The leaves are changing colors, the holidays are fast approaching, and Lebron James is advertising new shoes, clothes, deodorant, jerseys, acne wash and toenail clippers. That can only mean one thing: it’s almost time for basketball season. Of course, that also means another NBA Live, brought to us by the good old boys at EA Sports. NBA Live 08 marks the Wii’s first taste of the series, but unfortunately it’s a little bitter.
When it comes to the graphics, we can look past minor problems like cardboard fans — a constant sports game faux pas — but the game as a whole isn’t taking the Wii to its potential, or even anywhere near it. It almost seems as though the graphics were toned down out of uncertainty of the Wii’s capabilities. The players have little to no personal flair, with the non-superstars all looking the same and feeling generic. Curiously, the camera is stationary underneath the backboard and doesn’t do justice to basketball’s speedy pace.
The controls in NBA Live 08 are very simplistic, and the recurring Family Play theme lets us know why. The upside to this is that the learning curve is very lax, and you can master the controls fairly quickly. In fact, you can even have the game move the players for you if all you want to do is dunk or shoot. The nunchuk is optional but almost necessary, as it is responsible for fancy dribbling and play calling. Dunking and shooting are done with flicks of the Wiimote and add a little twist to gameplay. However, the fact that blocking and stealing are also controlled with the Wiimote makes frustration rear its ugly head, as your hopeless flailing of the Wiimote won’t stop a dunk anytime soon. Another noticeable trait is the lack of any kind of “get the lead out” button. Players on both teams will casually walk across the court, which leaves you both bored and less excited about that breakaway slam dunk you made.
Gameplay overall is a double-edged sword in NBA Live 08 for the Wii, with the offense being fun and fast-paced while the defense amounts to hoping the opponent will make a mistake. Playing offense is where you get to use all the player-specific style moves that look cool and humiliate the opponent. On the other end, though, almost any attempt at defense will result in the opponent making laughably easy free throws. For some context, free throws consist of a simple flick of the Wiimote, and Shaq makes them as often as Steve Nash. Your CPU teammates are also comfortable with just standing around getting rebounds if the ball happens to bounce to them, and stealing basically comes down to standing between opposing players and hoping for an interception so there’s no risk of foul trouble. The best strategy is to just accept the CPU’s dunking, which it does regardless of how many points they’re down, and hammer offensive domination down their throats.
The superstar players have their special skills and are infinitely better than their teammates. In fact, it’s because of the superstars that the offensive aspects are the most exciting part of the game. Just passing the ball to Kobe and having him light up the defense with his signature moves sounds cool, but it’s not perfect. The Wiimote flick controls make shooting three-pointers child’s play, and you’ll even be making half-court tosses with Shaq if you master the timing.
NBA Live 08 is meant to be played by all ages, so mature players will want to juice the difficulty up. Yet even then, rather then making the CPU a worthier adversary, the difficulty just seems to make your players revert to high-school skill level as they fling the ball out of bounds, miss undefended shots and dunk into the rim. The CPU will have no such woes, however, and add salt to your wounds.
The game has multiple game modes, but the CPU ranges from pathetic on the easier difficulties to inexplicably hard on the higher ones when it comes to the 3-point shootout and dunk contest. The dynasty mode mimics a real basketball season, which sounds nice on the surface, but considering all the gameplay issues the season becomes sadistically long. NBA Live 09 will be released before you finish one season. Fortunately, the game does support play by four people on the same system as well as Wii online play, and that may be the game’s only true saving grace.
– John Dempsey