Well, you can say this for NBA Baller Beats: It’s the early leader in the clubhouse for most bizarre gaming concept of the year. It’s also the only game in history to come packaged with its very own Spalding basketball.
Or, as it’s known here, the controller. NBA Baller Beats takes a crazy bounce at the intersection of rhythm games like Dance Central and Guitar Hero, and the pantomime moves of the Kinect Sports series. The difference here is that you’re charged with dribbling an actual basketball —and busting strings of increasingly complicated dribble moves–to the beat of everything from Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky” to Wiz Khalifa’s “Roll Up.”
The interface, by now, is familiar, given that it mirrors every rhythm game you’ve ever played. Cues on what to do come hurtling down the runway at you and it’s up to you to react with the appropriate timing and move. Each song requires multiple crossovers, so you’d better hope your left-hand dribble’s not too rusty.
It sounds completely insane and unworkable. But here’s the thing: In the moments when everything clicks, and you’re rocking between-the-legs crossovers and pump fakes to the beat of Skrillex’s “Bangarang,” you actually feel a hell of a lot cooler than you do nailing the correct move in Dance Central 2 or acing the drum solo in Rock Band 3. Given that my own dribbling skills generally hover somewhere between a three-legged alpaca and a drunken Steve Blake, that’s probably saying something.
NBA Baller Beats is also a serious workout, much more so than flapping your limbs wildly in the latest edition of Just Dance–even the briefest tunes will leave you drenched in a monster sweat. Somewhat unexpectedly, the Kinect camera is both adept and forgiving when it comes to recognizing your moves. This is important, because collecting stars for swank performances will net you specialized balls and NBA player cards.
The trouble, of course, is that there’s no way to get around the physical restrictions NBA Baller Beats has to manage. You will end up losing the handle or dribbling the ball off your foot at some point (probably several points) in each song, and notwithstanding the hit your score rating will take as you scramble for the loose ball, that muff is probably going to result in the ball bouncing, hitting and breaking something. Maybe even something valuable. If you live in a seventh-floor apartment, your neighbors can and will hate you for playing this game, even in short bursts. If your gaming rig is located in a room with soft carpeting, you’re basically screwed. If you’re just barely meeting your Kinect-camera gameplay space requirements, you’re also screwed, because you can’t bust a flow dribble/around-the-world combo with a coffee table guarding you.
The NBA has gamely thrown its support behind this game—the launch was accompanied by NBA stars touring the country and showing gamers how it’s supposed to be done. That’s great, but Kevin Love and Deron Williams are also probably among the few people who have a legit prayer of nailing a five-star score on the game’s upper difficulty levels. It’s easy to see how NBA Baller Beats could give an extra edge to your playground moves or punch up an elementary school gym class that’s tired of yet another round of DDR. It’s less easy to see how those of us whose living rooms aren’t made of hardwood and cement will be able to rock it.
+ Kickin’ soundtrack equals or tops most rhythm-game offerings
+ When the action clicks, it really clicks
+ Forgiving Kinect camera
+ You get a nice basketball
- Space and gameplay area limitations are steep to insurmountable
Platform: Xbox 360 Kinect
Developer: HB Studios
Release Date: 9/11/2012
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-8 (local multiplayer)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher