The season mode lets you play out a single 29-, 58-, or 82-game season with any of the NBA teams, and you can also lead a charge into the play-offs if you play well enough. You can simulate or play any game you wish while checking standings and injury reports in the very basic management menus. You can execute trades as well, but there is no trade logic included in the game, so it's easy to stack your team with superstars while getting rid of all your benchwarmers. While playing as the Lakers, for example, we dumped journeymen Chucky Atkins and Chris Mihm for superstars Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire. The Suns happily accepted.
NBA offers three minigames, including a three-point competition, a skills challenge, and a special mode called "paint," which can be played against the computer or a human opponent in the game's Wi-Fi networking mode. The three-point shoot-out is a simple shooting minigame, while the skills challenge involves running a player through a timed obstacle course that includes shooting, dribbling around pylons, and passing balls through targets. Paint is a simple game that involves two players on the court. Each player tries to claim a section of the court (each of these sections is assigned a point value) by making a shot from that area. The last player to sink a shot from a specific area has ownership of it. At the end of the time limit, the players' points are tallied, and the one with the most points wins. All the minigames are decent diversions, but none of them should make or break your purchasing decision.
NBA's graphics are vibrant and colorful, but as far as detail goes, it can still take some squinting to try to distinguish different players on the floor. Numbers on the backs of jerseys are barely readable, for example. The developers have thoughtfully tried to make players look more unique via accessories like headbands and braces on the players who wear them, and even by including Latrell Sprewell's ghetto Princess Leia hairdo. But given the constraints of the PSP's screen, it might have been better to offer other methods of player identification, like numbers above each player's head. Whenever you pull off a spectacular play, the game pauses briefly and zooms in on the player's face, framing it in a collector's card-style action shot. From here you can see the detail that went into modeling each player's face, and for the most part, the artists have done a good job. However, this pausing and zooming in on highlights can get annoying and distracting after a while. The game's animation could also use some improvement, as players run very stiffly, and there isn't much variety in the dunk and layup animations.
NBA's sound effects are probably on a par with its graphics, which is to say, they're not that great. There's a generic buzz of crowd noise and applause. The sounds of the game, like the bouncing of the ball on the court or sneakers squeaking on the court, are absent or drowned out by the annoying stadium music that's piped in during the game. The loudest court sound you'll hear is the ball rimming out or swishing through the basket after shots. No play-by-play announcing or narration is included, aside from the stadium announcer calling out fouls and out-of-bounds.
The most compelling feature in NBA is arguably its Wi-Fi networking capability. NBA ships with both ad hoc (local) and infrastructure (Internet) modes to support two players. The multiplayer support works pretty well and should provide players with frequent competition, but the core gameplay isn't strong enough to make this feature as exciting as it could be.
Even though NBA does offer wireless head-to-head play, several game modes, and the unique advantage of being the only hoops game to ship with the PSP, these features are really all the game has to offer. Its core gameplay is decent, but roundball fans with more discerning tastes are sure to find plenty of faults with the game and likely won't be satisfied. NBA also makes a nice effort at trying to stand out with its unique shooting mechanic, but the two-button-press method of shooting just ended up being too awkward and unintuitive to be considered a plus. Unless you're absolutely set on having a basketball game to play on the go, you're probably better off waiting for better hoops offerings to come along on the PSP.