XBOX REVIEW: NBA BALLERS: PHENOM

The only ones who will get the most out of Phemom are those who haven't played the first game. What a way to alienate fans of the original. by Colin Thames

April 5, 2006 - If you haven't already played the original NBA Ballers, you will in all likeliness probably enjoy this game. I'm just pissed that despite some new content, it's just a repackaged version of the original game. The one-on-one action is still good but the addition of a two-on-two mode, a free-roaming story mode and the online play just isn't enough to warrant a recommendation to buy this game. Rent it if you think you can't live without it. You might have a gang of homies to feed that will love the four-player mode but the two-player mode is where all the best action is, and that's been released more than a year ago.

Phenom has a really lame, revenge-fueled storyline. It seems that your partner Hot Sauce has taken off with your girlfriend and also managed to finagle an endorsement deal that was meant for both of you. He's talking all kinds of trash about you and making himself out to be the star. So what are you going to do about it? You're going to challenge him to a showdown and put him in his place. But before you can do that, you've got a lot of work to do to rise through the ranks before you can take the NBA-sponsored tournament title.

In the mean streets of LA you can wander around in suburbs like East LA, Hollywood and Beverly Hills looking to get into a game. While you're walking around you will bump into various non-playable characters that you can perform side quests for. Some of these quests are like mini-games. Non are particularly challenging and very few have anything to do with the game of basketball. There is a spelling bee in which you have to correctly spell the names of popular European players. Hint: The less vowels you use, the better. You'll also have to put up poster and answer trivia questions. There's even a rap-inspired rhythm game. You will find these NPCs all throughout the streets but some are hidden so you'll have to search extra hard to find them all. Can you say filler?

Games are played on one half of the court. The first player to score 13 points is the winner, but you have to win two out of three matches. There are variations to the rules and you can even change some of the rules yourself, such as allowing fouls. Money is earned from matches as well as side-quest. With it you can purchase new moves, gear, bling and cribs. The gear actually makes sense as it enhances your abilities similarly to a RPG. Certain shoes will increase your lateral jumping skills and hats can make your shots more accurate. The bling and crib stuff is just crap to appeal to the pseudo gangbangers that this game targets. As is the comically tough hip hop music that sounds like it was recorded by the same untalented pack of losers. Do I sound like I'm in a bad mood or what?

You've got the same basic moves as before. Jukes can be performed with the right stick and you can add some extra spice to your moves by unleashing the Turbo meter button in tandem with a juke move. You'll get points for stringing together different moves such as jukes with dunks and alley oops. These moves will also fill your House Meter, which will set you up for an automatic win when you unleash it before the next alley oop. It triggers a stock animation that shows you breaking the backboard. The act-a-fool move is back and it will also trigger over-the-top animations of you outsmarting your opponent by performing a variety of wacky, Harlem Globetrotter-approved shenanigans.

You can create your own character or use any of the unlocked NBA players. There are all kinds of customizing options for your created characters including race, body type, outfits, hairstyles, jewelry, shoes, shades, tattoos and other superfluous accessories. You can then take your creation online and show him off to the world. The online mode is limited to one-on-one matches which suits me fine. The lounge includes stats and a leaderboard. Getting into a game is easy and I did not experience any lag or slowdown. The four-player, two-on-two mode can only be played locally offline.

Where the game shows signs of age is in the graphics department. This is starting to look like a 20th century game, especially the backgrounds. LA looks a lot like the city in Crazy Taxi. It also doesn't help that some of the NPCs have large yellow question marks over their heads. The faces on the character models look great. You can definitely recognize the NBA stars. The likeness of each player is good, and there are some good facial expressions, but they all kind of default to a zombie-style stare. But the eye candy bounces downhill from there. The details in the background are terrible. There are jaggies and other visual scats and bops.

For my money I want a completely overhauled game and not something that feels nuked. Don't give me some cheesy unlockables and a few new modes and call it a new game. This isn't a new game. It's like an expansion pack for a PC game. If you pay more than twenty bucks for this game, you've paid too much. If you still get a kick out of last year's Baller, then save your money and keep playing it until Midway comes out with something substantial for this series. If you haven't played the first Ballers, then by all means try it out and see if it's what you've been looking for.

Features:

  • For the first time ever in an NBA video game, take your game off the court and interact with the local scene of LA neighborhoods like Hollywood and Venice.
  • The exciting NBA Ballers action is back with all new game modes, brand new luxury courts, and the most insane blacktop moves.
  • Every choice affects your path to the NBA as either the next #1 draft pick or an entrepreneur, complete with a record label, clothing line and movie deal.
  • All-new 2v2 gameplay allows you to pick a partner from the best players in the NBA and pair up with a teammate to take it to the online courts.

By Colin Thames
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
NBA Ballers: Phenom (Xbox)
4.0
Graphics
The backgrounds are rife with aliasing while the character models are excellent. The Xbox on the whole looks better than the PS2.
4.5

Control
The controls are tight and responsive.

3.1
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music isn't great but the ambient sound effects are.
3.5
Play Value
If you really make use of the online mode and the four-player offline mode, you'll get a decent amount of replay value out of this.
3.7
Overall Rating - Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
System: X (shown), PS2
Dev: Midway
Pub: Midway
Release: Apr 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Review by Colin

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best