Reviewed: October 18, 2006
Released: September 26, 2006
As EA continues to exploit their exclusive licenses for FIFA, NFL, NASCAR, the NBA is still open for competition and you can always count on Sony for their annual entries into the NHL, MLB, and of course, professional basketball. The PSP launched with an above-average first-party NBA title last Spring and now, just slightly ahead of its anniversary, but just in time for actual NBA fans, we have NBA 07.
Fans of the 989 Sports-turned-Sony San Diego franchise will obviously find much to enjoy with plenty of improvements over last year’s effort, yet oddly, many of the quirks and oddities (bugs) are still lurking under the bleachers ready to taint an otherwise, fun and challenging basketball game for the handheld system.
Those looking for similarities with the console version, subtitled, “The Life Vol. 2”, or perhaps cross-connectivity to take their homegrown All-Star on the road will be disappointed. The PSP version strips the console game of all its personal features while keeping its personality. There is no more custom player that you take on some life-examining NBA career; only pure basketball and lots of it.
And in keeping with the pick-up and play nature of handhelds, NBA 07 comes loaded with enough mini-games to last for two seasons of gameplay. But those are mere icing on the multi-layer cake that offers all the core elements of any NBA title including Exhibition, Season, Playoffs, Practice, plus returning favorites like All-Star Weekend, Skills Contest, 3 Point Contest, and the all-new Slam Dunk Contest.
The Slam Dunk Contest is amusing even if its implementation has very little to do with basketball. It basically plays out like a handheld version of DDR where directions and button symbols rain from the top of the screen and you must rhythmically tap them out to perform spectacular dunks with your score based on the accuracy of your button taps.
Another new entry to this year’s NBA 07 is the Pickup Game, easily the best new addition and possibly the highlight of the title. The game presents you and your opponent (human or computer) with ten randomly chosen NBA players then you pick your urban street court and muscle your way to 21 points with no shot clock, fouls, or refs. This is pure and primal basketball, plus, since you aren’t locked into keeping players in their traditional NBA positions, you have some great freedom to explore new careers for your favorite players.
Mini-games get some new additions in the form of Conquest and Carnival modes. Carnival includes three arcade-style hoops games you might find at…well…a carnival or a Chucky Cheese. There are basketball versions of Skeeball, Pinball and Hot Shot. The first two are self-explanatory and Hot Shot is basically a free-throw game on a timer, but the hoop moves every 20 seconds. What many might dismiss as a waste of time is actually a clever and fun way to earn “tickets” that you can redeem for prizes like classic jerseys for use in the main game.
Conquest was a total surprise, both because somebody at Sony had the audacity to actually approve including a turn-based strategy game in a sports title, and because I actually enjoyed it – in fact, I’ve easily logged more hours in this mode than the normal game. Your goal is world domination; only the world is limited to the USA and the cities with NBA teams. Each turn you either invade a new state or defend your own. To the victor go the spoils, or in this case, the player of your choice from the defeated team. As this NBA version of Risk continues you will amass an unstoppable team and conquering an entire region will unlock legendary all-stars to aid in your quest for NBA domination.
The Streetball games that determine who wins the team and their respective city are implemented nicely with a life meter for each team that drains as your players take shots. Shots can get blocked, players can get stunned, and there are special shot zones worth 4 and 5 points that can bring your team back from an almost certain defeat. Medals are awarded for excellence in the areas of shooting, rebounds, and assists, and these medals add to your life meter for future games.
Whether you are playing any of these fantastic new additions or the classic NBA game modes, you’ll have plenty of challenging fun going up against a much more aggressive computer AI, but nothing can compare to playing another human using the built-in functionality of Ad Hoc or Internet multiplayer. Hooking up with friends or strangers is easy, the lobby is totally functional and intuitive and the only one tracking more NBA stats than this game is ESPN.
Sony enhances the multiplayer with support for game sharing, so you can let your friends play those addictive Carnival games. Then once they buy the entire game you can really get into the meat of the multiplayer. On an interesting side note, NBA 07 is the first game to include support for the yet-to-be-released PSP camera. How, and to what extent this functionality will enhance NBA 07 multiplayer remains to be seen.
NBA 07 delivers some slick graphics that actually improve on the great visuals of last year’s inaugural title. Player models are now much larger, especially in some game modes, and their animation is smooth and realistic, obviously mo-capped. The overall presentation is also enhanced with cool new replays and highlight reels giving this game a much-needed broadcast facelift. The post game highlights are a personal favorite showing all the great plays by you and your opponent, just like on TV.
The court gleams and reflects and the camera tracks the action from the sidelines between the two goals like just like network coverage or you can cycle between numerous other camera modes, some of which really aren’t conducive to gameplay but they still look cool. This has all the presentation value of its full-sized console cousin.
Product placement is alive and well and a big part of NBA 07 with plenty of sponsors and banners, both in the stadium and as part of the presentation, such as the TNT Instant Replay. T-Mobile seems to be staking their claim on the NBA this year as well.
With a dozen licensed tracks ranging from hip-hop to rap (yes, it’s a small range), you’ll definitely get pumped for some round ball as you watch the opening intro and navigate the menus and splash screens. If you don’t like that kind of music then you can turn it down or off in the options.
Adding to the professional presentation feel of the game are some much improved crowd noises, now louder and more diverse and actually cued to the on-court action, as well as some fantastic (and scarily accurate) play-by-play commentary from Ian Eagle and Mark Jackson. They even comment on replays and highlights.
Honestly, I can’t imagine how long you might end up playing this game. As sports titles go, you can spend a month or more just exploring the conventional aspects of the game like the season and exhibition modes, but once you get hooked on those mini-games, or worse, the Conquest mode, all bets are off.
The multiplayer is also flawlessly executed. It’s easy to get hooked up and the numerous online (and Ad Hoc) games I played went off without a hitch. The stat tracking is amazing and I am admittedly curious to see what Sony has in store when they release that camera.
It all boils down to NBA Live 07 or just plain old NBA 07, but if you’ll pardon the wordplay, I found much more “life” in Sony’s PSP basketball game than EA’s. NBA 07 has a solid core of traditional basketball gameplay and modes, but it’s the fantastic mini-games and multiplayer that will keep this game in your PSP or on standby in your pocket for months to come.
Graphics have been tweaked, sound improved, color and play-by-play commentary added, and AI beefed up to offer a far greater challenge despite some lingering flaws. NBA 07 has what it takes to dominate the 2007 NBA season and definitely worth the time of any basketball fan who owns a PSP.