NBA Ballers: Chosen One Review (Xbox 360)
When you think of arcade basketball, what company do you think of first? Or better yet, when you think of arcade basketball, what videogame do you think of first? If NBA Jam isn’t the first game you think of, then it is still probably one of the first. Midway developed NBA Jam back in the early ‘90s and almost everyone has fond memories of playing that game. On the other hand, gamers don’t exactly have the fondest memories of the NBA Jam later years because the series then started to resemble the low point in every E! True Hollywood Story.
Which brings me to the present, and I assume you know where this is going. The original NBA Ballers on the Xbox/PS2 was a solid title, nothing groundbreaking, but it had some depth and it had a solid fan base. But now years later, NBA Ballers: Chosen One has arrived on the 360/PS3 and once again Midway has turned a solid arcade basketball series into a bloated Hollywood corpse of sorts. Imagery aside, Chosen One fails as an arcade basketball game.
Right from the initial check ball the game feels a bit off. The player faces all look normal enough, but the faces are all made of stone and everything in the environment seems to have a plasticity of sorts. From there the controls are hard to figure out since the modifiers are on the triggers and bumpers while the face buttons act as the action buttons (shoot, pass, juke, block, etc). The control configuration isn’t really the issue, but there’s a lot that can be done with the controls and the game chooses to let you attack the game blind -- sometimes that’s a good thing, it’s just not this time around. I figured I’d memorize the controls eventually, and yet hours later I still was reaching for the manual, and sometimes found no help.
For example there’s one challenge during the Story Mode that has a rule set/goal in which you must pass the ball to a crowd member and then get the pass back for an alley-oop. The only problem is I couldn’t figure out how to make the crowd member throw an alley-oop (the manual didn’t help either). Eventually I did figure it out, but that example sums up the issue with the controls: complexity doesn’t automatically mean amazing depth, it sometimes just means frustration.
There’s not much depth in Chosen One either way. There’s a combo system which basically is the best way to rack up points and also boost your meter which unlocks super moves -- I’ll get to those a moment. By pressing the LB + X you start a combo which basically turns into what player can click the on-screen button the fastest. If the defender presses the button first he breaks up the combo; if the ball handler presses the correct button first then the combo continues (guards can continue combos longer than centers). If you complete a combo and then score soon after you get a +2 to your shot; so a two point shot is then worth four points. There’s some risk-reward obviously but against the CPU this is essentially the only move I did since the CPU was so terrible at stopping the combos. Now there are other moves which can be chained together to offer boost as well, but against the CPU the rewards always outweigh the risks when it comes to pulling off the quick time event combos.
Now when you fill up the move meter you can do the previously mentioned Super Moves. There are three levels of moves depending on how many times the meter has been filled up: the first level involves jukes and steals; the second level involves shots or blocks; the third level involves a game-winning dunk. When you activate a Super Move, a 5-8 second cutscene occurs, of the unskippable variety. Every time you do one of the special moves a cutscene pops up, taking you entirely out of the game and making you watch some boring canned over-the-top animation. It’s exactly the opposite thing to do in an arcade game that is at least half-heartedly trying to also appeal to fighting game fans.
Playing the game's multiplayer opens up some more depth that’s not found in the single-player, but it still whittles down to very simple and overused strategies. Now I could continue on for much longer about the poor rebounding system, rule inconsistencies (there’s charges, fouls and goaltending, yet you can swat the ball off the rim, huh?), or even the way the game looks incredibly last-gen while in motion, but that’s not going to change anything. Chosen One fell into a common sequel trap: the developers tried create a deeper game by adding onto the core experience, only it didn’t pan out this time around.
On The Court: Every player is apparently ambidextrous since each one changes up the strong shooting hand multiple times throughout each game. But if you enjoy watching cutscenes and partaking in quick time events this is the game for you!
Graphics: The game goes for style, but everything looks too shiny. Also on certain courts the framerate hitches and bogs down.
Sound: The soundtrack is solid enough and Chuck D. himself is in the NBA TV studio during the start of each story mode chapter. It’s kind of odd seeing Chuck D. in the studio all by himself (where’s Rick Kamla!?) but the sound isn’t the problem in Chosen One.
Entertainment Value: A two-on-two game with 3 friends in the same room always brings some enjoyment. Also the Create-a-Baller feature is somewhat deep, but the Story Mode is repetitive and short lived.
Learning Curve: I had the manual in my lap even hours later. The controls simply didn’t click with me since most of the moves are very similar with only one bumper or trigger switch to distinguish them, and no tutorial to guide me along the way.
Online: There are no lobbies and only one-on-one play is available. Basically you can either do quick/custom matches or create a match and pray someone joins. You never know how many people might be looking to play games though so it’s hit-or-miss in terms of setting up a match. Lag for the most part wasn’t a problem but there were one or two instances where there was a "sync failure" and the game booted back to the online menu.