NBA PSP Review

A few days ago a friend and I were talking about Sony's first-party PSP lineup and he excitedly asked how 989 Studios' NBA turned out. Disgusted with my experience, all I did was shake my head. This resulted in a sad expression that immediately blanketed his face, followed by, "No! Oh come on! No." Unfortunately, it's true. Sony may have assembled a stellar launch lineup for its portable system, but this game is a nasty blemish.

Before I begin my rant, it's best that I list the good things about NBA. For starters, it's an extremely pretty game. 989 really nailed many of the player likenesses, and seeing something that's PS2 quality running on a portable system is a treat for the eyes. While the crowd is the standard 2D cutouts we're already used to seeing, the players look fantastic.

NBA 2005 also gets a nod for its options. Like any standard hoops game you've got all of the NBA teams and players, and you can customize your games, seasons, and playoffs as you wish. Everything from choosing from several quarter lengths, toggling rules on and off, and going through an entire 82-game season or jumping right into the NBA Finals is at your command. Sounds like pretty plain options, but thankfully 989 decided to add some really cool mini games.

Skills Challenge is a fairly enjoyable practice mode where you can shoot, pass, and dribble around non-moving defenders. It's fun for a time, though it can quickly get boring. The Three-Point Contest is your typical All-Star weekend rainbow fest, but the shoddy controls make picking up balls and hoisting them feel very unnatural.

Lastly, there's Paint, and this is clearly the coolest mode in the game. Playing on a half court, you need to make more points than your opponent by shooting a variety of shots from all over the place. Since both players have a corresponding color, the object is to shoot the ball from a spot on the court to turn that part into your color. It's a mad dash to see who can dominate the court and it's very enjoyable.

Rounding out the positive is the wireless multiplayer, which works extremely well. Setting up games is a breeze, and there's no noticeable lag.

Unfortunately, it's all downhill from here. The rest of NBA is about as satisfying as raw tripe, and it all begins with its shooting system. When attempting a shot the basketball may be one of three colors: red, orange, and green, and this basically corresponds to "not a chance," possibly," and "more than likely." So if you're going for a three and right before you release the ball it's glowing green you'll probably knock it down, while if you're going in for an easy lay-up and the ball's red you're going to blow it.

Problem is, it's not easy to get the hang of. My first time through I blew a lot of wide open shots, and ones where I was covered were swatted back in my face by the shot-blocking machine that is the computer. There's no need to kick it to the wide-open man for a shot because it doesn't seem to matter much of the time.

The shooting system kills this game but there are other problems including a disregard for the sport's actual rules. Three times I drove baseline for a dunk, got pushed out of bounds, chucked the ball over the backboard, and made the shot! Three times. While doing this looks cool, it's not exactly legal.

Other issues I have with the game is its decision to stop play for no logical reason, players teleporting across the court (such as when they need to make an inbound pass), and players' refusal to even pick up the ball. It's like both sides are saying, "It's not our ball. It's your ball." "No sir! I insist that it is your ball."

I'm also not a fan of the game's free throw system. Clearly a stretch of the imagination (because all of the cool methods have already been taken), 989 put in place this corny system where the ball moves from left to right across the top of the backboard, and then, after you press the shoot button once, it moves on a diagonal, the goal being to line it up with the hoop.

To its credit, NBA 2005 is playable, and if you're just messing around with a friend I'm sure you'll have some level of fun, but I just plain think it's one of the few bad PSP launch games. It's an embarrassment to the sport of basketball as portrayed by videogames, a pick-up game between ten players who have broken legs and are trying to walk on them. I'm disappointed that Sony and 989 would release such a product for what should be a sensational console launch. If NBA represented the actual National Basketball Association, I'd pray for a lock out.

What's Hot: Looks great, and a ton of gameplay options.

What's Not: Shooting system is terrible, making the game a frustrating experience.

2/5