Reviewed: June 29, 2006
Released: June 6, 2006
Gosh, it must have been around four years ago when I was writing for another online magazine, that I was contacted by a PR representative for Activision asking me to review a new sports franchise based on the AND 1 “streetball” phenomenon, titled Street Hoops and developed by Black Ops.
Although I was initially not all that impressed with the title – especially compared EA’s fledgling (at the time) NBA Street – once I learned the intricate controls, sweet defensive manipulation, and ingenious alley-oop mechanics, I became a huge fan. In fact, I was so impressed with Street Hoop’s realistic take on the streetball culture; it quickly became my game of choice over EA’s cartoony offering.
The rest of the media wasn’t so kind to Black Ops’ game, and Street Hoops literally fell from the new release shelves directly into the bargain bins where it has remained since. Street Hoops was became lost in the shuffle.
But what gamers don’t realize is the impact that Street Hoops secretly had on the design of other sports games. You see – many of the unique gameplay elements that Street Hoops brought to the table were quietly snatched up by the competition while nobody was looking. By the time the competition assimilated these elements into their own games and announced them to the world – it was too late for Black Ops.
What kind of stuff did Black Ops introduce?
Well, first there’s the whole bling-bling thing that has become the status quo in almost all street games today. Hoops was the first game to truly allow gamers to amass a full assortment of name-brand clothing, jewelry, haircuts, etc. and actually show these items – fully animated – on their in-game characters. That’s not to say that no other games had character editors per se, but none were to the level of detail and for the bling-bling purpose of Street Hoops.
Another great addition was the ability to lock a defender to a box-in position on the ball handler. Where previous (and many current) games simply allow a defender stand in front and either block or steal, none (until EA’s recent NCAA title) allowed the defender to lock on and apply actual pressure on the ball handler.
There were more additions – things like the gritty street realism, the right analog stick passing and defending, a unique gambling system, etc. – that suddenly became the competitions’ trademarks after Street Hoop’s demise. Sadly, Black Ops has never received credit for their ingenuity.
Four years later and Black Ops is back; this time under the Ubisoft umbrella, and sporting their first follow-up to Street Hoops – AND 1 Streetball. The game looks fabulous, and has the same solid gameplay – it’s just a shame that the competition has evolved to the point where AND 1 ends up looking like a copycat.
When Street Hoops originally came out, the whole Streetball culture was relatively new – four years later and the TV’s are inundated with Streetball games and derivatives. Relatively unknown names like A.O. and Half Man Half Amazing were, well…relatively unknown – ok, so these guys are still relatively unknown, but even my father in law knows about the sport, so we’ll just leave it at that.
As a nice alternative to the over-the-top cartoon physics of NBA Street, AND 1 takes a more-realistic approach to the game of streetball – forcing players to utilize actual thought and strategy a bit more than it does simple trickery.
But that’s not to say that slight-of-hand doesn’t play a part in AND 1. No sir – AND 1 features a bevy of moves that are now selectable using combinations of shoulder buttons and analog sticks (one or both) to call up. The resulting trick animations are awesome – a definite improvement over the predecessor – but I must admit that the timing meter below the player was a bit of a distraction.
Some of the best additions to the trick roster are the new self serving alley oops, where ball handlers either set the ball in a high bounce off the floor or a soft bounce off the backboard, and then go up for the one man alley oop. The results are truly spectacular and are second only to the feeling of nailing the perfect running two-man alley oop.
Speaking of timing – it obviously plays a very important part in everything from shooting to stealing, tricking to blocking. But it seems as though the game has become a bit too dependent on achieving the right timing, resulting a game that plays a bit less fluidly than it really should at times.
The controls utilize all of the buttons of the controller – including a sprint button mapped to the R1 bumper, which not only adds speed (with a killer running animation) but also initiates dunking.
But don’t get the idea that dunk shots are a dime-a-dozen in AND 1 – scoring in this game is often quite difficult given the emphasis the developers put on the defensive aspect of the game. You’ll often find your ball handler in a stand down – trying to find any scoring hole all while being nudged and pushed back by the aggressive defender.
The game is difficult, but in a Winning Eleven super-difficult soccer game kinda way, which is good because it all appears to be generally in fair play, and it makes actual scoring all the more rewarding.
The game features a detailed Create-a-Baller mode, which employs a character editor (with support for EyeToy face mapping) to develop an up-and-coming baller, and follows him through the ranks from local 1-on-1 hoops to nationwide team competition on the AND 1 tour.
Once again the bling makes a return, although it’s not emphasized quite as much as it was in Street Hoops.
All in all, the game is solid – and save for the lost bits of fluidity, it’s a fairly impressive offering. But, I must admit that considering what EA has done to their NBA Street franchise over the past two iterations, AND 1 doesn’t quite measure up – no matter how long I play it.
As mentioned, AND 1 looks absolutely wonderful on the PS2, with some of the coolest animations I’ve seen in a long time; when a ball handler busts through a hole and into a sprint for the hoop – you can almost feel his excitement. The dunking animations are second to none, and little details like the backboard reacting to the weight or the net rustling that put EA’s game to shame.
Likewise, the locations look great and really portray the gritty image of the streetball culture. The bright indicating meters under the players are sometimes a bit too big and bright to not be distracting, bit hey – for a game that looks this good it’s a small price to pay.
There are a few glitches here and there, but nothing to really knock the game out of favor.
An exclusing AND 1 Mixtape doles out a unique rap soundtrack to accompany the play. The music sets the mood well and is seldom loud enough to cause distraction. And the sound effects are solid, yet unobtrusive.
One negative point is the selection of player voices to apply to your created baller; they all sound fairly similar and none of them are very Anglo in tone. OK who am I kidding, they voices are all tailored to sound inner city, none of them sounding remotely like the chubby white dude I created to look like myself. Then to make matters worse, they repeat the same rehashed phrases over and over during play. Can’t I just NOT have a voice for my player?
AND 1 Streetball is a very solid game – but EA has polished up their series to perfection, and with their latest release (NBA Street V3) selling for somewhere around $20 at most outlets, well it is a bit difficult to recommend AND 1 at double the price.
Unless of course you have had your fill of the Street series – and in that case, by all means give AND 1 a go. You just might find something you like in the realistic gameplay. I did.
I really feel bad for Black Ops and their basketball games. Both times they are going to be thwarted by the EA juggernaut. Still, these guys deserve credit for developing two solid basketball games despite the snickers and giggles amongst the gaming world. And they deserve credit for the contributions they made to the genre four years ago. It’s just a case of too little too late.