Basketball goes portable with NBA Street Showdown for the PSP. EA Sports BIG has taken the graphics, audio, and gameplay from the console versions, made a few necessary cutbacks and tweaks in order to cram everything onto the PSP, and in the offing has produced a game that both fans of the franchise and newbies-alike will enjoy.
As its title implies, NBA Street Showdown is a street style basketball game featuring NBA superstars. The game shares quite a bit in common with Midway's NBA Jam franchise, which used to be popular during the mid-1990's. Games are 3-on-3, dunks and tricks are commonplace, and you don't have to worry about fouls or free-throws (because they're not in the game). All 30 NBA teams are represented and there are a number of fictional teams and ballers as well. In total, the game includes 80 current NBA players along with 25 NBA legends.
The selection of play modes is satisfactory. You can setup a quick pick-up game in the quick game mode, play your friends via ad hoc wireless in the head-to-head mode, participate in a pair of mini-games (solo or pass-and-play), or embark on a street ball career in the "King of the Courts" mode. This is the mode that most people are likely to sink their teeth into. You start out by creating a custom baller–male or female–and then drafting a pair of scrubs onto your team. The overall goal of the "King of the Courts" mode is to beat the championship team that owns each of the 11 courts. Most games are first-to-11 style pick-up games, but you'll also participate in games where limits are placed on scoring–such as "only dunks count" or "first to 500,000 trick points wins." Each time you beat another team, you earn the opportunity to add one of their players to your roster. Since roughly half of the players are NBA stars like Shaq and Carmelo, that's actually pretty sweet. You'll also earn development points for each win, which you can use to upgrade your baller's skills, to buy new shots, and to purchase snappier clothes.
For the most part, it's really easy to just jump right in and play. Since it's 3-on-3 basketball, you don't have to worry about being overwhelmed. The lack of foul calls and free-throws also helps to simplify things a bit. Basic actions like passing the ball and taking shots involve only a single button-press. When you want to do something flashy, all you need to do is hold one of the turbo buttons down while shooting or passing to perform a snazzy trick move.
Actually, tricks are a key aspect of NBA Street Showdown. In addition to the trick shots and passes that can be performed, there's also a separate button for performing acrobatics and dribble moves. Aside from the score, the game also keeps track of trick points. You earn more points for chaining tricks together (e.g. a fancy dribble followed by a trick shot), which in turn increases the crowd's approval of your performance.
Lastly, there's also the "gamebreaker" indicator to consider. Each time you land a particularly nasty dunk or put together a slick trick combo, you'll earn the crowd's respect and fill up one or more letters in the word "gamebreaker" at the top of the screen. When the indicator is full, you can perform a gamebreaker shot by holding down both turbo buttons. Not only is the shot almost a cinch to go in, but it'll also take away points from your opponent's score.
As you can see, this is one of those games that is easy to play, but complex enough to keep a person's attention.
The most obvious difference between NBA Street Showdown and its console counterparts is the control setup, which has been altered due to the PSP's "lack" of buttons. The individual buttons still control actions such as passing, shooting, steals, blocks, and tricks, but now you have to combine button presses or press the button for a specific length of time in order to make certain shots and perform certain tricks. In general, you can tap a button for one type of shot, hold the button for another, hold down the turbo button and tap or press the button for yet another shot, and hold down both turbo buttons while tapping or pressing the button for still another type of shot. Tricks work the same way. Depending on which of the turbo buttons you hold when pushing the trick button, you'll perform a different type of street ball style trick. Due to the tap/hold input mechanic, the controls in the PSP game don't seem to be as instantly-responsive as those in the console versions. Nonetheless, actions such as pump fakes, kick passes, and alley-oops are just as easy to perform even if you need to "pre-load" them a split-second sooner.
Visually, the PSP game looks sharp, although the courts and player models aren't nearly as detailed as they were in the PS2 games. All of the different courts are still fairly gorgeous though, especially the nighttime playgrounds that feature dynamic lighting from street lamps or the setting sun. In general, all of the NBA stars are pretty recognizable and the animation is extremely fluid. There are dozens of separate dribbling, shot, dunk, and trick animations for all of the many players. The most notable thing missing from the PSP game is the crowd. It was nice to see the two-dozen or so spectators in the PS2 games watch and react to the action on the court. The bleachers in the PSP game are simply flat-out empty. On the upside, all of the cool graphical gimmicks–such as heat trails and explosive starbursts–that were in the PS2 games are in the PSP game. So are the letterboxed replays, which you can activate manually just by tapping the square button.
Diehard NBA fans might have a few complaints with regards to player artwork, and, quite possibly, with the rosters too. Player bodies, faces, and portraits are "close" to the real thing, but the artists did take some creative license. Let's just say the players aren't photo-realistic. Also, the rosters seem to be identical to those from NBA Street V2, as opposed to the more recently released NBA Street V3. These things won't matter to casual players or people that just want to play NBA Street on the go, but they're certain to bother sticklers who've already cut their teeth on the console versions.
As for the audio, it gets the job done. The sounds of the ball bouncing on the concrete and shots and dunks clanking off the rim are meaty. It's amusing how players grunt and groan when they're shoved by a steal attempt or certain tricks. There isn't a running commentary in the traditional sense, but a dude named DJ Cucumber Slice offers up a wide variety of comments and one-liners in response to the various shots, steals, blocks, and tricks that happen on the court. He's much better than the old NBA Jam announcer, although EA Sports could've scored major old school cred if they'd recorded Slice saying "Woah, Boom Shaka Laka!" There's also a fair bit of music in the game, which you'll love or hate depending on your opinion of groups like House of Pain, Beastie Boys, and De La Soul.
My only major complaint with regards to NBA Street Showdown is that it simply feels played out. There have been three console versions of NBA Street released already, and the last one pretty much took the franchise as far as it can go. Meanwhile, NBA Street Showdown is based on the older NBA Street V2 as opposed to the more recent third volume, and despite having some of dunks and courts from the third game, it mainly feels like the second one. That's by no means bad, but if you've already played the franchise to death, you won't gain anything from the portable version except the ability to take it with you. Obviously, anyone that's looking for a portable basketball game that hasn't yet tried NBA Street should go out right now and get this game, because it is arguably the NBA Jam of the current generation.
All told, NBA Street Showdown for the PSP stacks up favorably to the console versions of the franchise. Anyone that is already burned out on the console games may want to pass on this one, but everyone else that is in the market for a street basketball game should rush out right now and buy it.