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NBA Baller Beats

Score: 70%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Majesco
Developer: HB Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Rhythm

Graphics & Sound:

I like the concept behind NBA Baller Beats more than the actual implementation. Not that it is a particularly bad game Ė quite the opposite actually Ė but in order to get the most out of the experience, you need to make sure your play environment is built for it.

NBA Baller Beats is more about the music than actual visuals. Backgrounds offer a variety of locales, though as is the case with most rhythm games, all of your attention is on the move track in the middle of the screen. "Above Top Secret" videos from Area 51 could play in the background and youíd be too focused on the next move to notice. The icons are easy to read, so there's never a question as to what you're supposed to do next, which should be your only concern.

I am picky about my musical tastes, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the soundtrack. Thereís close to 30 songs on the soundtrack, ranging from hip-hop to rock, both new school and old. I was really excited to hear Run D.M.C.ís "Itís Tricky," as well as Young M.C.ís "Bust A Move." Other favorites (at least with my group) included "Bangarang" (Skrillex) and "Party Rock Anthem" (LMFAO).


Gameplay:

NBA Baller Beats kicks off with you choosing a team, which determines which logos youíll see plastered around the screen and in other in-game objects. From there, you choose a background, song, difficulty and its off you go. Once you get over the initial hump of figuring out what you do (the tutorial helps a lot), NBA Baller Beats is a lot of fun. Thereís a definite learning curve, but this is one of the few games Iíve played where I actually felt myself getting better at a physical skill. Iím not awesome, but the progress Iíve made between starting and now is rewarding. Itís also great exercise.

There is enough content in NBA Baller Beats to keep you entertained, though how long will really depend on how much you like bouncing a basketball and the gameís soundtrack. Itís the same issue faced by most games of this type, though NBA Baller Beats feels particularly short on gameplay options. You can work towards unlocking in-game items like trading cards or take part in 8-player multiplayer matches, though both additions feel like garnish.


Difficulty:

Even with master ball handling skills, you want to go through the tutorials. The concept is simple, though getting the timing right does take some practice. Surprisingly, NBA Baller Beats is one of the more responsive Kinect games Iíve played. The sensor suffers from a few hiccups when tracking dribbling during faster songs, though it managed to keep up better than most games.

The first batch of songs keeps things easy, focusing primarily on dribbling in time with the music and working some basic moves into your routine. As you progress through songs, dribbling becomes more complicated and moves hit in rapid succession. Later difficulties were out of my reach entirely and would likely result in injury (or broken furniture).


Game Mechanics:

The concept is simple Ė dribble the basketball in time with the music as icons travel down a Guitar Hero-inspired track. Every once in a while, special moves, like crossovers, appear on the track, which you must perform once it reaches the hit zone. Itís a physically demanding style of play, though athletic ability is only a small issue.

The bigger issue facing NBA Baller Beats is the physical space you need to fully enjoy the experience. For starters, youíll need a nice wide area to play since some moves, or even just dribbling the ball, require a lot of room. Additionally, youíll want to make sure all breakable items are as far from the play area as possible. Thereís a reason Nintendo tells you to use the wrist strap. The ball can very easily get away from you, so you want to reduce the chances of a lamp breaking after an errant bounce or slipped pass.

If you play in a carpeted area, youíre in an even bigger bind. The game is playable on carpet, but you need to put a lot of mustard on each bounce. Even then, your dribbles will lose velocity each time they hit the carpet. Luckily, I was able to play in a friendís uncarpeted living room for this review, while at home I had some luck with a wood board normally used for puzzle building. Even then, it wasnít an ideal experience. Then thereís the issue of playing and disturbing downstairs neighbors if you have them.

If anything else, NBA Baller Beats is the closest any game has come to meeting Microsoftís initial vision for Kinect. In the announce videos, Microsoft presented a world where you could bring physical items into your games. Who doesnít remember the kid scanning his real-world skateboard into his virtual skate park? NBA Baller Beats doesnít go quite that far, but using a real basketball is a cool mechanic.

Still, the mechanic is only cool if you can use it, which is the biggest obstacle standing the way of NBA Baller Beats picking up any sort of traction. If you have to room to play (and a floor that can sustain a dribble), and are looking for a different rhythm game, this is it.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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