There hasn't been a shortage of Kinect titles in recent years, but many of them have focused on mini-games or clunky shooting mechanics. The few gems that have stood out have been the ones that have utilized a unique game mechanic while making the most of the Kinect hardware. NBA Baller Beats is an example of the latter... sort of. Majesco and HB Studios have created a fun new way to experience Kinect, but the game still falls prey to some of the camera's greater pitfalls.
NBA Baller Beats is a smaller experience, coming with Play Now and Versus modes. The latter allows up to eight people to alternate on portions of the game's expansive soundtrack. The idea is to dribble along to the beat of each song while performing typical point guard maneuvers (crossover dribbles, pump fakes, behind-the-back fakes) to increase your multiplier. The game works well as a teaching tool, as the player must have eyes on the TV screen at all times in order to know what's coming. These skills can easily be translated to an actual basketball court.
After my preview gave me a great sense of optimism, I jumped into NBA Baller Beats with the standard issue NBA basketball that was packaged alongside the game. I hit the first pitfall almost immediately. Despite the developers noting that all surfaces were tested, my carpet proved to be unsuitable for bouncing a basketball. I could barely bounce it for 10 seconds, much less for the course of an entire three-minute song. Of course, the developers also noted that any ball could be used for the game (so long as it wasn't black), so I went out and grabbed a bouncy ball from the garage. This proved to work just as well as the regulation basketball.
Unfortunately, I hit my next pitfall. My office (roughly 8-foot by 8-foot) proved to be far too small for the Kinect camera to work with. While I was able to navigate menus just fine, the inherent mechanics involved in playing the actual game gave the Kinect camera fits. Since I had to lean in to dribble the ball, the Kinect would register me as being too close to register my movements. Moving back was impractical, since I was now at a posture that was not conducive to dribbling. I could hardly show off mad baller skillz if I was standing straight up like a board.
To complete this review, relocation was necessary. Once I moved to a larger space, I was finally able to jump into the game. The controls proved to be incredibly responsive, despite switching to a different ball. The movements were fun to work with and, most importantly, I felt like I was getting a workout. Playing NBA Baller Beats for a prolonged period really does work up a sweat and is an enjoyable way to squeeze some cardio into your daily routine.
The soundtrack is another area where NBA Baller Beats shines. While some songs like Interpol's "Obstacle 1" aren't typically considered basketball songs, they add to the soundtrack's diversity. The one complaint I have in this department is that some of the more fun songs, like Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" come with an inherent difficulty boost, even on the Rookie level. While these songs will prove more fun to play, the intensity boost might turn some players off.
NBA Baller Beats comes close to making the Kinect All-Star team, but it's hindered by some of Kinect's most aggravating limitations. Still, if you have the office space and a hardwood floor, it's a surprisingly worthy title. What looks like a goofy premise on the surface turns out to be a great workout tool and a fine addition to any would-be baller's library.
This NBA Baller Beats review was based on an Xbox 360 version of the game provided by the publisher.