Though the real NBA season has just wound down, it's never too early to start thinking about next year's crop of NBA basketball games. 2K Sports agrees, which is why we got a first look at NBA 2K8's Blacktop mode before a motion-capture session at New York's famed Rucker Park.
One of the biggest new features this year is the Sprite slam-dunk contest. Dunk contests in video games have been around since Jordan versus Bird, but this isn't any ordinary dunk contest: It takes place outdoors on a neon-lit court right smack in the middle of the Vegas strip. DJ Robert "Bobbito" Garcia acts as host and does the commentary for the contest. He roams the court praising the great dunks and chastising the bad ones. The contest starts off with Bobbito introducing the participants, each of whom has his own customized introduction. You might see a player flex and kiss his biceps or just turn to play to the crowd.
Up to four players can take part in the three-round contest. Dunks are scored on a 100-point scale and the lowest score in each round loses. The roster of dunkers we were able to choose from isn't the final list, but it included such high-flyers as Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Nate Robinson, LeBron James, Vince Carter, Gerald Green, Andre Iguodala, and more. You get two tries per round and one replacement dunk if you miss an attempt. But you'll want to make your first try count because your score takes a hit on replacement dunks. After all, the crowd doesn't want to sit there and watch you miss dunks all day á la Nate Robinson.
There are three parts to each dunk: the gather, the in-air style, and the finish. You determine what specific gather and in-air move you're going to do by moving the right analog stick in specific patterns as you approach the basket. A basic leaning tomahawk dunk is as easy as pushing right on the right analog stick, but more complicated dunks will require more complex motions. A Dominique two-handed windmill jam is down and then a half-counterclockwise circle starting from 12 o'clock; a 360 East Bay Funk Dunk is right and then a full-counterclockwise circle starting from 9 o'clock. Because your gather affects what you can do in the air, there are more than 300 possible dunk combinations. Want to throw down a 180 dunk and then hang off the rim by your elbow? You can do it. Self-pass behind the back, 180 reverse two-handed jam? No problem. A sick-looking cartwheel dunk? Yeah, you can do that too.
The last part of each dunk is the finish. As you get ready to put the ball through the rim, a meter appears and you must press the right trigger in the highlighted area. This doesn't sound all that tough, but the meter moves pretty fast. Not only that, but the highlighted area gets smaller for the more difficult dunks.
Adding variety to your dunks is important because the judges will penalize you for repeating the same dunk twice. If you're looking for a bit of an edge, you can press a button to toss or bounce the ball ahead so that you can catch it and throw it down. You can also use props to spice up your dunks. There are barrels (you can stack up to five), construction horses, speakers, chairs, a sign, and even a car to jump over. Just be sure you can make it over the prop or else you're in for a painful-looking spill. Even though the game is only about 60 percent finished, each motion-captured dunk is smoothly animated, and you can admire your handiwork in the game's slow-motion replays. There are also some great reactions from the crowd and the players. The players will dance and hop around after a big dunk or walk off the court in disgust after being eliminated. You can even knock over and then help up spectators along the baseline.
Our time with the game was enjoyable, even if there's a bit of a learning curve to throwing down basic dunks. Taunting your opponents after a huge dunk is great fun; even being taunted after a big miss was pretty entertaining. This is definitely a game mode that's best played with friends. 2K said they it's looking into online play, but nothing has been announced yet.
NBA 2K8 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 isn't due in stores until October, so 2K wasn't yet ready to talk about any of the other game modes. 2K did, however, promise much more information in the coming weeks, so be sure to check back for the very latest on NBA 2K8.