I will admit that I wasn’t sure what to think of NBA Baller Beats when I first saw it. At first glance, while walking the floor at E3 earlier this year, I thought it was a bit goofy. Then as I watched the demonstration at Majesco’s booth I realized there was a lot more to it. NBA Baller Beats fuses the rhythm nature of Rock Band with the move tracking of Dance Central. One part Rock Band, one part Dance Central, and one part basketball, NBA Baller Beats is one of the more original games I have reviewed. It is also a pretty decent game provided you have the right environment in which to play it.
The gameplay is a combination of the rhythm-based play you find in Rock Band combined motion tracking like you would find in Dance Central. With the included basketball you time your dribbling to the beat of the music. Just like in other music-based games, you score points for keeping the rhythm and can add score multipliers by performing special moves. These can be as simple as crossover dribbles, pump and pass fakes all the way to more complex moves that will have you doing crossovers behind your back or through your legs.
I consider myself to be generally pretty athletic and sports oriented, but basketball is probably the sport I am the poorest at. As someone that is pretty inept at the sport NBA Baller Beats proved a challenge for me. Once you have the moves down the difficulty lies in increasing the pace in which they are performed. Also, each successive difficulty level adds a few new moves into the mix. While Majesco does not make any claims of this being any sort of fitness title you can certainly work up a bit of a sweat playing the game.
I am sure like many others; my Kinect collects a lot of dust, as there are not a lot of games for the peripheral that I find worth playing. Interesting Kinect ideas are too often limited by poor implementation. That being said, the Kinect functionality in NBA Baller Beats is among the strongest that I have seen. It does a good job of tracking not just side-to-side movements but also it is accurate enough to recognize passing the ball behind one leg or another. Not only is this game original, it is something that other developers should take note of given the solid implementation of the Kinect technology.
The biggest knock against this game just happens to be a potentially 800lb show stopper. As good as the gameplay is you absolutely need to have the right floor and a fair amount of space to play. The Kinect already requires a lot of room and NBA Baller Beats tests that limit (read: you need more space). Also, if you don’t have hardwood, or a solid surface where your Xbox is set up, you are going to have a seriously hard time playing this game. Carpet of any thickness just doesn’t work. The carpet in my house certainly doesn’t. Even if you have hardwood or laminate over a sub-floor you might not get the bounce you really need from the ball. I literally had to review this game at my brother in law’s house where their Xbox is set up in a basement room for his kids on a concrete floor. I simply do not have the luxury of moving my gaming space to the garage. So with this in mind, as novel as the idea behind NBA Baller Beats is this need for the right gaming area severely limits the game’s market.
While the game comes with its own authentic NBA branded basketball, you certainly are not limited to using it. Any ball can be used. If you can find something that bounces better on whatever surface you have at home it might just work. For those seeking multiplayer there is head-to-head play available for up to eight players locally. It is better than having no multiplayer but the head-to-head mode really amounts to nothing more than taking turns and trying to beat each other’s scores.
Visually, NBA Baller Beats is flashy, functional and familiar. Beats and moves are presented down a runway much like you see in other rhythm-based games. Your focus is primarily focused on the runway in the middle of the screen. Just to the right there are previews of which moves are coming next and this helps you to prepare. With moves coming down the runway, your beats shoot up to meet them and various score multipliers flash; there is a lot going on on-screen at any one given time. You can also choose from a number of venues to play in and each venue can be customized to feature your favorite NBA team.
NBA Baller Beats features a strong soundtrack. The 30 tracks in the game are predominantly hip hop. Majesco attempts to broaden its audience by mixing in a few rock tracks. As much as I am a fan of rock music, tracks such as New Fang from Them Crooked Vultures do not fit nearly as well with the game as the hip-hop ones do. I should also mention that bouncing a basketball inside is a whole heck of a lot louder than in a gym or outside. You’re going to make some noise. I can only imagine what someone’s neighbours might think in any sort of apartment or condo.
NBA Baller Beats is one of the more original experiences you are going to find on Xbox. The gameplay and the Kinect implementation are good but there are too many “ifs” that keep this from being a truly top notch, universal experience. If you don’t have a big area to play and a solid surface to dribble the ball on the game becomes highly unplayable. Our score skews more to the gameplay because it really is an original idea that plays well. Just make absolutely sure you have the right set up to play.