Finally we know what a 'baller' is after hearing it in so many of those R&B and hippity-hop records the youths like listening to on their beat boxes and hi-fi systems. A baller, it would seem, is a thoroughly urban young man who's into hanging about downtrodden areas of town and proving his worth by showing off his basketball skills. Not ordinary basketball skills either, but ones which his peers may consider to be thrilling and exciting!
Seeing as we're a bit new to the 'baller' world, having only learned about its existence in the last two days or so, let's start our examination of this scene, Louis Theroux style, by exploring AND 1's training mode. This tells you loads. For starters, it tells you that this most certainly isn't just another basketball game. AND 1 is a special-move packed, twisting, turning, powering-up arcade game that's about as realistic as Scotland's hopes of ever winning the World Cup.
It's easy to play. Everything's easy. Shooting is dead easy. Hold down B and your urban-gangstaballer-pimp-player character jumps up - release B at the peak of his jump to pretty much guarantee a score as long as you're within range and there are no human brick-built toilet constructions in your path. This is a straightforward, simple mechanic that makes scoring fun. And any game where scoring is easy and fun is a winner in the books of most gamers.
The R trigger is your sprint, sprinting leads to slamdunks. Slamdunks, in case you were raised on cricket and rich tea biscuits, are the cool moves where you jump up and smash the ball through the hoop. You do this in AND 1 Streetball for one reason - it looks cool. From then on it gets a little more complex, with alley-oop lay-offs and dummies adding a few layers of skill for players who want to learn stuff and start showing off more, plus co-op moves that let you flick the ball off to players on your team for extra flashy skill moves. Hold down both triggers to back away from defenders, then B to turn and shoot. It's simple, but can be a load more complex if you put the hours in.
That's thanks to the whole 'I Ball' business. This is weird stuff for the uninitiated. It's kind of improv basketball crossed with interpretive dance, with the two analogue sticks and the Right trigger letting you do all sorts of entirely custom tricks and turns. Really random stuff. Breakdancing, bouncing it between the legs stuff, spins, twists, leaps, bouncing it off your body and odd physics things where you fake a throw and the ball somehow comes back to you in mid-air. It's mental. The potential for bewildering opponents - and yourself - is huge, with an uncountable number of combinations possible.
That's pretty much the game, really, with this simple, fluid shoot-and-run style taking you through all of AND 1's modes. Here's where we sigh a little bit and lose hope - the main AND 1 Mixtape Tour has you earning respect in order to open up new areas. The minor story interludes are ludicrously clichéd: some young buck - that's you - decides to take on the experienced pros and earn their respect. We have played literally one million games with this same generic respect-earning progression theme in the last 12 months alone. Boring, boring, boring.
Tricks earn respect, respect gives you access to higher-scoring three-point dunks. Thankfully, the action's a bit better than this tired old respect system beneath it. It's basketball, so you run a lot and score a lot. That's always fun, even if AND 1's matches often degenerate into a race to see who makes the first error. To liven things up a little more you have a series of demands in each match, so it's not just 'score more than the other team' - you have to pull off specials, do the right number of specific scoring moves and hit other performance goals to progress.