Wayback Wednesday: AND 1 Streetball Retrospective

Wayback Wednesday: AND 1 Streetball Retrospective

This is Wayback Wednesday, your midweek blast from the past! In this feature, we dig into the archives, look back at the history of basketball gaming, and indulge in some nostalgia. Check in every Wednesday for retrospectives and other features on older versions of NBA Live, NBA 2K, and old school basketball video games in general. You’ll also find old NLSC editorials re-published with added commentary, and other flashback content. This week, I’m taking a look back at AND 1 Streetball.

As much as I enjoy revisiting old favourites that I’ve spent hundreds of hours with over the years, I also enjoy going back and checking out basketball games that I missed the first time around. It’s given me reason to seek out deals on eBay and expand my collection, and these days, I’ve got a variety of hoops titles at my disposal. Good, bad, or mediocre, they’re always interesting to check out. In fact, there’s often a lot of fun to be had with the titles that are slightly rough around the edges, especially when they can bring something different to the table.

Case in point: AND 1 Streetball. Developed by Black Ops Entertainment and released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, it didn’t have the polish of an NBA Live or NBA 2K, or for that matter, NBA Street. It was a competent effort though, and a fun game in its own right. The use of AND1 talent also made it stand out from NBA Street, as did its approach to gameplay. It’s another basketball game that’s somewhat forgotten, which is unfortunate as it deserves to be remembered. Let’s take a look back…way back…

During the early to mid 2000s, the AND1 Mixtape Tour was very popular. The tour was televised on ESPN 2, and highlights were compiled into the titular mixtapes, ten of which were produced between 1998 and 2008. Hosted by Emcee Rell, the tour included well-known streetballers The Professor, Baby Shack, Hotsauce, The Bone Collector, and former NBA player and street legend Rafer Alston, aka Skip to My Lou. EA Sports’ foray into the blacktop with the NBA Street series demonstrated the appeal of the concept, and that there was a market for titles such as AND 1 Streetball. Of course, it wasn’t the first streetball title that Black Ops Entertainment had made.

Mark Jindrak in AND 1 Streetball

In 2002, Black Ops released Street Hoops, a similar style of game featuring players from the AND1 Mixtape Tour, and other streetballers. Released in 2006, AND 1 Streetball could be considered a spiritual successor rather than an official sequel, with a mobile version titled AND 1 Street Basketball also being released earlier in the year. Contrary to its predecessor, AND 1 Streetball was fully licensed and included the entire roster from the 2005 Mixtape Tour, though some ballers had to be unlocked. Clothing, courts, moves, and other content were also earned by playing the game, or unlocked through cheat codes; a quaint concept in the age of microtransactions!

Speaking of unlockable players, professional wrestling fans may recognise the name Mark Jindrak, as he wrestled for WCW, WWF/WWE, and more recently, CMLL. As he played college basketball before becoming a pro wrestler, a fellow fan and I ended up speculating in a Twitter thread if it was indeed the same Mark Jindrak. As it turns out, yes it was! Mark himself jumped into the thread to confirm it, and provided a bit of back story. Around the time he was released from WWE in July 2005, the AND1 Mixtape Tour came through Atlanta. He tried out, playing one game and winning a dunk contest. For the record, he notably has the highest vertical leap in WWE history.

Jindrak’s stint with AND1 was short-lived. As he himself explained, he didn’t join the tour as there was another player there who could perform a 720 dunk, but he made a good impression and ended up being included as an unlockable character in AND 1 Streetball. He had of course previously appeared in WWE Smackdown vs RAW and WWE Smackdown vs RAW 2006, so much like Brock Lesnar’s appearance in the rosters of Madden 06, Mark’s a pro wrestler that ended up being playable in a non-wrestling video game following his stint in WWE. Shout out to Mark for being cool enough to drop in with that info, and for throwing down this textbook 360 jam!

The Professor Ready To Break Ankles

Alright, let’s dive into AND 1 Streetball. The game featured a beautifully animated intro that immediately sets the tone. Seeing an intro like that reminds me of their importance to basketball video games, even when we end up skipping them. The menus featured highlight clips in the background, not unlike the reels seen in the PlayStation 2 and PC versions of NBA Live from around the same time. You could actually choose to watch the intro at any time in the “Bonus Stuff” menu, suggesting that the developers were rightfully proud of it. As with NBA Jam and NBA Street titles, the aesthetic really made AND 1 Streetball stand out from NBA Live and 2K.

The controls were familiar and intuitive. In fact, the button configuration for shooting, passing, blocking, rebounding, and stealing was identical to NBA Street. However, while NBA Street utilised a face button for performing trick moves, the same button performed taunts on offense in AND 1 Streetball. The Taunt button was also used in conjunction with L1 to back down defenders, and on defense, to push back against an opponent backing down in the post. Advanced controls included the ability to throw alley-oops to teammates or lob to yourself, as well as attempt tip dunks. The sprint control was also used to enhance the various dribbling moves at the cost of energy.

Dribbling and trick moves were handled by a system called I-Ball, which utilised the analog sticks and turbo. There were two levels of I-Ball moves while in motion, and three levels while stationary. Level 1 was set-up dribbles, performed with the right analog stick. Level 2 brought out the showboat moves, executed by holding both analog sticks in a certain direction. Level 3 moves were the ankle-breakers, and could be pulled off by holding both sticks in a direction in conjunction with turbo. The only way to make a defender fall with a Level 3 move was to fill the Ankle-Breaker meter with crafty combos. A siren indicated the precise moment to make your move.

Rewind in AND 1 Streetball

Additionally, the player indicator provided clues as to when to smoothly transition into the next dribbling move, effectively chaining them together. Being too quick or too slow with your timing interrupted the flow, ultimately forcing you to start over with your combo. I-Ball controls could seem complicated at first, but were fairly straightforward. They weren’t as smooth and precise as Freestyle in NBA Live, or the Pro Stick in more recent NBA 2K games, but they did the job. Player movement was noticeably exaggerated compared to other games including arcade titles such as NBA Street, which could lead to out-of-control moments and overpowered combinations.

Defensive controls weren’t as deep, though the right stick was a second steal control alongside the button. Holding turbo while attempting a block snatched it out of the air rather than just swatting it, though this drained energy from the sprint meter. Holding the right stick down was also a method of countering tricks from the “Off Da Head” branch of I-Ball moves. If an opponent tried to throw the ball off your head as they were setting you up for an ankle-breaker, good timing on the right stick would grab it for the steal. When defenders failed to counter the “Off Da Head” moves, there was a chance that they’d be temporarily stunned, and thus much easier to leave in the dust.

Successfully performing I-Ball moves and finishing with a bucket filled the Crowd Meter. A full meter earned a “Mic Checka” Mic, at which point you were able to activate On Fire mode, or perform a Breakdown move. Not unlike NBA Jam, On Fire mode – activated by pressing both L1 and L2 – boosted your team’s abilities, complete with a glowing ball. Breakdown moves – performed by pressing R1 and R2 – could only be performed in specific areas of the floor, revealed by the indicator pulsing. Like NBA Street’s Gamebreakers, Breakdown moves were scripted sequences that ended with baskets worth more points (3 in halfcourt games, 5 in full court games).

Inbounding in AND 1 Streetball

Once again, while some of the control concepts in AND 1 Streetball sound complex, they weren’t difficult on the sticks. With that being said, what was the gameplay like in action? I’d sum it up as very fun, but undoubtedly clunky. As noted above, player movement tended to be exaggerated on dribbling moves, and gameplay was definitely tuned for offensive domination rather than defensive battles. The animations were also quite dated for a game that came out in 2006. Although there were some moves and shots that looked slick, others looked very awkward, with inconsistent speed. The speed and trajectory of the ball on jumpshots were too fast and too low respectively.

Although Breakdown moves triggered cinematic sequences in which players went into a dribbling combination followed by a shot attempt, the defense was actually still in control. However, the camera angle made it extremely tough to stay with your man. It was impossible to pump fake when facing away from the basket, as players would immediately attempt a turnaround fadeaway. Pace was slowed during inbounds as players collected loose balls and the camera rotated and shifted to a low baseline angle, which also interfered with the movement of defenders. The AI was prone to major lapses, stifling fast breaks and not taking advantage of clear opportunities.

In short, the tech was dated even for 2006, and the gameplay doesn’t feel as polished as other games of that vintage, or even a few years earlier for that matter. There were also some animation glitches, as I’ve experienced players successfully dunking on an invisible hoop way off to the side. However, this doesn’t mean that AND 1 Streetball wouldn’t have been fun to play when it came out, as I had a great time messing around with it some fifteen years later! It’s immensely satisfying to throw lobs to yourself and break ankles. As clunky as some animations were, when something did look good, it looked very good. The presentation and commentary made highlights feel special.

I Ball Controls

Much of the awkwardness can probably be chalked up to the animations being quite reminiscent of an older sim title, but combined with arcade-like gameplay mechanics. Such awkward animations also aren’t uncommon in titles from studios not usually known for hoops games. There was a level of competence, but not the same polish or animation quality as an EA or 2K title. The AI lapses and catch-up logic resulted in contrived balance, but it worked well with the casual pick-up-and-play style. AND 1 Streetball straddled the line between exaggerated sim and arcade gameplay, and for all of the clunky moments, the on-court experience can be really fun and engaging.

With that in mind, it’s a great example of how we can easily fall victim to the false dichotomy of great or awful, ignoring all the ground in between. No, the dribbling moves aren’t as smooth as NBA Street, but it’s very satisfying when the game goes into slow motion as you break someone’s ankles. When you complete an alley-oop off the glass, you want to watch the instant replay, even when the animations aren’t as impressive on second glance. Movement can look stiff but feels fluid on the sticks, while the controls have enough complexity for a suitable learning curve without being intimidating or off-putting. I understand its appeal in 2006, and it can still be enjoyed.

The creation and customisation options in AND 1 Streetball weren’t extraordinarily deep, but nevertheless sufficient. Create-a-Baller included different body types and face sculpting options, and it was even possible to place your own face on a created player using the PS2’s EyeToy camera. New gear could be unlocked and purchased with in-game cash, which also paid for attribute upgrades. Again, since this was long before microtransactions, the base attributes and array of basic gear that was already unlocked were quite generous. There were also basic player archetypes, while your created player’s height and weight likewise impacted their fifteen base attributes.

Creating A Breakdown Move

Creating your own Breakdown move is arguably the signature feature of AND 1 Streetball. This involved piecing together two “showboat” moves followed by a finish, and culminating with a celebration animation. A number of animations were unlocked by default, with the rest being unlockable in the game’s campaign mode; more on that in a moment. Other customisation options included difficulty, camera angle, and the default game rules. Rules could also be changed before quick games, as well as the location, game type (full court, halfcourt, 1-on-1 to 5-on-5, duration, etc), and even the time of day. It was enough to keep exhibition play fresh and interesting.

As for the game’s campaign mode, it was – not surprisingly – based on the AND1 Mixtape Tour, featuring streetball tournaments around the country. Your goal was to earn an AND1 contract with your created baller, and become a streetball legend. The Tour began with the Open Runs, which were short 5v5 tryout games with local teams. The top three players moved on to the Main Runs, where they teamed with players from previous stops on the tour to take on Team AND1. Over the course of the tour, the three hopefuls are voted in or out based on their performance, until only one is left with an opportunity to earn a contract. Story cutscenes added flavour to the campaign.

In addition to the Open Runs and Main Runs, each city on the tour had Side Games with their own rules. These custom games earned additional rewards, and would be unlocked for exhibition play when they were beaten during the Tour. Other players would send your baller text messages, which you had to read in order not to lose face. Your baller could also be modified with new gear, attribute upgrades, and Breakdown moves along the way. Most of the replay value was in the form of trying out different player builds for the Tour, unlocking content, or creating a new Breakdown move. Online play was also supported, though I’m not sure how active that scene ever was.

Mixtape Tour in AND 1 Streetball

This gave AND 1 Streetball respectable depth to go along with gameplay that could be a blast if you didn’t mind dated animations and some clunky moments. Needless to say, its appeal banked heavily on the popularity of the AND1 Mixtape Tour, and the streetball stars of the era. While this made it rather unique, it also resulted in a title that was unquestionably niche. To that end, it definitely had less mainstream appeal than an NBA-licensed title such as NBA Street, or Acclaim’s NBA Jam title from 2003. Combined with the rough and dated aspects of the gameplay, this led to critics posting mixed reviews for PlayStation 2, while Xbox reviews skewed negatively.

Conversely, gamer opinions tend to be markedly more positive, to the point where the user remarks on Metacritic are bewildered and sniping at the critics’ reviews. While I would suggest that they are overlooking some key issues and valid criticism, it speaks to how the game was capable of being a lot of fun despite its flaws. Indeed, it seems that gamers who played it back in the day hold it in high regard and are nostalgic for it. Despite the shortcomings I’ve noted, I understand where they’re coming from. Sure, it looks and feels even more dated now, but the gameplay can still be very satisfying. If it’s an old favourite, you’ll likely find it to be just as playable over a decade later.

We all have a different level of tolerance when it comes to outdated tech, especially when it wasn’t even cutting edge when it was new. Still, if you’re a keen retro gamer, I don’t think you need to necessarily be nostalgic for AND 1 Streetball to enjoy playing it today. If you’re after a game that was ahead of its time, then it probably won’t be for you. If you can look past the clunky animations and spotty AI to ball out using flashy AND1 moves with the stars of the Mixtape Tour, you’ll find it very entertaining, as I did. It’s also interesting to see the story in the campaign mode given that the approach has become such an intrinsic part of NBA 2K’s MyCAREER over the past generation.

AND 1 Streetball Intro

I’ll stand by my assertion that there was some roughness to AND 1 Streetball, and a few aspects that were already dated by 2006. It didn’t have the same polish as NBA Street or the contemporary NBA Live and NBA 2K titles, but it had solid mechanics that worked well enough. The AND1 license made it unique, and its gameplay was a good mix of exaggerated sim and low-key arcade; not over-the-top cartoony, but too fast-paced and flashy to be completely sim. AND 1 Streetball wasn’t on NBA Street’s level, but it’s better than the sum of its parts. A commendable effort, it doesn’t take a Professor to understand the appeal and nostalgia for this enjoyable streetball game.

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