|System: Xbox 360|
|Dev: HB Studios|
|Release: September 11, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Mild Lyrics|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Working on this review has taught me three things about myself:
1. I suck a basketball.
2. I have no rhythm.
3. Most likely Cheat Code Central assigned me and my pudgy, out-of-shape body this review just to embarrass me.
Despite all this (and a bunch of broken houseware, which I will get to later), I enjoyed NBA Baller Beats. It's a truly innovative game that delivers on promises the Kinect made in its early days, specifically the ability to scan real-world objects and use them as controllers in a game. I suppose you can say I really had a "ball" with this game. (I promise I'll never make a pun that bad again.)
NBA Baller Beats is a fusion of Basketball and a rhythm game that teaches you real basketball skills. You play it—get this—with a real basketball (which thankfully comes included in the game.) The game has you dribble along to the beat of a song in either your on-hand or off-hand. At points, you'll be asked to switch between your hands or perform some sort of nifty basketball maneuver. You may need to dribble between your legs, behind your back, or go for a pump fake. The game even asks you to mimic the action of passing and shooting at points.
The song selection is pretty good, mostly focused on pop hits. And dribbling to LMFAO will make you feel far cooler than you actually are. At higher levels of difficulty, executing a trick-filled basketball dribbling routine makes you feel like a real Harlem Globetrotter. (Not that I ever managed to complete anything over the rookie level.)
There is something to be said for this game's difficulty. Since it requires you to use actual basketball skills, couch potatoes and Sunday warriors need not apply. You'll have to dribble in your off-hand in pretty much every song in the game. Many people will find it difficult to simply dribble in their on-hand to a beat. The beats don't remain constant either. Like any good rhythm game, you'll find yourself having to bounce the ball to weird time signatures, off beats, and more. It really does feel like DDR more than Dance Central in this regard.
You have to have basketball skills and rhythm to succeed at this game; unfortunately, I have neither.
Luckily, there is a tutorial designed for basketball scrubs like me. Narrated by NBA champ Kenny Smith, The tutorial walks you through the basic skills you will need in order to play. This mode is a godsend, as it allows you to work through individual maneuvers at many different speeds. It's a bit like a personal basketball coach running you through drills, though it doesn't feel like work because you're essentially just learning a game.
Now, I know a lot of you are worried about the Kinect's accuracy. The Kinect has had problems simply tracking your body's movement at points, how can it possibly track a basketball? Well, rest assured this is one of the most accurate Kinect games out there right now. It keeps track of the basketball and your body position quite accurately.
In fact, the only tracking issues the Kinect seemed to have for me involved figuring out exactly what side I was dribbling on. The ball would jitter back and forth at times, but never far enough to make the game misread my movements. This pretty much proves that Kinect tracking all comes down to software, not hardware.
You can play the game multiplayer, but not simultaneously. Instead, the game tasks 1-8 players with playing through sections of a song one after another, comparing their scores at the end. It's not the best multiplayer mode in the world, but it works in the context of NBA Baller Beats. You can play short versions of songs or eventually unlock longer versions to increase replay value, which essentially doubles the track list for anyone who is into hardcore marathon sessions.
Outside of that, the game is a cut-and-dried affair. It's a rhythm game with a basketball. It's the biggest step we have taken toward actual virtual reality. I can easily see this very same motion capture system being implemented into an actual basketball game sometime in the future, and unlike Rock Band or DDR, this will actually improve your ball handling skills on the court.