Last time out, there were no rules. NBA Street was basketball stripped of its glamour, rulebook and realism - a streamlined, arcade title which dragged the game back to tarmac courts, creaky backboards and funky dunky rap stylings. It paid homage to NBA Jam, really, bettering Acclaim's long since ignored franchise in virtually every way. It was so good, in fact, that Acclaim has dusted off Jam for 2004, hoping to cash in on its renewed popularity.
Sadly though, despite picking up rave reviews in some areas, NBA Street didn't make much of a mark on Europe, rather like every other sports game which bent the rules in recent history - Soccer Slam, RedCard etc. We're all a bunch of stiff upper-lipped humourless wankers.
Well, some of us are. Here at Eurogamer, we loved NBA Street, despite its flaws, and shed a small tear when the Cube version was canned. Soccer Slam, meanwhile, is one of the few footy games we bother to play on our days off - as part of a balanced diet of sim and arcade titles, it's a lovely little game. So anyway, given the chance to steal a copy of NBA Street Volume 2 more than two months ahead of its release date, we leapt like Michael Jordan in zero gravity with a jet pack and fled to our hoopla retreat. There, under the tutelage of various Warner Bros. characters, we became the cartoon b-ball legends we always knew we were.
The only rule is…
So as we said: last year, there were no rules. This year, there are only Your Rules. One of the most fundamental and obvious things EA Canada and NuFX could do with Street was to include a rule tweaker, and so they have done. Now you can change the point total required for victory, give your opponent a head start (useful if you're introducing someone to the game and want to insult their gaming abilities), add a shot clock, play a 'dunks-only' game - you name it. And it makes a difference. Adding a shot clock, for example, shortens games dramatically, and dunks-only staves off that annoying end-to-end gameplay as you're forced to find creative routes to the hoop.
What's more, there are four modes of play to keep you busy. The Street School will need to be your first port of call, if you plan to actually get the ball in the net at any point, as it teaches you more than the basic button layout diagrams ever will. Learn to perform all the offensive and defensive tricks, moves and quirks - and find out about the advanced, Street only basketball tricks like Gamebreakers, which quite literally take on a new level in Volume 2.
Sticking to the statistical breakdown for another paragraph, the other modes are Pick Up ('exhibition'), NBA Challenge (your basic championship) and Be A Legend (the 'build-a-player and do things with him' sort of option). Furthermore, Eurogamer's resident rim-pounder Rupert [steady on - Ed] tells us that this year's list of 'legends' is worthy of excitement. There are even three versions of Michael Jordan for silly's sake, among a total of 25 legends and 145 NBA players. Throw in numerous unlockable players (and jerseys - sigh) and so on, and Volume 2 graduates the EA Sports BIG school of predictable feature lists with (often literally) flying colours.
Onto the court we go then, and things become a lot less stale. There are loads of new moves in this iteration - from Off The Heezay (the showman's move of bouncing the ball off his opponent's head) to Back2Papa (well, why not pass the ball to yourself off the backboard?), it's all inescapably 'funky' and elite. There are even some clever additions, like the 'tap turbos to dive after loose ball' move. As ever, you earn SSX type points for style, which boost your Turbo meter and charge up your Gamebreakers. The gamebreaker returns here as a sort of final nail in the coffin, to be inflicted when the meter is full and the going's good. Go for a gamebreaker (two turbo buttons plus A) and you'll see the screen bathed in an eerie blue light as your man performs some aerial insanity to clinch two points.
However this time, if you're really caning somebody and have a gamebreaker queued up at the halfway stage, you can simply bank it. Pocketing the move means that you have to fill the meter up again, but when you do you can unleash the level two gamebreaker, which as you'll learn at the end of Street School is unblockable, unstealable and basically a dead cert.
To balance this out though, EA/NuFX have given us the opportunity to cancel an opponent's gamebreaker. If you like, you can spend your hard work on cancelling your opponent's, which will be a source of huge frustration for him and much relief to you. It adds an element of strategy, because choosing to pocket runs you the risk of being sniped halfway through your level two antics, sending you most of the way back to square one.
Cutting edge or cutting corners?
Technically, it doesn't look or sound very different to how we remember the original Street. The soundtrack takes the usual rap pop approach, ploughing up the likes of Jay Z, Nate Dogg and a wealth of other people we've never actually heard of to placate the crowd of onlookers with chants of "Bounce, bounce, now who got game?" We'd settle for a custom soundtrack option.
Visually, where Street went for a cartoony but realistic approach, Volume 2 reminds us of that old Spawn cartoon where everybody was slender as a pencil and ten feet tall. It's well designed, albeit somewhat forced at times, and the moves, ball movement and player behaviour are all well realised. It certainly has everybody moving fluidly and keeps up the façade of a street basketball game without feeling too much like someone's game about street basketball.
However, at this stage it's clear to us that Volume Two is still far from perfect. There's something intangibly unnatural about the way you're supposed to defend, which makes it a lot harder to do than attack, so games often end up with very tight scores and a wealth of gloriously executed and unhindered attacking moves. Except when you play against the AI, which makes more 'mistakes' than the average sexually acrobatic MP will admit to.
You ain't got no game!
On the whole though, we're looking forward to getting our size 15s further into the game and perhaps overcoming our defensive shortcomings. This is pretty close to if not the final release as far as we can tell, (which admittedly calls into question why we've had it for a month with the release date still only May 2nd), and we'll be playing it as much as we can before it hits store shelves, but we'd say that whether you're clued up about basketball or not, NBA Street Volume 2 is a great multi-player game in the making with more style and 'cool' in its menu system than most games can offer full stop. One to watch with a phat beat on in the background.