Developer: HB Studios
I feel like giving NBA Baller Beats some credit almost entirely because it tries to do something fairly unique with the Kinect. The Xbox 360 add-on has been sort of a mixed bag since its release, with some really great experiences via stuff like Dance Central, ambitious attempts with something like Rise of Nightmares, and then downright broken games like Steel Battalion and Wipeout.
NBA Baller Beats comes down somewhere in the middle of all of that. The concept is certainly interesting, which involves the use of an actual basketball in conjuction with a music rhythm game that takes a few cues from other popular music based titles available on the 360. I can’t think of a single Kinect experience that requires me to use some sort of inanimate object and actual register its on-screen movement, but Baller Beats does just that with its included basketball. And it does a pretty good job of picking up that movement, provided you have the space and set-up necessary for making it work.
Owners of the Kinect are certainly no strangers to needing to do a little household arranging if they want to bust out a Kinect game or two. But NBA Baller Beats takes that to a whole different level, needing both space and surface in order to be properly played. It’s hard to fault a game for needing a particular set-up, but I’d definitely like to point out that NBA Baller Beats takes an almost obscene amount of prep work to get it up and running, depending on your current living situation. And unless you have a particularly large, open living room area, bouncing a basketball around inside is amazingly loud, and not at all conducive to making your neighbors happy if you happen to live in an apartment.
Also, keep in mind that hardwood floors or some type of flat, non-carpeted space is pretty much required to make this work. This was honestly a complete and utter oversight on my end at first, which sort of forced me to move my entire entertainment set-up to a different room strictly for this review. Again, it’s completely something I should have thought of going in, but it’s worth noting that you really need a certain set-up to make Baller Beats possible to play. There’s no real allowance in the game for not using the basketball, so don’t hope to trick the game by sitting down, waving your arms around, or some other tactic in order to make this thing work right.
One thing that I did test out, for those interested in playing the game but not all that comfortable with the thought of performing crossovers with a basketball within breaking distance of your large, fragile, flat screen TV, is that a lighter, cheap toy ball kind of does the trick. I picked up one of these balls at a local department store for a couple bucks, around the same size as the included basketball, and the Kinect picked up on it in the same fashion. It’s not quite as easy to dribble, which makes for a tougher experience, but it is a little bit of a workaround if necessary.
Once you manage to get the set-up portion of Baller Beats out of the way, it does make for a pretty enjoyable experience. As stated before, it’s essentially a rhythm game, requiring you to time your dribbling to the on-screen prompts while a song plays in the background. There’s a whole scoring system in place, with multipliers that kick in by performing a variety of tricks like crossovers, which can take a whole lot of practice before you’ll become somewhat decent at performing. I enjoyed playing a lot of basketball during my high school years, and thankfully still retain some of that skill, but I imagine that this will be a challenging experience for those that are a littler rustier at ball control than I was.
Another positive comes from NBA Baller Beats eclectic soundtrack, which delves into both the hip-hop and rock worlds of music, and manages to choose tracks that aren’t tired or played out by modern hit radio stations. You’re bound to find an artist or two you like, if not more, and I can’t say that I found any particular selection to be awful or irritating. And the rhythm gameplay matches up to the music quite well, so if you’re at all naturally inclined to rhythm you’ll probably find the experience meshes quite well.
NBA Baller Beats also handles player progression fairly well, allowing for three difficulties selectable from the start, and unlockables tied into the stars you earn while playing. There’s a nice tutorial to get you started, and the game slowly eases you into the harder score multipliers. The easiest difficulty setting is still going to be quite challenging for un-experienced ball handlers, but with a little practice you’ll be surprised at how much you improve in a short amount of time.
And for those that care about the fitness angle, NBA Baller Beats can certainly provide you with a decent enough cardio workout. You might not think that bouncing a ball over and over again could be that taxing, but you’ll quickly learn otherwise. I was working up a sweat quickly, and while I might not be the most in shape person, I imagine the experience will be similar for most.
Overall, NBA Baller Beats is a completely serviceable, and generally fun, game to pick up for Kinect owners. Its biggest limitation is certainly the requirements on space and setting for getting the whole thing to work, but you get it up and running, I think you’ll definitely have some fun with it. An appreciation of the sport is definitely advised, as the game oozes NBA in style and presentation, but even if you’re just looking for a fun party game, Baller Beats fits the bill. Definitely make sure your living space can accommodate the game before purchase though, as it’s certainly not going to be for everyone.