NBA '08

[Gamers' Day 2007] Quadruple Dribble

NBA '08 is SCEA's fourth PSP game in just over four years. Is there anything left to add? Yep, plenty, we take a look and report back.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 17, 2007
After years of stagnating and being beaten soundly by both EA and 2K Sports, Sony, the only one out of the big three hardware manufacturers to even have a sports division anymore, has been bouncing back. Big time. The MLB games have gotten good enough to hook even non-fans (like us), and though it may have faltered a little while getting set up, the PSP version of Sony's basketball sim is coming well into its own -- so well, in fact, that it's not only outscoring EA's offerings, but even its own PS2 version.

The secret? The PSP games, while still retaining the basic depth and gameplay of the console versions, have been augmented by a growing number of mini-games and side modes, and what's truly surprising about them is that they're good. Really good -- particularly last year's Conquest Mode, which is indeed making a return appearance (though it apparently wasn't in the build that was on hand, sadly).

Though we didn't get a chance to really dig into the game (there just wasn't enough time), we did use the small window of opportunity to goof around with a quick pick-up game of roundball, noticing that the visuals have been noticeably improved; the courts and players are cleaner, the animations across the board seemed smoother (though that could have just been a result of Sony slowing the game down a little more this year), and the core game just felt even more solid than in years past.

The game now runs at 60 frames a second all the time and defenders now have the ability to switch between high and wide stances to put pressure on shooting or passing, respectively. When crashing the boards, you'll actually see an indicator of where a rebounding ball will land, and though the little black wedge that was in the build we played was placeholder, there will be something to help improve rebounds. A more refined icon passing system lets you basically point and tap X to send the ball to the highlighted player, though you can still pull the shoulder button to bring up the whole team.

It was the mini-games, however, that were the draw here. It sounds a little weird to be praising a basketball game for it's side diversions, but when they're this well designed, it's inevitable (in fact, a couple fellow editors were already on their second and third re-plays of one of the games by the time we showed up). The biggest hit by far was in Block-A-Shot, a Whack-A-Mole take-off that replaced the little critters with basketball staples (naturally) like time outs and of course basketballs to block (in three versions; a normal one for a single point, a striped Globetrotters-style one that let you hit it repeatedly and Slam Dunk Ball that you had to hold to power-up).

Using the d-pad and face buttons to cover the six holes, the idea was basically to rack up the necessary number of points before time ran out, and of course as time ticks by, the pop-ups become more frequent and faster. If you happen to accidentally tag a whistle, it's a foul and if you catch three, you're out. We had an absolute blast here, but even the other two demos on hand an Arkanoid/Breakout clone called Shootin' Bricks actually let you control the speed of the ball and tilt the paddle to create some crazy angles as the ball caromed around the level, and the return of pinball, now with three different tables.

The surprising number of additions and refinements make it seem like Sony is set to clinch the PSP roundball crown again this year, both with their normal basketball game and all of the Infrastructure-enabled online mini-games (including Conquest, woo hoo!). We'll have more soon.