- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Here’s a look at a couple of video games that deliver a virtual experience for the younger and older hoops fan.

Backyard Basketball 2007 (from Atari for PlayStation 2, Rated: Everyone, $29.99).

The very child-friendly hoops simulation returns for its fourth incarnation and continues to serve as a way to introduce second- and third-graders to the basic rules and strategies of basketball.

Through three-on-three contests, teams comprising male and female children compete on a wonderful variety of courts situated in such locales as the middle of a haunted house, the driveway of a fire station, a rooftop and, of course, a back yard, to play a fairly standard game.

Coaches use basic button configurations on the controllers to get their players to easily dribble, pass and shoot the ball. Offense and defense is very simplistic with occasional steals, blocks, dunks and fouls tossed into the mix.

Once a team (choices include all 30 NBA teams and 19 fictitious teams) is created and players selected, two coaches can enjoy a pickup match or even a game of Horse and a single coach can work through a 14-game season to try and win a championship.

Youngsters obsessed with statistics get plenty of numbers and bar charts to look through that range from scouting reports on individual players to all-time records and league reports.

Backyard Basketball also adds some fantasy elements in the competitions to hold the targeted audiences interest.

Mainly, the key to the cuteness is, in addition to the use of 22 Backyard kids, the game incorporates pint-sized versions of 18 professional star players such as Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, Miami Heat’s Shaquille O’Neill and Phoenix Suns’ Steve Nash into the rosters.

Also, as players sink consecutive baskets, they can use wacky power-ups that include literally freezing an opponents shoes to the court or performing fiery dunks.

A level of unlockables, called Goodies, is also available, after the coach meets certain requirements such as winning a game by a certain amount of points and opens up new courts and NBA players.

Although the game is a worthy virtual pastime for parents and offspring, I still would prefer to get some exercise and have fun with my child on my real backyard court.

NBA Street Homecourt (from Electronic Arts for Xbox 360, Rated: Everyone, $59.99).

Playgrounds become stages for an aerial acrobatic performance disguised as a sport in the continuation of a video-game series that pays tribute to the history, attitude and athleticism of streetball.

Scoring a basket is just not enough in this three-on-three court challenge as stars finely find their rhythm, finesse their moves, steals and dunks, and present an incredible show of trick style upon opponents. Most impressively for the average gamer, each is delivered with the use of just a couple of buttons.

All NBA teams are available to take to the courts, composed of four of the finest athletes of each, and Electronic Arts has thrown in six WNBA stars to give the ladies a chance to shine.

Game modes allow for quick matches, trick challenges, online games and the career simulation called Homecourt Challenge where the player builds a team around a mythical individual and compete in tournaments.

That mode is highlighted by the “create a baller” option allowing the genetic morphing of NBA stars as facial characteristics of two familiar athletes and one generic player are melded together to produce a sometimes bizarre human. The blend of Dallas Maverick’s Dirk Nowitzki and Miami Heat’s Shaquille O’Neill was especially disturbing.

The action is complimented with a slick soundtrack with offers tastes of underground hip hop, funk and even classic Motown.

The mixture of the controllable razzle-dazzle and humor are infectious as games unfold. A planned pass can start with a kick of the ball off a defender’s head and into the hands of a teammate who is five feet above the rim and ready for a backboard rattling dunk. Often miscues on the dunks can lead to a foot in the net or a cracked noggin on the board.

What really hooked me on the title were the upgraded and phenomenal graphics that support 1080p high-definition televisions. Courts and the surroundings are just breathtaking, almost artistic in presentation, and the character model detail is a visual smorgasbord that showcases the amazing nuances of the human body in motion.

The latest NBA Street is an impressive package and far more exciting to play than any of the more realistic basketball simulations available as it relies less on strategy and statistics and more on just having a good time.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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