The music game genre has flourished on the home consoles with a large amount of peripheral-based rhythm games, including guitars, drum sets, dance mats, keyboards, and even turntables. Who would have thought the next step in the evolution of the genre would include a basketball?
The concept behind NBA Baller Beats took me by surprised when it was first announced, but it has won me over. To start, you pick your favorite NBA team, and you’re dropped into a venue themed with that team’s logo and colors. The premise is similar to Guitar Hero/Rock Band with one huge difference, you bounce the included basketball as notes scroll on screen to 30 different tracks spanning old-school, rock, and hip-hop.
Accurately staying in time with the beat will net you a higher score, although you’ll earn multipliers by matching special moves that appear onscreen. It’s actually rather complicated, even on the easiest difficulty level, and especially if you lack coordination or you are unable to dribble the ball without looking at it. There’s a tutorial mode called Beat School that you can use to familiarize yourself with proper form. Once you’ve become familiar with the basic motions of crossover dribbles, fake side passes, or pump fakes, you can increase the difficulty and test your reflexes with complicated moves like flow dribbles and behind the back maneuvers.
After a few sloppy crossovers and an onslaught of swear words, my carelessness was mostly cured after a few more songs. Stars are awarded based on a your performance and can be used to unlock full tracks and various customization options. After a couple of hours I managed to earn a 5 star rewards for most of the songs – on the easiest difficulty that is. Besides playing to unlock the full version of each song, the other unlockables are simply less enticing. You can acquire different on screen basketballs, score runways, and mascots for every NBA team as well as trading cards and posters of your favorite NBA superstar. Unless you are a completionist, unlocking every item for each team is tedious and poses little reward besides some NBA facts.
The presentation is bright and colorful while you are keeping the beat in various venues, that actually do a good job of keeping the adrenaline flowing. Each venue, be it the basketball court, beach, or amusement park – to name a few, starts off being very dimly lighted, but as you continue to perform better, the background will come to life as you progress. Although NBA Baller Beats has only 30 tracks, the playlist is incredibly diverse with songs from artists such as Kanye West, Gorillaz, Skrillex, and Onyx. Unfortunately due to the sound of the basketball hitting the floor, I found it difficult to enjoy each song, leaving it difficult to hit my notes accurately. Which leads into my one big issue with the game – the basketball itself.
We’ve all heard stories about televisions being broken due to people losing grip of their Wii Remote or PS Move controller hence we thought the “controller-free” Kinect would be safer – boy, were we wrong. The Kinect needs at least 6 to 8 feet to function properly, but for NBA Baller Beats you may need a larger space for a better experience. On occasion the ball would fly out of my hands during even the simplest move or bounce off my foot because I didn’t angle it properly. This is definitely not a game you want to play with fragile items nearby. The game works on carpeted floors – the ball just needs a little extra force for bounce – but the sound of the ball on a hardwood floor combined with squeaking sneakers will resonate through your entire house/apartment.
Thankfully, your motions are accurately picked up by the camera compared to other Kinect titles – I think the use of an actual object (the basketball) greatly improved the tracking issue we normally felt with games like Dance Central or Fable: Journey.
While there is no traditional multiplayer mode, there is a Versus mode where up to 8 people can tackle a single song, by switching out at key points. Once the song is over, the game compares each player’s performance and designates a winner. It’s fun to play with a couple of friends, but I suggest having a waiver signed just in case anything breaks or alcohol gets involved.
Overall, it’s rare to come across a title that is genuinely unique and fresh. With a diverse playlist, functional Kinect tracking, and satisfying gameplay, NBA Baller Beats is enjoyable for both beginners and advanced players but its in-house basketball dribbling may be the reason gamers are afraid to fully embrace this title.
Release Date: September 11, 2012 • Publisher: Majesco Entertainment • Developer: HB Studios • Genre: Sports/Music • Multiplayer: 1-8 player(s) • Achievements: Moderate • Cost: $59.99 • Replay Value: Moderate