With EA and 2K competing for NBA supremacy, Tecmo has decided to throw their name in the hat by releasing NBA Unrivaled for the Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network. While the previous two companies focus on realism, Tecmo decided to go the route they are more familiar with: arcade style. NBA Unrivaled just can’t seem to make up its mind if it wants to be an arcade style basketball game or a realistic one.
NBA Unrivaled is a 5-on-5 arcade style basketball game that has realistic elements. Obviously, there are all of the licensed NBA teams and the rules of the court are in this game. The only thing that I saw that made this game even close to being arcade style was the dunks. And I am not talking about those crazy half-court NBA Jam dunks either. When you are in a certain spot near your basket, you will see the X or Square button pop up above the players head you are controlling. When you hit the button, your player will launch into the air and perform a pretty slick looking dunk. The animation for this special kind of dunk is pretty nice looking. It almost looks like something you see in an anime.
The look of the game itself is pretty nice for an XBLA and PSN title. While not the best, it certainly is smooth looking. The court is shiny and the players are good replications of their human selves. The sound of the game sounds, well, like you are watching a basketball game-minus the commentary. I wouldn’t say that this is a bad thing, but without it, the game just feels empty.
Controlling your player is easy as there are only three buttons you will use. Move your player with the left analog stick, the A/X button passes the ball and changes the player you control, the B/Circle button allows you to juke and steal the ball, the X/Square button is your shoot/block button and the Right Trigger/R1 is your turbo.
While the controls are simple, the gameplay feels stiff. Now, I am not a fan of basketball by any means, but this game just feels slow. I know basketball isn’t a sprint back and forth, but I do know that it moves faster than the game does. It was really hard for me to stay interested in playing. I also found myself just dominating the computer AI because the defense just is not in this game. I would just run down the court and either shoot from inside the key or just dunk. Then I would try and play defense, which usually resulted in me fouling the opponent while trying to steal the ball. In fact there was only two penalties that where called: charging and reaching in.
On top of that, when all of the players where near the basket, it’s really easy to lose track of the ball. I found myself just spamming the A and the B buttons switching between players and trying to steal the ball. And sometimes that worked without me knowing so I would steal the ball and accidentally shoot the ball. And once you get to the 4th period, the computer AI starts to block and steal everything trying to get themselves back in the game (because they are usually down by at least 10 points).
NBA Unrivaled has three game modes: there’s quickplay which is self explanatory. Challenge Mode that is essentially Season Mode but the catch is you have to beat each team by a certain amount of points. And then there is the online mode. Playing this game online with a friend is so much more fun then playing it by yourself. The same problems with the single player mode are still here but the trying to get the achievements/trophies saves this mode of play. There are only two multiplayer modes and those are ranked and unranked, so the multiplayer gets old pretty quick.
In all, NBA Unrivaled just doesn’t try hard enough. It could have been a much better game that anyone can pick up and enjoy. At its heart, it’s a realistic basketball game that tries to be an arcade game. If Tecmo stuck with their roots and made it the game an actual arcade style b-ball game a la Tecmo Bowl, NBA Unrivaled would have been awesome but with stiff gameplay and wonky AI, the only thing good about this game is the way it looks. It wasn’t a horrible first try for Tecmo making a basketball game, but it was far from good. If Tecmo makes another one next year, hopefully they will stick with an all arcade style b-ball game that will give the reigning champ NBA Jam a run for its money. If you are a die-hard basketball fan and NBA Live 10 and NBA 2K10 just is not enough to get your b-ball fix, then try NBA Unrivaled. If you don’t enjoy basketball games, steer clear.