NBA Baller Beats
What a Kinect game should be
NBA Baller Beats is much like other rhythm games like Guitar Hero or Dance Dance Revolution, but with a twist. Instead of strumming a fake guitar or moving your feet, you’re dribbling and doing real moves with a real basketball. And it works, both as a really fun experience and as a great fitness game.
It seems that Kinect developers are either unable or unwilling to take chances. Most Kinect games seem to follow the same basic patterns—you dance, you pose in a certain position, you run in place, you pretend to turn an imaginary steering wheel, and so on.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard of Majesco’s NBA Baller Beats. But after playing it, I can honestly say it is one of the best Kinect games to date. The developers took big chances on this one, and they really paid off.
The best way to describe NBA Baller Beats is that it’s like Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero, but using a basketball. You basically do basketball drills to a beat. This may sound ridiculous, even sacrilegious to some, but I found it to be a wonderfully compelling game that can appeal to both kids who are just starting out with basketball, as well as experienced ball handlers who want to hone their skills.
Majesco has done a lot to make the point that this is a game that hard-core basketball players can enjoy. It comes bundled with an official full-size Spalding NBA Game Ball Series Outdoor ball (worth about $20 in itself). This isn’t a toy—this is an official NBA size and weight ball that you can take out to the court. In fact, the ball was so real that I couldn’t use it in my third-floor apartment without the neighbors downstairs thinking there was an earthquake (in order to write this review, I ended up replacing the basketball with a playground ball which didn’t work quite as well but did give me a good feel for the game).
When you start playing Baller Beats, the system will make sure you have enough space to play. The ball needs to be a minimum of 6 feet from your Kinect Sensor, and the camera must have a clear view of the entire play space window, i.e., a clear view from your head to your feet. Once you’ve met these conditions, hold your hand over the Start button to begin.
The main menu has five options: How to Play, Locker Room, Versus, Options, and Play Now.
How to Play contains an interactive tutorials that will introduce you to the basics of the game. Just like in DDR or Guitar Hero, you’ll see a vertical “runway” of lines scrolling downward. Some of the lines will have basketball icons, and when these icons hit the center of the screen, you literally dribble your basketball to get a point. If the icon’s to the left of the line, you dribble with your left hand; if it’s to the right you dribble with your right. The more accurate the dribble, the more points you get.
In addition, from time to time in the scrolling lines there’ll also be icons of basketball moves, such as crossover dribbles, passes, and pump fakes. These will also be displayed to the bottom right of the screen so you always know what move is coming up (reminiscent of Just Dance or Dance Central). The better you perform these, the higher your score will be.
While this sounds a little complicated, after a while you’ll practice the patterns and the icons and won’t need to think too much about them. The music helps as well, as every bounce and special move is done to the beat of the music.
By the way, I should mention that you might notice that the ball in my video is bouncing all over the place. That’s because I live in a third story apartment, and there is NO way I am able to play the game using the real basketball that’s included in the game, or for that matter any kind of basketball. So I ended up replacing the basketball with a playground ball. I imagine there will be a lot of nasty comments on YouTube about how terrible I am, but I’ll challenge any of those naysayers in advance to try to dribble a four square ball!
Once you’ve “graduated” from the tutorial you can go to “Move School” where you’ll practice more advanced moves. The advanced moves get surprisingly advanced and are legitimately great ball handling skills for any aspiring basketball player to learn.
I’d suggest going through all the tutorials before starting the game, as you’ll need to get used to handling the ball while looking up at the screen and not the ball, which itself isn’t a bad skill to master (you don’t see Kobe and LeBron staring at their hands while dribbling).
When you click “Play Now” you start out by picking a venue: NBA Court, Theme Park, Rooftop, or Beach (or you can let the system choose one randomly). You then choose a skill level: Rookie, Pro, or Baller. Rookie is suitable for kids and people new to basketball, while Pro is legitimately a setting where a great ball handler can really show off some skills.
Next, you see the track list. The songs are all licensed tracks by some of the hottest hip-hop, pop, and electronic music stars. The tracks are:
Amazing (Kanye West feat. Young Jeezy)
Music Makes Me Feel So Good (Static Revenger)
Let It (edit Remix) (MachineDrum feat Melo. X)
Roll Up (Wiz Khalifa)
Party Rock Anthem (LMFAO)
Disparate Youth (Santigold)
Tightrope (Janelle Monae)
Night By Night (Chromeo)
C’mon (Catch Em By Surprise) Tiesto vs. Diplo ft. Busta Rhymes
Championship Fever (Najee)
Blue Sky (Common)
It’s Okay (Cee Lo Green)
So Good (B.o.B)
Bust a Move (Young MC)
Chillin (Wale feat. Lady Gaga)
Surf Hell (Little Barrie)
Satellite (Rise Against)
New Fang (Them Crooked Vultures)
It’s Tricky (Run DMC)
Antibiotics (Calling All Cars)
Get Your Freak On (Missy Elliot)
Don’t Sweat the Technique (Erik B and Rakim)
Obstacle 1 (Interpol)
Access Hollywood (Consequence)
Stylo (Gorillaz feat. Bobby Womack and Mos Def)
Another One Bites the Dust (Queen)
Each song is classified by difficulty and each runs about 2-3 minutes long.
Once you select a song, you’ll see a countdown from 3 to 1, and then you’ll start your drill. You’ll see an icon of yourself in the upper right-hand corner so you can see your stance and technique (it’s very cool how they put your body in grey, but the ball is a color video image of the actual ball you’re using).
I was pleasantly surprised at how accurate the Kinect tracking was. As you get to more advanced techniques such as crossovers between the legs, behind-the-back passes, pump fakes, and pull dribbles, the system will detect nuances such as whether you’re properly moving the ball behind your back or between your legs. The motion control isn’t perfect, but it’s awfully good. You really do need to perform the drills perfectly to get a perfect score.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how good a workout this was. After a few songs my heart rate was actually up. This is one of those rare games where you “get a workout without realizing you’re working out”.
As you earn points, you can go to the “NBA Store” under “Locker Room” to “buy” extras such as different balls, player posters, runway textures, full music tracks, and player cards. It’s good incentive to get you to come back and play more, but in all honesty the game is so fun that you won’t you’ll come back for the enjoyment of it. The Locker Room menu also allows you to turn on and off snapshots that can take your picture while you’re in action.
There’s also a multiplayer mode called “Versus” where up to 8 players can compete against each other. Players don’t play simultaneously; they take turns to see who can score the highest on a given song.
What I find brilliant about NBA Baller Beats is that it’s the perfect game for a very underserved demographic in motion gaming: boys, teen guys, and young men. Sure, guys can enjoy games like Dance Central or Just Dance, but that’s mostly when there’s family—or girls—in the room. This is finally a game that a group of young men can get together, enjoy, and even improve their ball handling techniques. (In the interest of equal time, and being a fan of women’s college basketball, I’ll add that women can certainly enjoy and excel in it as well).
This game is not suitable for certain people. I think kids who are too young may grow frustrated quickly at the precision that’s needed to succeed in this game. Also, if you live on an upper floor of a house or apartment, this game might not be for you unless you take out a whole lot of homeowner’s insurance. One option might be to substitute a soccer ball or a playground ball for a basketball, but the experience just isn’t quite the same.
Bottom line, I really, really liked this game. I especially liked the fact that Majesco took a chance at trying something new, and it really paid off. In many ways, I see this as one of the first “next generation” Kinect games that go beyond the rudimentary “hey, isn’t the Kinect cool” type of gameplay we’ve seen over and over again, and really start to explore more natural and practical applications for the Kinect. I hope to see more of this “out of the box” kind of development in the future.