Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Jun. 6th
Let’s get this out of the way right from jump: I have no skills on the court.
The last time I played basketball with any regularity it was in the 5th grade. Years later I was disappointed to realize that the hoop for elementary school students is way lower than that used by teens and adults. That pretty much squashed whatever joy I had in the game right there.
Despite all this I was compelled to check out the new NBA Baller Beats game from Majesco– makers of the wildly successful Zumba fitness franchise games. While hardcore gamers and the gaming press is quick to ignore this growing part of the larger game market I admit that I find myself intrigued by the possibilities inherent in well designed, well executed motion based games. It took almost twenty years for the industry to reach the point of sophistication that video games have now, so why should the newest avenue of gaming be judged on what it produces out of the box?
So that’s the reason for checking it out. But just what is NBA Baller Beats?
For starters it’s the first video game to come with a regulation Spalding basketball. Which you’ll need to play, along with an XBox 360 and Kinect sensor. At it’s core Baller Beats is a rhythm game, much like Guitar Hero or the various dancing games. Only here instead of hitting notes on a fake fretboard or copying moves on the screen the player dribbles. To the beat. Of some really great songs. Janelle Monet, Tiesto vs. Diplo, Gorillaz, Kanye West, Queen. The music library for this thing is sick, which makes the party mode more than tolerable.
Players stand in front of the sensor, with the ball, and follow the… yes you actually follow the bouncing ball. Or the ghost of said bouncing ball. Keeping the dribbling in time to the music. Doing a few of the fancier moves– like that whole pass through the legs thing that the guys on the court back in high school could seem to do without thinking while I was having trouble just one handing it. All of this in time to the music.
I picked The Gorillaz’ Stylo because it was a) the easiest song and b) one I knew well. My theory being that, somewhat like karaoke, it is better to try out a potential major source for embarrassment with a soundtrack one knows well and enjoys listening to. The familiar beat did seem to help. It gave me something to fall into, which put my complete lack of b-ball skills at ease.
Most of my time spent playing was with my eyes firmly on the ball. I wasn’t nearly as cool as the kids that Majesco had brought in– All-Americans and WNBA players– to strut their stuff on the demo stage. I was just proud to make a simple hand to hand cross over on command without loosing control of the ball. Except for that one time. At least the game didn’t take a picture when I did that. That’s an option, by the way. The game, like a lot of Kinect games, will take pictures of you while you are playing, and then give you the option of uploading them to Facebook and whatnot. This is also why I no longer play Kinect in my underwear.
Learned that lesson real quick.
If I a) thought I ever had a chance of aquatint myself on the local court and b) had a place big enough that had a hardwood or concrete floor I could see myself picking the game up. There’s an allure to the promise that a game can build up a real life skill. It is a trend that has been building up in the industry the last few years– first with the attempts by Rock Band and Guitar Hero to turn into something more serious, and now with the wave of fitness games. While hardcore gamers might dismiss this all as a fad, the truth is that there are more people out there who are intimidated by controllers than there are those who intend to be buried with one. (I’m taking my 360 and Genesis controllers with me to the great beyond, thank you very much.)
I pity, however, anyone who might live underneath the apartment of a NBA Baller Beats enthusiast, however. While the game comes with a basketball, soundproof floors are sold separately.