2 hoops titles try hard to keep it real

April 24, 2003|By Victor Godinez | Victor Godinez,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Playground basketball has been getting more attention lately, thanks first to Activision's Street Hoops and now to Electronic Arts' NBA Street Volume 2, which comes out Tuesday.

Playground basketball is the more rambunctious, less rule-bound version of the sport, where the object of the game is as much to embarrass your opponent and awe the crowd as it is to score points.

NBA Street ($49; suitable for all ages) does a great job of presenting both aspects of playground hoops. You get a funky combination of pure asphalt athletes, current NBA players and scores of legendary players from the past.

I played the Xbox version, but Sony PlayStation 2 and GameCube versions are also available.

The heart of the game is in flashy individual moves, rather than intricate team play.

You'll want to check out the training mode. This is where you learn to pull off the funkiest moves, such as passing the ball by kicking it with your foot, flipping the ball off your defender's head or the backboard and back to yourself, and using the turbo mode to pull off super dunks.

Once you get into a game, there are two scores you need to watch.

The first is the traditional score when you put the ball in the basket. The second score is for trick points, and that's where your dribble, dunk, dipsy-do, alley-oop and crossover skills are tested and measured.

The better your moves, the more trick points you get. These trick points pay off after the game, when you need them to upgrade your players to make them jump higher, run faster or shoot better.

Speaking of shooting, although there is a three-point line in most of the games, you're better off ignoring it.

Jump shots are pretty easy to block in NBA Street, and you get few trick points for jumpers. Purists, leave your grumbling at the door.

Basically, you've got a dunkfest when you're playing against the computer.

This would get boring fast if it weren't for extra strategy provided by the "gamebreaker" shots. Once you rack up enough trick points, you get a "gamebreaker." Then when you shoot or dunk, you not only get points, but you also subtract points from your opponent.

The controls are good enough that the combination of frenetic action and trick-point management make this a fun game.

The only things I missed were the postgame activities that Activision featured in Street Hoops. In that game, each playground victory earned you cash, which you could spend on clothes, jewelry and tattoos for your players.

Plus Street Hoops featured some authentic playground stars such as the crazed dribbler Hot Sauce. The street players in NBA Street are generic hoopsters in baggy pants.

Still, NBA Street Volume 2 has the better game play and graphics - plus you can play as Michael Jordan - so if you can pick only one, go with NBA Street.

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