That's amazing about Midway's latest bout of rim-bashing is the way that it seamlessly tags a decent - if slightly nonsensical - story onto the action without ever undermining the B-balling action. Ballers Phenom has ditched the bland plot of old (some reality TV show searches for the next big thing) in favour of a storyline which sees you attempting to take vengeance on your former partner Hot Sauce (cough). He ditched you, stole your woman and now earns stacks of cash while you live out of your car. The twat. You've got to rise up the NBA rankings to take revenge.
But aside from being able to choose your path to become either the NBA's number one draft pick or a bling-covered entrepreneur (think P-Diddy), Ballers Phenom's court action hasn't really changed. You've still got the one-on-one action, a huge array of tricks, the show-stopping Bring Down Da House gamebreaker and the cardboard cut-out fans in the background - though devotees of MC Supernatural (all three of you) will be disappointed to know he's been replaced by the equally underwhelming Trickz on voiceovers. Yep, everything is as solid as before, with powerful dunks and showboating skills to mess with, but there's little change courtside.
What differences there are happen off the court. Like the recent Tony Hawk games, you can trundle around bustling locations, interacting with their inhabitants as you go. As well as entering yourself into tournaments rammed with blatant product placement (T-mobile, Sprite and the like) you can earn new skills by accepting tasks such as finding
an NBA star's phone or taking pictures of players in compromising situations. There are jewels to collect - by bouncing your ball of post-boxes and trees - Spelling Bees and car washing competitions to enter and shops from which to purchase performance enhancing substances, which seem to be legal here. And although the camera often gets lost behind trees and buildings and it all feels a little bit jerky, it works nicely and adds an immersive edge to the story mode.
Sadly, because the original Ballers sold even less copies than tripe like Scooby Doo: Unmasked, Phenom may never hit British courts. But if you're looking for a thoroughly entertaining basketball game, you can't go far wrong with slamming this one in.
It's not the pinnacle of basketball gaming (NBA Street 3 maintains that title), but the story mode and frantic action make for an enjoyable b-ball experience.