In the Portable Paint
Sony's NBA franchise has gone exclusively handheld. We take a peek at the latest PSP outing.
Published: August 16, 2009
What's interesting about Give&Go, Dodgeball and Elimination is that they've also been expanded into a Conquest-style version of territory control, letting you play individual games for a larger whole and instantly turning them into a far deeper experience. If one game isn't enough, you can mix the above modes with the original Conquest to make a sort of uberquest (though SCE San Diego calls it Miniquest), effectively creating a variety of challenges in which to take over control of the country. Sony really has stepped up the offerings this time around, and if Conquest was your addiction of choice, you'll likely find the various quest-ized versions of things to be digital crack.
The more out-there versions of the mini-games are certainly not being neglected, though. We took a spin with Cherry Pickin', which is basically a basketball-themed version of Bubble Bobble with some power-ups needed to break special brick bubbles, and were mildly amused. Shootin' Bricks, a Breakout clone that used team logos as the brick layouts was cute, and had some decent depth in that you could use the shoulder buttons to angle your paddle to change the trajectory of the basketball. Alley Oop, a game where you actually rotate the PSP vertically, was essentially just bowling (with a basketball, of course), but it was surprisingly alluring.
All of the games tucked under the Carnival Mode sub-menu doled out tickets that could then be used in the Profile Menu (which also housed the Trophies section to see the conditions and what you'd earned so far) to buy things like new jerseys and floors. Not only was it a fantastic carrot to keep dangled in front of those already hooked on the different modes, but it actually meant all the time spent playing breakout or bowling actually contributed to something beyond high scores and trophies.
The final bit of the package we dug into was the Pinball mode, which is exactly as you'd expect it to be. Seven different tables were available, all of them fairly small, but littered with multiple gates, bonus targets and modes. The ball physics were actually very solid, and everything had a great feel. Some of the tables, like B Ball Bot (a taller table with a robot that spat out a bunch of basketball jibes like "HA HA HA, you got caught holding!" when our ball slid past the bottom flippers) were friggin' awesome. The usual stuff applies; shoulder buttons for left and right flippers, and of course you can nudge the table with the d-pad or the analog nub, though it didn't seem we could tilt the thing.
All told, there's a ton of stuff to be digested in this year's NBA game. Granted, the actual game of basketball (which some of the side modes are built on top of) isn't quite what we would have hoped for thus far, but with so many modes set to entertain across a variety of different gameplay types and a staggering amount of depth across all the different modes (including the new, deeper Conquest Mode), we're finding it awfully hard to think of a reason why those that dug the PSP iteration of the series wouldn't find this hands-down the most impressive that Sony has ever created.
It might sting a little for those that got sucked into The Life that there's no console version of the game this year, but in all honesty, the PSP version was usually the best specifically because of the mini-games that were included. With Sony shifting focus to their most enjoyed platform and seriously expanding on the number of options included in it, this may well be the only PSP basketball game you need this year. We'll have a full review of the game when it ships in about two months... just enough time to actually play through everything offered on one UMD (or, thanks to the go that'll launch a few weeks before, as a PlayStation Store download).