Despite its emphasis on rhythm, Majesco's upcoming NBA Baller Beats is really more similar to Dance Central than it is to Guitar Hero. That's because NBA Baller Beats will actually make you better at the real-life activity that it emulates: dribbling a basketball.
In fact, to say NBA Baller Beats emulates dribbling is incorrect, since dribbling is actually exactly what you're doing. NBA Baller Beats tasks you with dribbling a real basketball in front of the Xbox 360's Kinect sensor, keeping time with an eclectic soundtrack while performing advanced moves like through-the-legs and crossovers.
It's fairly forgiving—there are hit multiple "hit zones," so you'll still earn some points even if your rhythm isn't perfect. But I definitely saw an improvement in my off-hand dribbling just over the few songs that I played recently at a demonstration in LA.
The game's multiple difficulty levels—rookie, pro, and baller—can ease you into the experience, though at least a cursory familiarity with a basketball is required. Training modes narrated by none other than two-time NBA champ Kenny Smith will help enough that, according to him, even your mom can play.
We chatted with Smith, the NBA Baller Beats brand ambassador, about his role on the game, golfing with Charles Barkley, and how playing NBA Baller Beats can make you a better player—whether you start out as a rookie or a real baller.
Have you played the game?
[Laughing] Haven't seen it in my life. Yeah, I mean, it's funny because at first—when I was first approached about it in the early stages—you know it was kind of just getting the voiceover. And I was like "Let me see the game first" (this was months ago). And then I was like, "No, no, no. I want to be fully entrenched in this." And I'm basically now serving as the brand ambassador would.
This game is just, you know, unlike anything of its kind, meaning—I've seen, like, bowling games on TV, or you know with your Wii or whatever, Kinect. But you don't have a bowling ball in your hand, you know? Tennis game, you don't have a tennis racket. It's the first game where you have a real ball and you're really doing real basketball moves, you know? First game ever.
And I was just intrigued when I saw it.
What exactly is your role and how have you been involved?
Well no I'm just, you know, I'm fully involved in the game, you know, in all aspects of it. From the grassroots to the launch on Sept. 11, to suggestions, criticisms, comments, every aspects. Once a week or two, every week and a half or so, we're on the phone, we have the production meeting. You know, I'm on it.
And I just think that it's so unique, it's so different, because of that. Because, you know, you could be three different levels—you could be a rookie, and that would be like you could play with your mom. You know what I'm saying?
Or you could be like a pro, and kind of be you know, getting a little serious. Or you could be a "baller," where you've got everybody locked out in the garage or in your room and you're going at it. You're trying to get your game up.
So kind of like, you know, like the dance games, like I'm not a great dancer, but you know. I play them I have fun. And then there's guys who really get into it, and they really are great at it. And kids are the same way. So you know, I play those games with my son and you know, all the different games, so that's exactly what it's like.
Are you any good at it? Do your real-world skills translate to NBA Baller Beats very well?
The only difference is like these are kind of the same drills that you kind of do when you try to get better, but the difference is how you're doing in the music, you know? So you're doing it to the—when you're off-beat, you lose points, you know?
And there's always in your practices, it's kind of choreographed, but you kind of choreograph it. Well now someone else has choreographed something you follow. So it still keeps that instinctiveness to it because you're not sure what's coming next, just like the real game. You don't know if you'll have to go between your legs. You don't know if you're going behind your back. You don't know what's coming next.
In training camps players are dribbling along to a beat, do you think NBA Baller Beats could be used in real practices?
Oh, if you play this you're going to get better. You're going to be better. I don't care if you're a mom or you're an NBA player. Yeah, you're going to get better. Your handling will get better by playing this game. Like, there's no ifs, ands or buts about it. This is the stuff you do. This is it. You know, between the legs, behind the back, and all up in succession, by itself, movement, this is what you do.
You've done voice work for games in the past, like some of the NBA 2K games. What attracted you to work on NBA Baller Beats?
Well, this game in particular is the most unique. What attracted me to this was it was real. It wasn't, like—you have to have a certain skill level, or you're going to get a certain skill level. That was the first game, all the other games, you know, when you leave, when you stop playing, you're done. You can't go on the court and do anything.
You get to "baller" status on this, I guarantee you could play at any three-on-three game around the world. Anywhere. If you can get to "baller" status. You dribble a basketball at "baller" status, you're going to be able to do that. And that's not blowing smoke. That's real. That's real talk.
As a retired player and former champ what does it mean to you to be a part of something that can help newer players get better?
Well I just love interactive games, and having this being something that, you know, creates real skill afterwards as well, you know, like I said, the tennis game, there's no real racket. The bowling game, there's no real bowling ball, you know what I mean? But this game, it's a real—it carries over into a real skill.
And you know even, you know, not knocking any games—I love it—but Guitar Hero, you can't play guitar when you're done, you know what I mean? You don't know how to play guitar. But this game you know how to dribble a basketball when you're done.
Obviously new players are going to get a lot out of it, but what about, like, your friends in the NBA? Would you recommend it to pros too?
I would say that I could put any NBA player on the game, and on the first day, they can't do "baller" status. They can't do it. It would take them, you know, an hour or two to be able to do one or two songs, but they couldn't do the whole—no. It would take them months to do the whole songs, without question. That is—I'd put my house up on that.
Do you play a lot of video games?
I'm a first-generation video guy. At 46 years old, I'm you know, first generation. So I've seen from "Tennis," with the "BLIP. BLIP." [laughing] where you just hit it across, to this, where with the Kinect, and it now senses your body and a real basketball. So I've done everything in between, from the Pac-Man to Donkey Kong, all of that.
You know, and I have teenaged kids, so my house has all of those games inside of it. You know, from the Call of Duties to the NBA 2K, it has everything, you know, all those games are floating in my house. And they always like to bring me along because they know they can beat me.
What about NBA Jam?
Oh yeah! I was in it! I was an actual person in the game, so of course, I love that game. I used to—let me tell you this: that used to be my fake date. I would always, you know, I'm about to go somewhere on a date, and I would take the person to a place that had that game and be like, "Oh, while we're waiting on the movie, let's do this," and then, "Oh, I'm in the game!" [laughing].
I'm in the new version now, I'm in it now. So all the kids, I always get tweets about me being in the game…and so I always get like, "You don't miss in this game!" I'm like, "I never missed in real life either." [laughing] That's my line and I'm sticking to it.
You're playing a lot of golf.
I'm probably more—I play golf, I'm not great. Now I'm always the guy—I'm getting shot up all the time, you know? But like I said, the games that I play are a lot more interactive. And then now, because of the way things kind of go cyclical, all of the old school games that kids think now that are new, they come back, and so I know how to play all of those, and you know, from even—even like my son had never seen Donkey Kong, really. You know, he's like, and I'm playing Donkey Kong, and they have all the different versions of it, but I'm able to get to three or four stages without even trying, and he's—"How do you know this game?" I'm like, "Oh, I've never seen it before either!"
I make up stories. But it's kind of cyclical, like all these retro games are now hot again.
What was it like playing golf with Charles Barkley? You had a bet with him right?
Oh, Charles is—I'm not a golfer, and I can beat him. Put it like that. I'm not even a golfer. I golf maybe two times a year, and we had—I go to his tournament and I'm like, "I bet you I can drive the ball longer than you." And I did! I'm like, I don't even play. I play two times a year. That means in the last four years, I've only played eight times. And I'm better than you? Like something's wrong.
He's got that weird swing that he does.
Oh, that's not a swing. That's a hit. He doesn't have a swing.
But my favorite game of all time, besides now NBA Ballers, but my favorite game prior to that was Mike Tyson's Punch-out. Now that was my favorite game of all time. Fast Joe, all those, now that was the most classic—that was the best game ever.
Did you play the reboot on the Wii?
Right, that's what I'm saying, where all the retro games are coming back. Right. Exactly. So—but Mike Tyson, you know, was the best one.
What's another classic that you'd like to see remade next?
I want them to remake the—remember the football game that you had to—they had the ball and you had to rub the ball on the top to make the X and the O move? You might be too young for that. It was an arcade game. But you had to actually, like, move the ball, so when—you had six players. It was an NFL football game, and you had six plays on defense and six plays on offense. And you had to guess what six the other guy was doing, and vice versa. And it was just X's and O's, it wasn't, like, real players…But once your "O" had handed off the ball, you had to run—it was like a spinning wheel that you had to just rub to make it—and the fast you rubbed it, the faster it went, or the slower you rubbed it, the slower it went. And you just had to dodge around. That game was the most fun game as well. YOur hand was dead afterwards, but it was a lot of fun. We played that after school every day.
They could put that on Kinect.
You have to run, and you actually yeah—you're moving around. That would be my favorite game of all time.
Thanks Kenny! Good luck figuring out what that game was. We have no idea.