PSP Review: NBA Live 06

The lackluster mess that was NBA Live 06 on consoles becomes a solid piece of work on the PSP. The feel, style, and gameplay are all different from the home console versions, and if there's ever been a game that needs to stray far, this is the one. In almost every category, Live 06 handheld tramples the home versions.

It starts with a slower pace, perfect for those looking for a more serious approach to the game. This is NBA Live, so the open style of passing down the court rapidly for a dunk will still work on the lower difficulties. On the harder levels, you'll need to strategically work the ball inside, hoping for at least some open look.

Lacking a true analog stick is a problem for PSP players, but not one too severe to consider the game ruined. It's a little too difficult to slow down to prepare a juke or strategy when coming down into the half court setup. Be prepared for a few errant and unexpected turnovers.

AI is strong on both ends, but fails miserably when the ball is loose. Players on both teams will stand around looking at the rebound that just touched the floor. They won't move, and it will either roll out of bounds or a human player will pick it up. It's frustrating late in a crucial situation where the game could go either way.

With the buttons limited, the game is too. The Superstar moves that conquered anything in the other versions are cut down to three types. Their effectiveness isn't what is was either, and except for specific moments, you'll be better off without them. Also gone are the two distinct shot buttons, one for lay-ups and dunks, the other for a jump shot. Given the reasonable compromise and accurate detection, it's not a problem.

The menu systems are also condensed, still lacking the franchise mode. Season play is as in-depth as the single player game gets. The All-Star Weekend festivities, from the rookie challenge to the overly difficult to control dunk contest, are here.

Easily the most surprising aspect on the PSP is the graphics, clean and sporting plenty of smaller detail not expected on the hardware. There are definitely some aliasing issues on the court, but this is compensated with a smooth frame rate that doesn't dip (like it did elsewhere). Steve Kerr and Marve Albert offer limited commentary.

Online play (both Ad Hoc and Infrastructure) is thankfully included, though there's little explanation for it or opportunity to communicate. To play a game to gain rank, you can only play an exhibition with three-minute quarters and on starter difficulty. You can only chat via text before the game, so if you need to make a substitution, do so quickly before the other player thinks you quit. There's also no explanation for the ranking points or how they're earned. It's a matter of continuing to win and hoping you'll make it higher.

Even with a few shaky spots, portable Live 06 is the way to experience the series this year. It's a complete surprise, and will likely catch most people off guard with its quality. If you're sick of the unrealistic and dunk-happy Live the series has become, get it on the PSP.

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