Alejandro K. Brown is a contributor to GameCore, CBSNews.com's gaming column written by William Vitka and Chad Chamberlain.
Let's get this straight from the start: I'm not that big into sports. Players' stats don't concern me, I give commuters the sports pages to lighten my paper, I'll usually watch sports on TV if someone who is into the sport is watching. I own all of 2 sports titles in my extensive gaming library and both of them are multi-player wrestling games for friendly gatherings.
But I'm hooked on Sony's NBA '06 for the PSP.
The game play works to the PSP's strengths and keeps mobile in mind. Everything from the 4 minute quarters, to simple passing and shooting controls, to easily setting offensive and defensive plays with simple button pressing makes the game very accessible and easy to get into. Awesome for a non-sports-gamer like me.
Veterans expecting the complex control scheme found on its bigger-console version will find the controls have made simple to pull off basic evasive moves with the use of a modifier button. So, while the pro "B-ballers" won't be able to chain a nine-move custom maneuver, the PSP makes it easy to have your center post up, have your forward run the baseline, set a pick with your open guard, spin fake to the left, then take the open 3-pointer to the right, all with five button presses. The control is spot on and very responsive. I never found myself wondering about a command I entered that never happened, or was delayed. Great game control is when a game lets you focus on the game you are in, not your fingers on the buttons. I'm happy to say NBA '06 has this covered.
All the basic basketball game-types are here. Quick exhibition games make for a fun way to kill 18 minutes. The full-featured season will definitely interest the basketball veterans wanting to sink their teeth into the full team and player management aspect of the game. If you just want to play the best of the best, you can go straight to the playoffs series or jam with the cream of the crop in the All-Star game. You can even practice your shooting skills with a free throw session or shooting warm-ups.
To show that it knows how to break up its well-crafted basketball simulation with fun; you'll also find a nice assortment of mini-games. Challenge a pro to a game of "HORSE," where each player must repeat making baskets or get a letter. Spell "HORSE" and you lose. Run the full court while testing your dribbling, passing, running and shooting skills in the "Skills Challenge". The "3-Point Challenge" and "Own the Court" games test your shooting skills. Dodgeball, (yes, dodgeball!) lets you get a 6 on 6, head-hunting, smackdown for points. It's a little silly, but a refreshing break from all the hoopin' you'll be doing.
The presentation is top notch, too. From the court announcer calling the starting five, to the in-game commentary, to the wealth of in-game active stats and real-time fatigue and injuries, you can really get in the game. Even the trading card system kept me interested.
Usually, trading cards are given after a play, breaking the flow, but not here. For example, in NBA '06, your center will be driving to the basket for a dunk. While in the mid-air dunk, the camera will freeze frame the flight, place that picture on a trading card back; there's your newly earned trading card! It will then remove the trading card material, leaving the player to complete the dunk and continue the game. Seamless and quite cool to see in motion. This ensures that even if 2 people love playing the same team and same player, they will most likely have different cards to trade based on how they play.
Wireless two-player action makes this a hit for people who want to take their teams and prove to the world that their team has the skills in any of the modes of play. Just turn on the Wi-Fi connection, and get to dunkin' on your opponents.
The PSP had a great launch, followed by a slight lull in very good games this summer. It seems as if this fall is going to rectify that situation. NBA '06 is definitely a worthy title to add to your mobile gaming library. While lacking the full-scale depth and detail of its console kin, it offers mobile-based simplicity, fantastic control, well crafted presentation, a great feature set and overall fun, making this an easy game to recommend.
NBA '06 hits store shelves October 4, 2005.
By Alejandro K. Brown