The big hook of Midway's sports games have always been their fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall gameplay and flashy moves, but NBA Hoopz on the PS is as sluggish as the Miami Heat's offense. The players look like they're running on a court polished with molasses and the ball even slows down as it's traveling toward the basket. Slowdown problems like this are often caused by the developers sacrificing speed for eye-candy, but sadly, that isn't the case here. The lackluster 3D players have a smudgy look that makes your eyes feel dilated, and there's a lot of choppy animation during the best part of the game--the dunks. One second the players are in the paint, and a moment later they are magically stuffing the ball down. For even more evidence of this lackadaisical effort, look no further than the omission of the great mini-games that grace the DC edition. There's no reason why Midway couldn't have included these (it might have salvaged it), unless they just didn't give a damn. And if they don't care about their own game, why in the heck should you?
Download NBA Hoopz
It's taken three name changes for Midway's basketball franchise to get 3-to-3 play, but it doesn't make this arcade sports game much better--just different. Although there are more scorers on the floor, points are actually much harder to come by. There's just not as many easy dunks and lay-ups because at least one defender is usually back to make a last-ditch swat at the ball, forcing you to play more half-court offense (including post-up moves that let you back up a defender for the score). This shouldn't scare you into thinking that Hoopz is turning into a simulation; it's not. When it comes to mixing arcade gameplay with a twist of realism, Midway has performed a Cirque Du Soleil-esque balancing act to keep the gameplay fun but reminiscent of the NBA. The players aren't super-detailed, but they move fast and animate fluidly. You can still push players to the floor, catch "on fire" with three consecutive baskets, and rip off highlight reel dunks with ease. Surprisingly, the best thing about this new Jam session are the mini-games. A few games of Around the World, 2 Ball and 21 make for a welcome break from the Season Mode and it also makes the single-player mode nearly as fun as the multiplayer ones (the strength of this game). If you like action-sports games, NBA Hoopz is one of the best. At the very least, it's good enough to hold your interest until Midway decides to take the next step, and make A 4-to-4 game.
If you like NBA Showtime, you'll like NBA Hoopz, because essentially it's the same game only with an extra player on each side. It seems like a half-ass upgrade but it really makes a big difference in how you play the game. The big men can hang out under the hoop and fight for rebounds while your sharp shooters snap off three-pointers. The oT Pick-and-roll plays a prominent role as well. One thing isn't so great however--at times players get tangled up, especially near the top of the screen (not sure why that is). But in light of the trademark Showtime gameplay, great mini-games and decent multiplayer action, I can overlook that one little flaw.
Pop in your favorite Rock N' lock CD and get ready to jam. NBA Hoopz is one continuous, gratuitous highlight reel, packed with enough sick dunks and alley-oops to make even the most cynical gamer smile. As a fan of the Showtime series, I had plenty to like about Hoopz right off the bat. The addition of a third player per team crowds the action, but that minor gripe aside I really dig this game. Midway added some replay value with cool mini-games like 21, around-the-world and 2-ball, but I still would love this game online. Hoopz, or Blitz for that matter, plus a broadband adapter plus SegaNet would equate to a lot of fun.
My first thoughts when seeing this game were "Oh great, another basketball game." Keep in mind that I'm not really a fan of sports games, primarily because they just seem to have become too complicated and focus more on stats and which NBA players are included rather than gameplay. While this game does have lots of stats and a bunch of NBA players, I was also surprised to find NBA Hoopz also has some pretty decent gameplay and seemed to be easier to play than so many other basketball games I've tried.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Generally when I pop in any sports game these days, I expect lots of camera angles to deal with, some great graphics, tons of real-life players, announcers making the calls, and a headache when trying to figure out how to actually play the danged thing. When I first put in NBA Hoopz I started by looking at the controls and was pleasantly surprised to find how simple they were. Controls to run around, shoot/block and pass/steal, a turbo button, and a mystery button named "Hoopz." Once I got into the game I found that the controls were very responsive, and I was able to run around and make shots and such without too much trouble. The turbo speeded me up, but I had an energy bar that drained as I held the button. Also if I did a tricky defensive move to keep the ball, it would diminish my turbo energy that much faster. I never got the hang of the Hoopz button at all. The manual describes all kinds of moves in conjunction with other buttons, but they aren't necessary to play in general (you'd probably just play better if you got the hang of 'em). Actually, I really liked that I didn't have to master (or even know) any of the special moves to just play a simple game; I felt that this made this game much more accessible to players of all skill levels.
Speaking of skill levels, there are three available in the game -- Rookie, Veteran, and Pro. I did notice some differences between each in the AI, but not so much of a difference that I wasn't able to regularly beat the computer in all modes within a day or two of playing. I found that when playing the computer, it was easy to just run to the hole and dunk the ball most of the time, but defending was quite a bit harder. The combination of difficulty in both offense and defense provides for a good challenge, though. In addition to skill levels, there are also two ways to play the game -- with or without Tag Mode. If Tag Mode is turned on, you can switch between the different players on your team or if you pass the ball, you'll control whoever has it. If Tag Mode is off, you only control the particular player position (Guard, Forward, or Center) that you selected at the start of the game. The only control of other players you have is passing the ball or shooting. I found that the game was way more interactive and fun if Tag Mode was on, but it's an interesting option that some people may enjoy.
Each player has a number of attributes such as power, 2-point shots, 3-point shots, blocking, stealing and several others. If you're a good basketball manager, you can probably team up the right people and have one great team. But if you're more like me, what are you supposed to do? Well, fortunately the attributes are simple to read in that they all are on a scale of 1 to 100. The numbers themselves are red (for low attributes), yellow (for average) and green (for good). I found that if I looked for players with lots of green I seemed to do OK, but I found that I was all thumbs when I was on the defensive and probably couldn't even have stopped a turtle from making a basket. While the attributes can be important for things like stealing, it's also important to position yourself properly and time your blocks and stealing (or you could just press the button as fast as possible, like me, and hope for the best). If it turns out you don't like your players too much, you have the ability to change their attributes when you reach halftime. You also get to see the stats for each team and player. At the end of the first, third, and any overtime quarters, a tip screen will show you how to do a special move or learn some other kind of advantage.
I had a few issues with this game. First, I found I often had a hard time seeing where the ball was on screen -- especially if there was a cluster of people around it or if some player was pulling a fancy move. The other main issue was that I frequently had a hard time distinguishing my character from the others on my team. Below each character will appear a circle with either a G (for Guard), F (for Forward), or C (for Center). Each human-controlled player will also have a colored circle for better location. Unfortunately, this colored circle doesn't stand out too much from the other bright colors on the screen and can be difficult to find. Eventually you do become accustomed to it. The front of the manual claims to support dual shock controllers, but I never felt it and didn't see an option to turn it on or off. I also found that the initial camera angle seemed to be too low for me to see the action very well. Fortunately there is an option to adjust the camera higher. I also liked how the camera stayed static during the game itself, strafing the court and focusing on the ball at all times. During the demo there seems to be a third camera angle that moves to face the basket as you get closer, but there is no option for this in the game. Perhaps it's enabled with some code, or maybe it's only the demo showing off.
The manual mentions that the game has fouls and people can be sent to the foul line, but I never once saw anyone go to the foul line. The only foul I ever caused or saw was goaltending. The shot clock is also in game, and if you don't shoot within 24 seconds the ball will go to the other team. Personally, I liked the lack of fouls since I really only know the basics of basketball anyway. Sports fanatics may not appreciate this as much.
There are secret codes you can enter before starting the game (a la Mortal Kombat) that enable who knows what. Well, you can find them in strategy guides, magazines and web sites. There seems to be several secrets that can be unlocked -- or so the game suggests.
One nice feature of NBA Hoopz is the customization screens. You can customize just about everything in this game. You can form your own team and customize its name and city, the jersey color, the logo, the name of its home court, etc. You can also customize each team member in depth such as changing his name, uniform, nickname, and all his attributes. Players can be moved from other teams to yours, but you'll have to trade to do it. Each player also has some special attributes such as large heads, stealth turbo, choosing the hot spot, and a couple others. You can only enable two of these to start, but more can be earned at the end of each game by answering basketball trivia questions. In order to save all of your customizations and trivia points you'll need to use the memory card, but be sure you have lots of space because it takes a whopping 6 blocks to store all this information!
Multiplayer is where it's at in this game. NBA Hoopz supports up to six simultaneous players (obviously using a Multi Tap). All players have the ability to configure their own controllers and, once the game begins, select which team and position they'd like to play. Like most sports games, this one is way more fun against a real person than the computer.
I liked 'em. They seem very clean and bright and the effects are great. When I say effects, I'm referring to the subtle aspects such as the dull reflection of the lights and signs off the wood floor as well as the not-so-subtle effects such as the fiery flying basketball or someone dancing around the defense. Each team's home court looks just like the actual court -- Boston even has the parquet floors! Each player looks the way you would expect, right down to the appropriate jersey numbers. Sports fans who are really familiar with the players should have no problem picking them out on the court. I also feel compelled to mention that there's a lovely close-up rendering of a basketball during the loading screen.
The sounds in the game are done very well and it seems no detail was left out in the cold. The crowd cheers and jeers and has that constant "audience ambience" that you'd hear in any arena or stadium. The sounds of the ball bouncing as well as the squeak of shoes moving and turning on the floor are true to life as well. When certain jumps and dunks and whatnot are performed, you may hear sound effects such as a jet plane. The announcer will call all the shots as the action goes on, but he can be turned off if he annoys you. The music plays during cut scenes, menus and other non-game screens.
I hate to say it, but even though the game's controls are pretty simple, if you don't check out the manual you're going to miss a lot of the more advanced moves. Each menu item is also explained, as well as how to configure the teams and players.
I particularly liked the "Odd Balls" team, as it had a bunch of extra real players as well as some not-so-real ones like The Wizard, Crispy the Clown, The Green Alien, and my personal favorite, Pinto (as in the horse, not the car).
For someone who really dislikes sports games, I actually enjoyed myself quite a bit playing this. I think the thing I like most is that the basic controls are just that -- basic, simple to pick up and handle. There is also a level of complication that makes the game interesting to both beginners and basketballaholics. I also like that each team is streamlined to three players on each side and that there are very few fouls in the game. While the AI doesn't seem to defend very well, they do seem to have decent offense so you're still going to be offered a challenge regardless of your skill level. The nice graphics and sound certainly add to the game and because it's set up to be easy to learn and play in a reasonably short time, it's easy for me to give NBA Hoopz a score of 88.