The PlayStation Portable has been out just 18 months, and Sony's NBA franchise is already making its third appearance on the handheld after two disappointing efforts. Despite some improvements over Sony's first NBA game for the PSP, NBA 06 was a mediocre effort, hampered by quirky gameplay and lousy artificial intelligence. This year's title, NBA 07, has a whole host of problems, some old and some new, making it difficult to recommend, even though it is better than NBA 06.
SCEA has avoided the common pitfall of simply porting a PS2 game to the PSP. The developers tailored NBA 07 to take advantage of the PSP's strengths by making the game easy to pick up and play and by adding a host of minigames. Most of NBA 07's game modes aren't particularly deep, but there are a number of ways to keep yourself occupied. You can play a single game, a season, or jump straight to the playoffs. The season mode is shallow and only encompasses the 2006 to 2007 NBA season--there's no multiyear franchise option. You can trade players without having to worry about the salary cap, or for that matter, general managers that have a clue as to what they're doing. Ben Wallace for LeBron James? That'll work! P.J. Brown for Dirk Nowitzki? It's all good! The story mode from the PS2 version of NBA 07, called The Life, is nowhere to be found. This is a shame, since its series of short challenges are ideal for playing on the go.
Most of NBA 07's value is found in its minigames, though there are a few duds in the bunch. From the all-star weekend mode, the three-point shoot-out is playable, as is the skills challenge, where your dribbling, shooting, and passing skills are put to the test. Due to some touchy controls and a fussy camera, the skills challenge isn't as enjoyable on the PSP as it is on the PS2. You can even take part in the slam-dunk contest, which is a timing-based DDR-style event. This is fun for a short while, but you're so focused on inputting the proper commands that you aren't able to watch the dunks. A quick pick-up game at the playground has you and the CPU taking turns choosing a squad of NBA players. Own the court, where you try and hit jumpers to take control of circles of varying point values, is back. Dodgeball returns from last year, but the controls are lousy, so it's not much fun. HORSE is an enjoyable mode that's great for practicing difficult shots. Many of these games feature a ladder challenge, where you start at the bottom and work your way to the top. As you progress, the players become better and better, so be ready to take on the likes of Larry Bird if you reach the top of the three-point shoot-out ladder.
To further mix the formula up, there are a handful of carnival-style minigames. The basketball-themed pinball machine is quite a bit of fun, though it would have been better if you could play it with the PSP turned vertically. Hot shot is a quick game where you make as many shots as you can on an arcade basketball machine with a moving backboard. Big shooter is skeeball with a basketball theme and is amusing for a short while. All of the carnival games support game sharing, but they're strictly single-player affairs.
Wireless play for both ad hoc and infrastructure are robust. HORSE, dodgeball, pick up, exhibition, skills challenge, own the court, and the three-point contest are all available for play. The game played smooth over an ad hoc connection, though there were a few sporadic hiccups here and there. Lag wasn't an issue with infrastructure play, but at times the game was extremely choppy--not to the point that the game was unplayable, but enough that you probably wouldn't want to play an entire game.
Far and away, NBA 07's coolest aspect is conquest mode. Best described as a cross between basketball and the classic board game RISK, your eventual goal is to rule every team in the NBA. You start by selecting a team, and then you're shown a map of North America, where each team's city is represented by their logo. When it's your turn, you can challenge any team that's in your immediate area to a game of five-on-five. The games take place on outdoor courts and have a few different rules from standard full-court games. You don't play to a set score; rather, each team has a score indicator that gets lower each time it's scored upon. The first team to have an empty meter loses the game. Also, there are no fouls and no shot clock. If you block a player's shot or hit a three-pointer over a defender, that player will become stunned and his speed will become greatly reduced until his team scores again. When you beat a team that you've challenged, you own that territory and control the team. Should someone try and take your territory, you'll be forced to defend it. If you beat the challenger, you can take a player of your choice from that team in exchange for the worst player on your roster. This helps because better players not only make your team better, but also raise the value of your score indicator. And you're not the only one trying to take over the league. In between turns, you'll see the CPU play out challenge scenarios for the rest of the teams in the NBA. There's quite a bit of depth to conquest mode, and it's a great fit for quick play sessions on the PSP.