancy jukes and taunting opponents earns you points that can be turned into a "Gamebreaker." Since the PSP doesn't have as many buttons as the Dualshock, there aren't as many taunts as there were on the PS2, but really, who cares? Just like NBA Street, a Gamebreaker gives your team super abilities, and almost guarantees a touchdown if you use it on offense, and should you use it on "D", you'll likely cause a turnover. You can save up your Gamebreaker for a, wait for it, Gamebreaker 2, which is a bigger and better Gamebreaker. New this year are wall moves, where you can run up the side of a wall to avoid a tackle, or open up a passing lane. If you perform one of these moves on a "hotspot" you'll earn even more points towards a Gamebreaker. The wall moves are cool, and they were missed in last year's version, but they don't hold up as the game's biggest gameplay addition.
As you could on the PS2, you can challenge all of the NFL Teams, or you can "Own the city" which pits your created player against teams from all over the city. For some reason, this mode is hosted by Xhibit, of "Pimp My Ride" fame, and he'll guide you through a training mode, and then challenge you to get your game up to his level, so you can challenge him. Thankfully he's been reduced to a silent graphic in the training mode so you don't have to deal with his horrible commentary over and over again. The actual games aren't timed, so you play up to a predetermined score, but this time around, there are stipulations to each game. You might have to beat a team by a certain score without the QB running the ball and only having 5 seconds to pass, or you might have to win a game with just running plays. This adds some challenge and mixes up the formulaic way in which you usually play, but it can make games rather long and tedious. As you win games, you can earn points to upgrade your players, and the cash you earn can be used to unlock all sorts of gear in the game's store.
In addition to normal pick-up games, there are a variety of mini-games to help pass the time, several of which are exclusive to the PSP. There's a game where there are three balls in the air at one time, and you have to catch as many balls as you can in a set time limit, and a schoolyard favorite, "Catch the carrier." You might know the game as "Smear the queer", but obviously, that's a bit offensive, so the familiar game got a new name. In this mode you simply get possession of the ball and run away from the people trying to tackle you. Time of possession earns you points, but you'll need to taunt your way to victory because style always counts in NFL Street 2. If playing football is just not holding your interest you can play the new dancing (I'm not kidding) mini-game, or in another game you can test your skills running down an alley, juking and jumping to avoid obstacles.
The game also supports play over local WiFi, so you can challenge your friends in a head to head matchup, or you can play a few of the mini-games. The game plays pretty well over a wireless connection, but there are some noticeable framerate issues that don't appear when playing the single player mode.
The controls are basically the same as the console version, but they have been simplified just a bit. The players still don't respond quickly enough to your button presses, leaving you grasping at air when you try and make a diving tackle. This problem is very evident in the game's training mode, where you have to perform a move in order to move on to the next. You'll often be pounding the button furiously trying to get it to register, but the game doesn't seem to care. At least now you can just skip to the next lesson after failing a few times, and you don't have to listen to Xhibit's lousy dialog until you go nuts.
NFL Street 2 Unleashed is a pretty decent looking game, and not a whole lot was sacrificed in the transition to the PSP. The player models are large and feature a distinctive visual style, though the "hood" aspect is played up too much. There are a bunch of different fields, but if you've played any sort of "street" game the last few years, there's not much to get excited about. Even the horrible grass from the PS2 made it into the game, and it looks as bad as ever. You'll notice that the players are made up of far less polygons and texture detail has taken a hit, but for the most part, things look pretty good. One a side note, it's near impossible to play this game outdoors or even in the car as the game is just too dark, and the screen's just not bright enough, even with the brightness cranked up. It kind of kills the whole "portable gaming experience" when you can't play the game in a car.
If you played the PS2 version, you know the game's visual style used for the load screens and artwork is simply horrendous. The players are mixture of extremely deformed, sub-human, and in some cases, extremely flamboyant. It's impossible to take seriously and it's amazing that it ever got the green light. Unfortunately you'll be spending a lot of time looking at them because the game has some of the worst load times on the PSP. Loading a game can take upwards of 45 seconds, which isn't the end of the world if you're playing a full game, but when you're playing a mini-game that only lasts a minute or so… well, you do the math.
As is usually the case with "EA Trax", there are a few decent songs in the game, but far too much "crap that nobody has heard of." Special mention goes to Acidtone's "Scarred" for standing out as not only the worst song on a lousy soundtrack, but for being the worst song I've heard in a game in long time. The giant banner that comes up on the bottom left of the screen when a new song starts even comes up IN THE MIDDLE OF A PLAY, which is totally disgusting. Stop forcing this crap down our throats EA; we paid $50 for your game, let us play in peace. All of the trash talking from the console versions has been lost in translation, which really isn't that big of a deal, though the game is eerily silent at times.
NFL Street 2 Unleashed is a very solid port of the console game, but the source material wasn't all that original in the first place, and it feels even more rehashed here. If you played the heck out of the game on the PS2 there's really no reason to shell out $50 for the game, even though you're probably curious to see how it turned out. If you didn't play the game on the PS2, and it's been awhile since you had the "Street" experience, the game's entertaining, but don't expect too much out of it.
I don't see a reason that EA feels like a port with no real enhancements is worth full retail price, especially since they couldn't be bothered to update the horribly outdated rosters, which were already old on the PS2, and are even worse now. Toss in the awful load times, and you've got no reason to pick this one up.