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Joystiq hands-on: NBA Street Homecourt (PS3/Xbox 360)

Zack Stern

NBA Street Homecourt pits your choice of more than 100 NBA stars -- and a half-dozen WNBA leaders -- against each other in three-on-three street games. The title references the players' favorite public courts, where the acrobatic games are set. We've seen these kinds of basketball titles before -- including the previous three NBA Street games -- but Homecourt uses a redesigned control scheme to set itself apart from previous versions.

Instead of memorizing one basketball trick per button -- or worse, a dozen tricks based on combinations of buttons -- the new controls map several moves to a single button. Homecourt reads the way you push a button, translating several kinds of presses into different tricks. I was confused at first, but after recently playing the title, I began to look forward to this style of game.

The different button presses begin with tapping X; just a quick tap makes a fast crossover dribble. The faster you keep tapping X, the faster the player continues the movement.

But Homecourt gets more interesting because it reads a button "press" as longer than a "tap," performing a different trick. Holding the button down activates a third, more complicated trick, while the triggers work as shift keys, giving even more trick options.

I played with these trick mechanics in most of my time with the game, making crossovers, throwing the ball around my back, and otherwise making moves that looked good and were generally based in reality. While I felt like I was button-mashing much of the time, I think that if I had longer to play the game, I would have learned each move. So the new control style may fare better than tricks mapped to individual buttons.

Most of the rest of the game's tricks deviate from real-world basketball, like dunking after a flip, or dunking the ball twice in one move, with the reward of double points. Homecourt seems to maintain a good balance between real and embellished moves; I liked mixing the two together while performing a series of tricks.

Homecourt also uses team-based moves, which can be activated with a human or AI teammate. You can make standard assists like alley-oops, but I also tried leaping off my friends' back for extra hangtime on a dunk.

While making all of the tricks, a meter fills up, eventually unlocking the Game Breaker mode. In this situation, tricks are activated with the same controller commands, but the tricks are even wilder; I ended up performing breakdancing moves before dunking the ball.

Homecourt animations and graphics support these trick mechanics; my players fluidly moved between stunts. While the courts and players looked good, more distant trees and neighborhoods didn't get the same care. If pressed for time, I think EA made the right choice to focus on the players and courts.

NBA Street Homecourt seems to have a good set of controls ready for its February 19 Xbox 360 and March 3 PS3 launch. I felt much better activating multiple moves from a single button versus trying to remember which button activates which trick, spread over the entire controller.

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