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Xbox 360 Review: NBA Street Homecourt

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I the early 90s, it was NBA Jam. Midway’s arcade and later home classic was untouchable, and does a remarkable job of still being playable today. The same cannot be said for NBA Street, in this or any incarnation.

Homecourt does one thing right: Its aesthetics are wonderful. With personal reflections from the NBA players themselves, Homecourt presents small, sometimes rundown playgrounds as a place where many started their passion. Told through their eyes, the courts become something more than concrete and cheaply constructed metal backboards. They have a story, a deeper meaning, and in many cases inspiration for a future NBA lineup.

Of course, all of this is contradictory to a game in which few players are actually on the court. Street is a series, exactly like its Jam predecessor, that is played far above the rim. All of the deep, thoughtful flashbacks seem rather pointless in a title that tries its hardest to destroy anything resembling basketball’s fundamentals.

Buried in aggravating color filters, the otherwise sharp graphics and animations bring small hope that this edition of the series could be the breakout it desperately needs. Once into game play, nothing has been altered. It’s a pointless game of street basketball, even from the view of an over-the-top arcade romp.

Homecourt adds an extra trick button, mercifully dumping the right analog stick movement of Volume 3. As with prior releases, this means nothing. After four different installments, no one has yet given these tricks a point or a purpose. A quick run through the various animation routines for every trick leaves the game with no substance and seemingly no care for why these moves are actually in the game.

Defense is pointless in a game like this, so the need for jukes, crossovers, or whatever goofy ball handling skill the developers have crafted is useless. It’s far easier to run by your opponent and go for a quick dunk than it is to waste time showing off. Homecourt does nothing to make performing these tricks fun or feel interactive. You hit a button combination and a canned animation routine plays out. Why bother going around a defender with trick moves when they can barely defend in the first place?

Tricks increase your Gamebreaker meter, an easy way to quickly pile on points. What’s amusing is that in the time it takes to build this to its peak via tricks, the player could have easily scored, got back on defense, and prepped for a quick steal or block. A flashy crossover doesn’t put points on the board, and it’s far too risky to make it worth the time.

The game has a fairly well constructed story mode called the Homecourt Challenge. Mildly addictive, you’ll build up a created player (using one of the most bizarre create-a-player interfaces ever) on his way to the NBA. Early on, you can increase one stat to its fullest. The smart player uses this on their shooting skill if they’re looking for quick wins. With a little ingenuity on the defensive side, you’ll never lose by draining two pointers revealing NBA Street’s unforgivable shallowness.

An additional mode, Back to Basics, eliminates the need for a Gamebreaker or fancy tricks. It’s pure street ball, though it still relies on the crutch of defensive blocking. Without goaltending, timing a jump and blocking a shot is far too simple. It’s the only way to stop a deadly shooter, and eliminating this would simply destroy the game at its core and also remove the tiny sliver of defense present. Street makes it far too difficult to pull off a legitimate block, and even going for a loose ball is hard to judge.

Barely a step above the supposed simulation that is NBA Live, Homecourt continues this franchises lack of refinement. It’s obvious that far more time was spent creating atmosphere than improving core game play mechanics. A new color filter is hardly a way to cover up the blatantly weak effort on the court.

NBA Street Homecourt is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: PS3.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.