NBA Live 06 Review (PSP)

EA's NBA Live series lands on the PSP just in time for the NBA season opener, and while it's a solid performing entry on Sony's portable wonder, it's lack of quality basketball play keeps it from reaching new heights on the small screen.

NBA Live 06 is at heart, the same game that Operation Sports' own Aaron Holbert reviewed recently, and the basics of the game - both good and bad - are essentially unchanged.

Naturally, many of the features for the console versions have been removed - most notably the franchise mode and it's "Player Evolution". There is a new mode that's exclusive to the PSP, however - the Superstar Challenge. In essence, it's a selection of game situations that require the player to start at a certain point in time and win by as much as possible, all while meeting statistical benchmarks with that team's Superstar player. It's actually the most entertaining mode in NBA Live 06, but it doesn't really encourage a play style that resembles actual basketball. Let's face it - if the goal is to get Dwyane Wade 15 more points in a win with only 3:30 left on the clock, the game's naturally going to consist of jacking up shot after shot with "Flash" to get him his buckets. It's pure arcade stat-hogging fluff, but it's fun - and the time commitment isn't large; which should always be a factor when designing games for a portable system. The All-Star Weekend mode remains, including the enjoyable Slam Dunk Contest. The controls are slightly simplified for the PSP, of course, but it's still an awfully fun mode that can still be plenty challenging for the gamer.

A single Season mode is also included with all the requisite bells and whistles that you'd expect.
Overall, the game's package is solid… and then EA puts the cherry on top.

I've been reviewing PSP games here since the unit's debut, and I've constantly harped on one thing - if there's going to be wireless multiplayer play, make it Internet-based. With NBA Live 06, EA delivered - Infrastructure and Ad-hoc play are available for exhibition games, and they work well. The 'net-based games I played ran noticeably slower than the off-line ones, but the game was still quite playable, and you really feel like the PSP is something special when you're wirelessly playing anyone around the world.

There's one disquieting annoyance - to use the game online, you'll need to sign up for the EA Nation service. This costs $2.00 - kind of. Of course, EA doesn't really expect you to pay this fee (even though an option to do so with a credit card is offered). Instead, you'll sign up and let ESPN (EA Nation's sponsor) "pay" your $2.00 fee in exchange for the right to use your e-mail address and contact information to… well, let's be honest: sell you things.

I doubt that EA gains a significant fiscal advantage for doing this - and to put it frankly, it feels a little sleazy - even from two trusted corporations.
Regardless, the move to true online gaming on the PSP is more than welcome - and perhaps next time, EA won't have to compromise it's consumers' privacy to pull it off…

NBA Live 06 is a good looking, great sounding PSP game that runs at a pleasingly solid frame rate. Like all PSP games, it's got an acute case of the "jaggies", but that's due more to the Sony device's limitations than anything. Most player faces are recognizable even on the small screen, and Steve Kerr and Marv Albert do a solid job of broadcasting. Play a game with Portland, and let Albert tell you about Sebastian Telfair's high school, and it's… notable alumni, while Kerr tries to tell him he's boring everyone - good stuff.

This is a straight-ahead arcade game - despite it's initial appearance - and as such, gamers shouldn't be expecting deep, thoughtful play. However, some of the on-court flaws will be jarring even to the most casual of gamers. First and of foremost concern is the rebounding AI - or lack thereof. If you don't rebound the ball yourself, more often than not, players will stand in place as the ball will bounce one or twice - in the paint - before anyone bothers to scoop it up. You can guess how often that happens in the NBA… it rhymes with "hero". I've played a ton of games, and it still shocks me.

With no right thumbstick available, the Freestyle moves more or less vanish from the game, and that in turn makes the game's Superstars even more dominant. Using the left trigger in conjunction with the face buttons, the game's greatest players become nigh unstoppable using Freestyle Superstar moves.
Grab the Lakers, change the settings to "Player Lock" on Kobe Bryant, and let the assault on Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game begin!

NBA Live 06 is not a bad title - it's really not. It's a fun, pick-up-and-play game with a lot of options that happen to make the game look like basketball. But when you play the game itself, it's not really basketball - it's just an arcade game of something similar with some seriously odd - and consistently odd - AI.

However, all is not lost. The PSP is a portable system, of course, and as such, games for this kind of system are supposed to be fun, simple and not terribly time-consuming. Viewed in this light, NBA Live 06 is a success, but real hoops fans will undoubtedly spend more of their gaming time on more fleshed-out console titles, and keep Live around as a quick artificially-basketball-flavored snack for their PSP.

NBA Live 06 Score
out of 10