NBA Ballers: Phenom is filled with furiously paced, arcade-style street hoops and a scathing disrespect for gravity. Stunt dribbling and "off the heezy" passing are the cornerstones of the game. Combo chains followed by quick buckets result in style points and tournament wins for the budding baller. Phenom goes one step beyond the tried-and-true streetball formula by introducing several RPG elements into the mix, but most of the new additions are awkward and unsatisfying.
At the outset, matches are one-dimensional. Our baller T-Bone McUzi was able to win several tournaments in a row by simply charging straight at the hoop and dunking every time he got the rock. A fluid rhythm and finesse takes hold in more advanced tournaments, leading to savage competition. Sadly, a flawed viewing angle forces frustrating (sometimes game-breaking) turnovers when rebounding or chasing loose balls.
When you're not pounding the blacktop into soot or crushing your opponent's face with the ball, Phenom has you running senseless errands. Searching for Kevin Garnett's cell phone or putting up posters for Ludacris really makes you feel like a hungry young nobody. Other side-quests involve helping the Laker Girls wash T-Mac's truck (a missed opportunity - you can't tell if their uniforms are actually wet) and entering a spelling bee. Yep, bring along your pocket protector and see if you can spell Stojakovic. You must participate in these baffling hi-jinks in order to progress through the tournament circuit and eventually become either a #1 draft pick or an entertainment mogul. Ultimately, the free-roaming feels more like time-wasting. RPG elements they got right include awesome character customization options, skill leveling and stat-improving equipment.