Midway has always been one of the front-runners when it comes to arcade hoops. Whether you date it back to the originator itself, Arch Rivals, or the more popular NBA Jam series, the company knows how to make a great 2-on-2 basketball title. NBA Ballers: Chosen One is the next chapter in Midway’s latest series and the first for our shiny new consoles. While the style and slick presentation continue to impress, some of the game play elements leave much to be desired. Find out why Chosen One commits more fouls than rebounds.
Much like the it’s predecessors Chosen One starts off letting players create their own baller and take them on a ride to fortune and fame through the game’s story mode. The character creation is limited, but still better than most games. You can pick a nickname, change your hair style and the typical fare as well as assign a set of attribute points to your baller. At first assigning points can feel overwhelming as there are a ton to disperse, thankfully the game offers an auto-assign for timid gamers. After you get your initial batch of points divvied out you never have to worry about upgrading again as the game automatically increases your abilities based on how you play. While this is nice in theory, the end result leaves a bit to be desired.
For example often times the game upgraded abilities that I didn’t use nearly as much as the ones I did. I am a long ball player, so taking shots from outside of the key is essential for me. No matter how many shots I drained from outside the game rarely upped my skills more than 2-3 points every game. Combine this with the fact that every stat increases one every time you win and becoming great at any skill would take forever. I imagine all of this was done in an effort to balance the game. However, instead of enticing players to keep reaching for the goal of becoming a better player, the system comes across as broken and not very engaging.
Thankfully the career mode offers plenty of style to keep your mind less on upgrade points and more on the action. The game spans six episodes, each with a hefty amount of chapters that should keep you playing for quite some time. Each episode is introduced with a quick synopsis by the one and only Chuck D of Public Enemy fame in a studio reminiscent of something you would see on ESPN, only much more relevant to the game. The presentation is slick and the inclusion of this NBA TV really does add to the overall feel of the game, unfortunately once you get on the court things begin to fall apart.
First off I want to commend Midway for trying some new things (a few of which actually work out well) with a genre that has relied on the same basic formula for years. The problem though is that instead of teaching you most of the fundamentals the game drops you directly into the action without so much as a quick tutorial on what any of the buttons do. While fans of the past games will likely pick up on the obvious pass and shoot buttons, figuring out how to do the special moves quickly becomes frustrating and usually results in a quick glance at the controller layout screen. The lack of a tutorial is frustrating at first, but once you get the moves down the game finally takes the time to start teaching them to you.
The biggest new addition to Chosen One is the combo system. Much like Homecourt before it, Ballers has opted to give players a chance to link ridiculously long combos together for a bonus. Unfortunately that bonus breaks the entire game. Complete enough combos and you reach a level one move. To perform simply pull the left trigger and tap the corresponding button. This will begin a series of screen prompts that, if the player manages to hit them all, will reward a point bonus that is added to your basket. For example if you perform a 4X combo the game will add four points on top of your score. The catch here is that once you gain a level three super combo the game ends if you complete it. That’s right even if you are winning by an insurmountable score one quick level three combo and you lose…end of game.
Now granted a game ending super move has rarely ended the enjoyment of a game. Who remembers instant kills in Guilty Gear? But for a game that relies heavily on skill and perseverance it makes you wonder why they add stat points at all. Personally I blew through most of the career mode by spamming the combos, tossing in a few ‘Act a Fool’ moves and leveling up my combos to quickly end the game. It really takes away a lot of the strategy of the game.
The base game play is much of what you would expect from the series, which is both a good and bad thing. Good in the fact that fans will be able to pick the game up quickly and get right back into the groove. The right stick can still be used for the Act a Fool moves and everything else feels right at home. The bad side is that the last game was released two years ago and the transitions of animation found in other sports games are sorely lacking. Chosen One feels stiff most of the time creating a sense of separation between you and your onscreen avatar. There were many times I felt like the game was playing itself during certain animations.
AI is also another sore point for Chosen One. While the computer knows how to perform different combos, you can quickly find a way around this. Once you master the combo system there will be no stopping you, which is fine for those of you who hate to lose, but as a single player experience the only challenge that Ballers offers is in learning how to do certain moves without a tutorial. Of course all of this is moot if you are simply plowing through the single-player to beef up your character for multiplayer; one of the areas Chosen One still manages to excel at.
While it may seem strange to some online play is not the focus here. In fact online only offers one-on-one matches against your buddies. No instead the big draw is getting four local players on one machine and living it up, complete with serious amounts of trash talk. If you can get past everything the game does wrong this scenario makes up for all of it, if it is your thing. There is nothing more satisfying than slam dunking into the face of your opponent and being able to turn to them and unleash the fury of your trash talk in person. Needless to say NBA Ballers Chosen One is definitely designed with multiplayer in mind.
On a purely presentation standpoint Ballers is a mixed bag. While the environments are littered with detail the characters suffer from last-gen-it is. Poor animation transition and down sampled video make this game feel dated, but the whacky intros are worth the price of admission alone. The special moves also feel like Final Fantasy summon spells as they last upwards of ten seconds at times and are not skippable, which quickly becomes aggravating. Sounds are decent with the highlight being Chuck D. The commentary is passable and the music is bearable, again of course if you enjoy the hip hop scene.
Overall NBA Ballers: Chosen One suffers from great ideas not coming together in the end. The combo system is a fantastic addition; let’s just hope the problems are ironed out before the next outing. The multi-player is still addictive and beefing up your baller is simple enough for anyone to enjoy, but the problems float a bit too close to the surface for fans of the genre to ignore.