EA and Midway share the rights to NBA-licensed arcade basketball games. As a result, the NBA Ballers franchise is released every other year, with EA's NBA Street series occupying the year in between. This year is NBA Ballers' time to shine and that didn't happen, which means it's a down year for arcade hoops. NBA Ballers: Chosen One has some interesting ideas, particularly with regards to its presentation, but it's ultimately a disappointment thanks to repetitive gameplay and needlessly complex controls.
Win scenarios vary from one match to the next, but they have little impact on how you play the game.
You can single-play games of 1V1, 2V2, and 1V1V1, or sharpen your skills in practice, a shootout, or three-point contest. You can also play ranked and unranked matches online using your custom character, which is pretty cool. The bulk of Ballers' content, however, is found in Story mode. Here you create a player, give him a nickname (we went with "Beans"), and choose from hundreds of different shirts, pants, shoes, jewelry items, and more to customize his appearance. You'll unlock more gear as you progress, but you can make a truly unique baller with just the stuff that's unlocked from the outset. Your created player will be terrible at first, but his attributes will improve slightly after each game. These attribute boosts are supposedly based on your performance in the previous game, but they seem more random than anything else. Story mode's premise is simple. Each year after the NBA playoffs, the top players in the league take part in a street ball tournament, the winner of which will be known as the "Chosen One." Story mode is divided into six episodes, each of which contains five chapters. Episodes are introduced by short video segments that feature Public Enemy's Chuck D as a host of an NBA Tonight-like show. He doesn't have anything particularly riveting to say, but the segments are nicely produced and add a bit of realism to the mode.
Although the game's six episodes have diverse themes, they don't feel that different from one another. Most of the time you go up against other players one-on-one and try to beat them. Sure, dunks might be worth three points in a round, you may have to pull off a particular special move, or you might play to 21 instead of 11, but after a couple of chapters you realize there's not much variety, or at least variety that matters. Even the media mogul chapter, where you're vying for a spot in a soft drink commercial, isn't interesting. You spend most of the chapter beating guys head-to-head and then the last chapter performing specific moves against LeBron James while the commercial is filmed. But this just ends up feeling like the rest of the game because the moves are presented in list form before the round (once you start playing, you can't reference them again, either), you're doing the same combos you've been doing for the last few hours. The "commercial" that plays when you're done doesn't even look like a commercial, nor does it feature the moves you performed while shooting it.
Most people don't expect a great story or a lot of variety to the game modes when they play an arcade-style basketball game. They want the best players, over-the-top dunks, hard fouls, diverse court locales, as well as fast-paced, fun gameplay. Chosen One delivers most of these. There are more than 80 current NBA players as well as legends such as Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone, Daryl Dawkins, Dr. J, Larry Bird, Magic, Bill Russell, and more. The basketball courts are spread out among a number of interesting locations including an airplane hangar, a penthouse suite in Boston, the Chicago lakefront, a rooftop in Dubai, South Beach, and the mountains of China. Dunks are suitably outrageous. Even someone like Steve Nash can throw down some crazy dunks and pass the ball to someone standing courtside for a long-distance alley-oop. Toss in plenty of blocks, steals, and physical play, and you have a game that should be a lot of fun, at least on paper.
But NBA Ballers: Chosen One isn't fun, and there are a number of reasons for this. To start with, the controls are much too complicated for this style of game. You can juke with the right analog stick or a face button, but you can also hold down any of the shoulder buttons to further modify your jukes, dunks, and alley-oops. Eventually you'll learn all of the moves, but you'll still have a difficult time performing them thanks to frequently unresponsive controls, especially when you're forced to hold two shoulder buttons in conjunction with another button. Like in NBA Street you must perform flashy jukes and dunks to fill a meter. The twist here is that this meter serves to fill another meter, which, depending on how many levels are full, gives you a guaranteed steal, successful juke, made shot, block, or game-ending super dunk.
Act-a-fool combos are just plain foolish.