It was inevitable that when Acclaim began to go under someone had to come up with a successful arcade basketball game worthy of the first two NBA Jams. We came to know that successor as NBA Street, the second release to come out of the (then) newly formed EA BIG back in 2001. Now, almost exactly six years later, the Street franchise continues to garner attention and critical praise, as EA continues to please fans with each iteration. The fourth entry marks its very first next-generation transition appearing on both the PS3 and Xbox 360, and fans of the series most certainly owe it to themselves to take a look.
Just like every other NBA Street title before it, Homecourt retains the signature gameplay with its over-the-top dunks, moves, and the gamebreakers. What's cool about Homecourt is that it lets you play the game in a number of configurations. For instance, if you want to only play a classic game with no gamebreakers or trick points, you select the Back to the Basics mode. Trick Battle only counts points whenever the gamebreaker meter is filled up – whoever fills it up first gets a point and then both teams' meter is reset. Gamebreaker Battle only counts points that are scored when the gamebreaker meter is filled and then activated. The inclusion of a Custom Game mode is well appreciated, as it allows you to customize a match type (play for: baskets, gamebreakers, trick battle), then select the type of gamebreaker (or turn it off), the types of shots (1s only, 1s and 2s, 2s and 3s, dunks only, shots only) and the shot clock length. And no sports game would be complete without a practice mode, so Homecourt offers one. Enter the practice mode and get acquainted with the game's new moves, the trick remixer, the insanely hilarious dunks, and assists. Or if you just want to start and go, the Pick Up Game option will suit you just fine.
With the basics mentioned, the core of NBA Street Homecourt is actually true to its namesake – the core being the Homecourt Challenge. In Homecourt Challenge, you make a created baller, associate him with a hometown/homecourt and then set him up with two other players to form a team (you can always shuffle the team players around, if you wish). As you progress through the challenges, you'll gain experience and your baller's stats will increase. Likewise, you'll be able to deck your baller out in new jerseys and shoes as you unlock them during the game. Jerseys and shoes serve a purpose besides being just decorative. When worn, the gear allows you to upgrade your stats faster by adding additional experience points for every challenge you win.
Speaking of challenges, some of the games you'll encounter will have you play until 21, first lead by 3 wins, first to 7, first to 15, dunks only, shots only, etc. – challenges have different stipulations in order to win. What's great about NBA Street is that the loading times are lightning fast; in Homecourt, a challenge loads almost instantly. The loading times are definitely a welcomed breath of fresh-air, as opposed to a number of other 3rd party (and even 1st party) titles out there. On the negative side of things, there simply isn't anything notable to mention. There's a ton of stuff to do and unlock in Homecourt, so it's going to keep you busy for quite a while.
On top of that, replay value is enhanced by a great online structure complete with leaderboards, invites, statistics of every tracked Homecourt player, and more.
By entering the Leaderboards menu, you can scroll through the list of gamers you'd like to see: the top 100, your leaderboard location and the people within your rank, your friends rankings, and even by country. The online demonstrates very robust features, and it's nice to see that EA put some effort into it. Of course, every player you meet you'll have the option of adding as a buddy via PlayStation Network. Most importantly, games aren't very laggy and are a great deal of fun. Up to four players can compete offline and two players online. And if that wasn't enough, not only do you have the standard NBA teams and an NBA All-Star team, but you've also got teams broken up by hometowns, the Brand Jordan All-Stars, and even WNBA players.
Visually, Homecourt is yet another fine looking EA game to add to the likes of Def Jam Icon and Fight Night. While you may expect to see each baller's physique to look a bit exaggerated, believe it or not, Homecourt probably has the best looking virtual athletes across any next-gen ball game. It's almost ludicrous to think about an arcade game looking more realistic than a sim, but it's quite true. First, and foremost, EA has done a great job in detailing almost every players' face accurately – a feat that other sports game have trouble pulling off.
I recently reviewed 2K Sports' MLB 2K7, and the facial detail in that was pretty average. On the other hand, Sony's NBA '07 did feature quite a number of ballers who were accurately depicted. Still, you will find a few not-so-great looking faces, such a Dirk Nowitzki's. Although, to be fair, it seems like no developer has been capable of properly rendering Nowitzki's face, for whatever reason. It's kind of strange, actually. In any case, you'll rarely get a full face shot of a baller, so you likely won't notice any of the more average looking faces.
Animations are fantastic, and since the game is rendered at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, you can bet your bottom dollar that every crossover, dribble and shot animates superbly well. The textures already look great when the game is running in 720p, but if you bump the resolution up to 1080i or 1080p, then they look much better. But increasing the resolution comes at the expense of a worse framerate: ~25fps. But if you still want to try it out, all you have to do is disable 720p from your PS3's display options and enable 1080i/1080p (if your TV supports it). You have to disable 720p, otherwise the game will display in the resolution by default. I'd personally stick to leaving it alone at 720p, because 60 frames is just too good to not enjoy. Finally, it should be noted that Homecourt does a good job with lighting. While the bloom effect has been quite overdone in other games, it suits NBA Street's vintage presentation remarkably well without being intrusive or distracting.
After over 6 years, we've come to know that EA BIG games aren't one to disappoint in audio, take for example the SSX series. Likewise, NBA Street has yet to have poor audio work, and Homecourt is no exception. Featuring a soundtrack full of remixed old-school and modern-day hip-hop, R&B, and the like, Homecourt's presentation continues to ooze with flavor. Artists such as The Jackson 5, Q-Tip, DJ Shadow, RJD2, Lateef, Herbie Hancock (yes, the song is "Rockit"), and more can be found on Homecourt's soundtrack. Believe me when I tell you, the compilation is awesome.
As far as voice acting, you'll hear the game's narrator talk about each home-court's history (which you can skip), and it adds quite a bit of dimension to the game — nice touch, EA. In addition, the ballers will often shout and talk during the games, which lends a bit of ambiance to the matches. Sound effects, crunches, slams, and all of that stuff sound great. EA BIG's done it again. But guys, in the next one, can we get custom soundtracks?
It's no surprise that EA Canada and EA BIG pulled off a four-peat with Homecourt. The series continues to receive substantial updates and refinements that keep it fresh and exciting. NBA Street Homecourt is easily the best iteration that the series has produced, and it's one of the first 3rd party must haves for the PS3. If you enjoy sports games, or basketball, specifically, then you really owe it to yourself to check Homecourt. It's visually impressive, features a great deal of gameplay, superb online features, a masterfully done soundtrack, and a ton of replay value. NBA Street Homecourt comes highly recommended.