NBA 08 (PSP) review
"For all that initial negativity and bias, NBA08 surprised me in a number of ways. To be fair, it is the first sports title I have played on the PSP. Most of this can be attributed to the fact that it seemed rather pointless given how far sports gaming has come on the home consoles since the SNES days. I'd just play my sports on one of the bigger consoles. However, this PSP game was still remarkably playable, even compared to titles for the big guys."
At their core, sports games never really change. A game about basketball will always fundamentally be about a group of really tall people trying to throw a ball through a ring more times than another group of really tall people. Surprisingly, there have been more games made about basketball than there have been about teenagers with pointy hair and pointy swords embarking on a journey to discover themselves.
But whatever, it's not original. It's a sports title, and it doesn't have to be. For all that initial negativity and bias, NBA08 surprised me in a number of ways. To be fair, it is the first sports title I have played on the PSP. Most of this can be attributed to the fact that it seemed rather pointless given how far sports gaming has come on the home consoles since the SNES days. I'd just play my sports on one of the bigger consoles. However, this PSP game was still remarkably playable, even compared to titles for the big guys.
Initially, things didn't look so good. The first thing that I noticed was the lack of a create-a-player option. Honestly, such features have been around since the NES, and it seems rather sloppy not to include one. This oversite isn't gamebreaking, but it did start the game out on the wrong foot. Generally, player creation adds a lot to these titles.
Once I quit looking for that, though, I uncovered a vast store of other game modes that basically made up for the loss. There are a number of little basketball-themed minigames that range from a breakout clone to ski ball. Any one of which can be played completely in just a few minutes. It's really a brilliant move, and it works especially well on a handheld game. At home when there's time to sit down and play a game these minigames would never see use. But on the go when there isn't always time, short distractions are sometimes better than a full game.
Then, of course, there are all the necessary modes, play a season, play a playoff season, or an exhibition game. You can work on your freethrows and whatnot. Far and away the most interesting mode, however, is Conquest. Conquest is sort of like street basketball mixed with Risk, and the idea is that you attempt to conquer the entire US with your crazy basketball skills. Throughout your campaign, you can 'fortify your defenses' by giving the advantage to your defending teams. Alternatively, you can spend these points upgrading the stats of your players to make those attacks easier. Winning an attack grants you new territory, and all the players you defeated. Conversely, losing an attack means you have to give up one of your players.
The strategy is a nice element, but all it does is put the odds in your favor. At the end of the day it boils down to pure skill at the game itself. And the gameplay does not seem to be neglected in favor of adding other stuff. Always fast and fluid, much like the real life counterpart, the main event is everything you could hope for. The analog controls are tight and responsive, and the game does a fine job of making it feel like control is firmly in your hands.
On the graphical front, the players resemble those they're modeled after, the courts gleam with waxy shine, and with nary a bit of slowdown even when everyone is running is running about in a dense mob under the basket.
But all that aside, a huge portion of any sports game is multiplayer capability, and NBA08 won me over on that front almost immediately from the very beginning. A majority of multiplayer PSP games only allow network play, and it's aggrivating. What good is a wi-fi hardware if it's never going to be used?. So when I started up NBA08 and saw "Play Online", I had to collect my jaw from the floor before I could actually try the feature.
NBA08 turned out to be not only an interesting diversion, but a title that I find myself playing fairly often. There are enough different things to do to keep you playing for some time, whether you need entertainment for five minutes or an hour. As far as sports games go, especially handheld ones, it was far more than I expected.
Freelance review by Josh Higley (October 26, 2007)
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