I have to say that I really like the direction that Sony has taken the PSP versions of their NBA games. As opposed to just being ports of the PS2 games, the NBA franchise continues to differentiate itself and mark itself as the premier b-ball game for the PSP. While the first NBA game was really lackluster on the PSP, the series has made great strides in improving itself, and I applaud Sony for paying so much attention to the PSP titles.
The aspect that separates the PSP version of NBA 08 from its PS2 and PS3 brothers is the different shooting mechanic present. As opposed to the shot-meter found in the console versions, the handheld game has a halo that varies between three color ranges – red, yellow, green. The halo glows around the ball as you prepare to release it. Clearly, a red halo means it's a poor shot, yellow is an average shot, and green is a perfect shot. Now, even though the visual is different, the principles between both mechanics are the same.
You can't expect to always time your shots to achieve a green halo – it won't happen. In fact, you'll see mostly orange and yellow, as the system takes into account number of factors which ultimately decide the type of shot you'll make. Don't fatigue your players by always sprinting with them; this will affect your shot. Furthermore, if the defense around you is heavy, it will also affect your shot, as will difficulty and tension.
Gameplay is particularly solid, with players always on the move and making logical decisions on their own. You'll often see the A.I. come around to setup a pick, stay on the move looking for an opening, attempt to intercept a poor pass, block a shot from going in, scurry for a rebound, and so on. A.I. is definitely a step above other sports game for the PSP. Controlling the ball works surprisingly well, as the layout remains largely the same. With no right analog stick to maneuver, crossovers and spins are utilized with the Square and Triangle buttons, keeping all shots mapped to the Circle button. Players will make the proper decisions in what kind of shots they attempt based on how far away you are from the net, and how thick the defense is. For a PSP effort, NBA 08 is definitely some solid basketball.
If that wasn't enough, there's a whole ton of gameplay modes to scour through. The Conquest Mode is back in full force as the core mode of NBA 08 (even though the box glorifies the Block Party mode). Its concept is basically street-ball fused with turn-based strategy elements. And your goal is to select an NBA team, and have it dominate every city in the country. There's also a list or rules and regulations twists, such as no fouls or any clock violations, in addition to other things that the game will mention before you start a conquest. Believe me, this mode is fantastic fun.
Of course there's the standard season mode, which also allows you to manage your team by controlling rosters with player trades, and free agent listings. Or you can choose to head straight into the playoffs. When you want some downtime, you can divert your attention to the Block Party Mode which consists of the All-Star Weekend (All-Star Game, Skills Challenge, 3-Point Contest), Carnival, and minigames. Carnival features a number of basketball-themed carnival games such as Big Shooter, Shootin' Bricks, Pinball, and more. Then there's the actual Minigames mode, featuring more content to have fun with, such as Horse, Dodgeball, Own the Court and more. Lastly, NBA 08 is online compatible for two player matches via infrastructure, so feel free to take your game online.
Because NBA 08 is a PSP game, don't expect it to look extremely good. And while I understand that this is a PSP game, I still don't think there's an excuse to only have player physiques vary by height and skin color. Up close replays will demonstrate acceptable facial detail, but it's downhill for the players from there on. All of the athletes basically share the same body type, with the only variable being height and skin color (as mentioned, already). To add to that, all of the players have the same still-stance, which irks me a bit. But, fortunately, the game maintains a smooth image with a quick framerate. There's also some nice lighting work, as player models cast shadows and the floorboard displays nice reflections of the players.
Audio is also a rather weak component of NBA 08, as the commentary is pretty bland, even for the PSP's standards. It's strictly play-by-play, with Mark Jackson throwing a quip here and there, but, again, it's nothing remotely pleasing to listen to. And when crowds aren't nearly loud enough, which is apparent when plugging the PSP Slim into a TV.
The most important thing to consider here is that NBA 08 is a really good basketball game for the PSP. It may feel a bit simplistic, but it still plays well. There's a ton of modes to choose from, and so the replay value greatly increases thanks to that. It's visually generic, as player details could stand to see some improvement, but it's an acceptable offering overall. If you're a PSP owner and looking for a basketball sim for your handheld, NBA 08 is precisely it.