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    NBA Street Homecourt Review
    EA's latest hits nothing but chain.

    February 16, 2007 - Rip Hamilton invited me to a friendly streetball tournament at Ash Park. So I show up with a couple of friendly guys: all-world Aussie Andrew Bogut and NBA hair-star Adam Morrison. So what's Rip do? He brings in a couple of his boys that grew up near Coatesville, Penn.: ringers Rasheed Wallace and Kobe Bryant.

    Sheed and Kobe grew up in Philly, and were clearly called in late to hustle my squad. Before I can hit the shenanigan button, team "Coatesville" is out to a 19-15 lead and our chances of winning this thing are uglier than Morrison's haircut. We only have one chance of pulling this off other than calling time to research zoning laws: the Gamebreaker.

    Hustling to midcourt, I trigger the Gamebreaker and start ripping off tricks like sunny side, the cha cha, rewind, jimmy did it and every other kind of wicked move EA stuffed in NBA Street Homecourt. I fill the trick meter up for +3 points, tell Bogut to get on his knees at the top of the key, leap off his back for the Trifecta, a vicious triple-gamebreaker dunk. Three points for the dunk. Three points for the bonus. Game over.

    The most realistic Street ever?
    As great as the other NBA Street titles were in the past, this latest is a fine achievement by the team at EA Canada. With the additions of the Trick Remixer, with which you do everything from a simple cross-over to an off-da-heazy, and a Gamebreaker meter instead of canned super-dunks, NBA Street Homecourt brings a new level of organic gameplay to the arcade sports genre. Throw in outstanding graphics, a solid soundtrack and a decent career mode, and NBA Street Homecourt is the next-gen arcade sports game you have been waiting for.

    That's because other arcade sports games have left us wanting a lot more over the years. While they start out great with a few quarters at the local arcade, non-stop Phi-Slamma-Jamma jams wear thin after a few days on a home console. From NBA Jam to NFL Blitz to the original NBA Street, the majority of arcade sports games start out with an over-the-top bang and fizzle out in the end -- i.e. Morrison's hair. Very few titles have been able to overcome that, with the notable exception of FIFA Street 2, a title that, despite its other flaws, featured a new organic gameplay style, a do-it-yourself gamebreaker and a decent career mode. Not coincidentally, many of the same guys that brought you FIFA Street 2 are also on Homecourt.

    Create your own highlight reel.
    On the court, you'll use the Trick Remixer -- tap the A button to quickly cross the ball over. Slow the pace and you'll perform other moves, like behind-the-head dribbles and nice little pirouettes. The bumpers act as modifiers to go between the legs or around the back, and with a good ball-handler you can use this Trick Remixer to pull off some amazing combos. The Y button is a standard trick button that pulls off canned-animations and, when a defender is in proximity, some embarrassing ankle-breakers that act as multipliers for your mounting trick score.

    This plays into a nice defensive mini-game. As a defender, you need to challenge ball handlers by going for a steal or simply shoving players to the concrete. Shaq is good at that. If you don't time it right, you'll continually get beat but with just two buttons, you're bound to get it right soon -- all the more reason to try out off-the-heazy passes. On the offensive end, the Trick Remixer is a great new combo system and you are finally in control of just how you want to blow by defenders. On defense, you have to work to stay in front of a ball-handler and either take the ball away or force him to pass. It's very well balanced and playing both sides of the court are equally enjoyable.

    As goaltending is, as they say on the streets, "fine and dandy," blocks play another big role in the gameplay. The best time to hit a three -- er, a two -- is actually on the break as a big man underneath will simply snatch your shot from the heavens. As multiple players leap into the air for alley-oops or head-fake a jumper, the blocking action gets heated. Just make sure you're not standing under the hoop when you take off.

    But what's an NBA Street game without dunks? With four basic player types -- guards, forwards, centers and WNBA players -- there are a number of different jams specific to each position, like Jordan's patented Jumpman for guards or Shaq's lumbering Caveman dunk. A few of the WNBA players can dunk, but most of them -- and a few NBA guards-- prefer tricky lay-ins to thundering jams. Personally, I'm all for equal dunking rights so I would have given the women a little more hops. It's not like T-Mac's spinning, around the back, off the board, standing on the rim dunk is very realistic, either.

    New this year is the double dunk. Hold down the shot button until the very last moment to queue one up. There's a dunk meter to help you out, which is removed in online play and on harder difficulty settings -- a nice choice since every dunk after a week of the game is a double dunk. I see these things in my sleep.

    And finally, Gamebreaker dunks set a new "holy s***" standard for NBA Street, and descriptions would be a waste of time here. Just click on the video link below to see for yourself. And if you need six in a hurry, fill up the trick meter for a three-point bonus and launch off a teammate's back for an unforgettable triple dunk.

    The AI plays very well for the most part, although the CPU characters sometimes struggle to run toward a loose ball a few feet away. We've also seen some interesting behavior from stars like Kobe and Shaq: whenever Shaq guards Kobe, he just pushes Kobe to the ground. Whatever Kobe does, Shaq just shoves him aside. Even in practice mode. Don't even try to get these two on the same Homecourt team.

    The streets: where dreams are born and knees are skinned.
    Which brings us to Homecourt Challenge, EA's new single-player street campaign. In it, you'll create a character by melding the heads of NBA stars heads like Conan O'Brien trying to predict the appearance of the offspring of Julia Roberts and Meat Loaf -- nasty! From there, you take on NBA stars and not-so stars at real-life homecourts around the nation -- Melo's Cloverdale in B-More, the Brand Jordan gym and Venice Beach. Rucker Park in Harlem will also be available as a free download soon after Homecourt releases.

    It's a fine single-player campaign for a Street game -- there are a ton of unlockable Air Jordan shoes and uniforms and leveling up your baller is addictive. EA did drop the ball, here. Sadly, Homecourt isn't "homecourt" enough. We'd like to see more drama and a little more defending your court. If Kobe is on my team, I want Shaq to roll over and challenge me for life-time rights to the court. I want a rival to continually egg my car until I beat him. At the very least, I want a climatic final showdown of a tournament straight out of Above the Rim (23rd greatest urban basketball movie ever). Instead, my maxed-out-baller wins again and the game ends. Hey, at least I can play him on any team in a pick-up-game.

    Gotta be the shoes.
    There is a surprising lack of gamemodes: Gamebreaker Battles (play for Gamebreaker points), Trick Battles (fill up your trick meter and score for a point) and Back to Basics (no trick points, no Gamebreakers.). Also, EA is a little behind on some key roster moves: Dunleavy and Murphy are still on the Warriors and C-Webb is still on the Pistons. There's no downloadable roster update in the works or a simple edit roster function to shuffle people around. We would trade it all in if there were unlockable classic players like Jordan and Dr. J. Sorry, but no.

    Of course, the strength of Street is as a pick-up-and-play multiplayer game, and this title is no different.

    Graphically, Homecourt looks outstanding, thanks to the smooth 60 frames-per-second and almost perfect trick animations. If you tell a player to pass, he doesn't wait to bring the ball up to his chest -- he kicks it. The animations flow together perfectly and we implore EAC to share this technology with other EA Sports titles on the way. The deep soundtrack is a nice mix of funk, soul and hip-hop, and the sound on the court is a mix of moans, groans, and humorous player chatter.

    The online options are basic as well. You can play pick-up games, Gamebreaker battles, Trick Battles and Back to Basics games online and find yourself on the leaderboard. This would have been a great chance for an online, defend-your-turf feature, but we're left hanging again on the EA servers. The Achievements are relatively simple with nothing out of reach once you beat the Homecourt Challenge.

    Closing Comments
    NBA Street Homecourt is a great addition to the sports library on next-gen consoles and a step up for EA's vaunted franchise. The Trick Remixer and new Gamebreaker system will have you jumping out of your gaming chair. Visually, the cartoony-art style surely helps keep the framerate at a blazing 60 fps, with an excellent animation system. While the teams rosters could use and update and the Homecourt Challenge a bit more drama, the gameplay is as good as arcade hoops gets. IGN officially gives NBA Street Homecourt "mad props."

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