I recently had the misfortune of reviewing NBA for the PSP. As my review stated, I found it lacking in many areas and just not fun at all to play. Now, a few weeks later, my editor hands me NBA 06 with a big smile and I'll be honest; I shuddered at the thought of having to play another NBA game for the PSP, especially one that I knew to be built off the same game I had just reviewed (and hated). But, after a few days had passed, I sat down with it and was not only pleased (and surprised) to find that NBA 06 isn't only an amazing basketball game but that it actually managed to restore my faith in PSP basketball games and proved to me that a few extra months really can make all the difference in the world.
While NBA felt like a valiant first effort by 989 Sports (and a way to get a b-ball game out at launch) NBA 06 drops all the 989 nomenclature and Sony steps in to polish it up. Everything about the game has been tweaked; polished and improved starting with the menu system which is laid out so well, all games should be done this way (especially the EA Sport titles). Now, from any option in the main menu, you can clearly see what the sub-options will be on the right hand side. And 06 adds a lot of various options.
The biggest fix from the previous version though, appears in the actual gameplay. Sony has added a much needed Turbo button which actually adds momentum to plays and allows breakaways. It may be a simple (and logical) inclusion, but this simple fact alone takes the turtle-like gameplay of the previous version and makes it fresh. Add to that the tweaked shooting mechanism (you don't press to initiate and press again to release anymore - you just do it intuitively: press and hold, release when the cursor turns green) and NBA 06 is already miles beyond its predecessor. Tweak teammates in a way to actually make them helpful, defenders in a way to make them realistic and the A.I. in a way to make it fun and 06 feels like a completely different game.
The controls are logical, well implemented and intuitive now: passing uses the X button (Icon passing is also available by holding down the left trigger), spin with the triangle buttons, Crossover with the square, turbo with the right trigger and shoot with the circle. Special moves like alley-oops are done using the X and circle together and pump faking is achieved by simply tapping the shoot button. Play calling options are mapped out to the directional buttons and seem to work a lot better than last year's as well. On the defensive side of the ball (it's actually fun to play defense now), you block/jump/dive with the triangle, change players with the X, take charge with the circle and steal with the square. In my opinion, NBA Street V3 has the best defensive (and offensive) control scheme with its "trick stick" configuration, but on handheld with only one analog stick, NBA 06 feels natural and dead on with its controls. Let's hope that they stay like this for 07 as well.
From Quick Play mode you'll have access to exhibition games, all-star and online. From game modes you will find practice, shoot around (practice offensive moves), free throw (master the color system shooting system), exhibition, playoffs, and season (which features complete 29, 58 or 82 games and rosters/players to manage/trade/sign/etc.) Mini-games also return and while the three that were previously in the last NBA game return (with much better implementation) they still aren't as fun as they could be. Skills challenge and "own the court" are alright, but the 3 point contest may be the best of the three. The two new mini-games are H-O-R-S-E and dodgeball. In Horse you basically make a shot and your opponent must repeat it. If he fails, well, you know the drill. It's entertaining but a little unbalanced. Fortunately, dodgeball is one of the best mini-games ever included in any game, bar none. Yes, it's a full fledged game of dodgeball with NBA teams and stars. The game is quite deep and features all the mechanics you'd expect from the actual game: passing, throwing, faking shots, beaming it to the head, jumping, dodging and catching. It's a real blast to play (did I mention you use actual NBA players) and is easily as good as the actual basketball game.
The one shining star in the previous version of NBA was its graphics. Sure, when the game is playing there wasn't a whole lot to distinguish one player from the next, but during replays and such, the players came alive. Well, the good news is that NBA 06 looks even better. The game now runs at a higher framerate and the players, courts, menus and trading cards are much more detailed. Even when playing a game, it's easier to identify your players (given that you're already a fan of the NBA) and the close-ups add more texture to hair, facial expressions, tattoos and uniforms. Even the stadiums are more animated (the player animations are a lot smother too) and the crowds look better. The presentation also seems cleaner, with a much better menu system and in-game stats that are easier to quickly get a handle on.
The last version's audio presentation just plain stank. There were a few songs included, an arena PA announcer and well, that was about it. NBA 06 adds commentary, which may not always be razor-sharp and witty, but at least is accurate and timely and the song list has been beefed up some. All this adds an incredible depth and personality to NBA 06 that was sorely missing before. Even if the game didn't play faster (which is does) and smoother (which it does), just the inclusion of an audio commentary would have made it felt less empty. To score on all fronts almost makes me feel guilty. But I'm not complaining. NBA 06 tries hard to make things right and succeeds admirably.
Arguably the best part of NBA was its multiplayer support. While the gameplay was less than stellar, the wireless play was amazingly well done and silky smooth. NBA 06 features more of the same (Ad Hoc and Infrastructure modes) and lets you play exhibition games as well as all of the mini-games. Yes, dodgeball included.
In the end, NBA 06 is a very satisfying basketball game that shines brightly next to its NBA cousin from a few months ago. The gameplay tweaks help elevate all modes of the game and the inclusion of dodgeball is the nicest present I've seen in a long time. The multiplayer is still stellar and the additions that have been made to all aspects of the presentation make this one of the best sport titles on the PSP thus far. Sony tries hard to redeem itself and succeeds in every way.