Hello and welcome back to the second part of our exclusive in-depth review of Stern's NBA game.
We've seen the game's hardware and the playfield layout, so now it's time to explain the rules and examine how they combine with the sound, lighting and display effects to give us the overall NBA game package.
Then at the end of this review we'll rate each element and give our conclusion.
This review is based on version 3.0 of the software with updates noted where appropriate. Some of the display frames shown here have been enhanced with extra artwork in later versions but they remain functionally the same.
So without further ado, let's get things underway with our explanation of the rules.
NBA has an group of six inserts on the playfield showing your progress through the game. Each one requires a certain feature to either start or reach a certain level before it becomes lit. Lighting all six qualifies the game's NBA Finals wizard mode.
Each objective is shown as a NBA World Champions ring and the NBA finals mode lights up thanks to a round insert inside the basketball graphic.
We'll look at each of the six objectives in turn, showing what you need to achieve in order to light the corresponding ring. Some are really simple to light while others require a little more effort.
The game keeps score in two different ways. The first is the conventional game points we're all familiar with, but the second is your running basketball points total. Each shot to the basketball hoop will earn you between 1 and 3 basketball points depending on how it got there.
The left jump ramp is the hardest shot, so it will award three points if you shoot it to make a basket.
The right ramp is slightly easier and awards two points if you score a basket from it.
Finally, the All Star saucer is probably easier to shoot, so it only awards a single basketball point.
These build up to give you awards at certain thresholds. 300K points are awarded once you reach 10 basketball points, an extra ball is lit at 45 and a special lit at 120 although these last two can vary depending on the settings the operator chooses to install and the number of extra ball and special awards collected in previous games.
Both the extra ball and special say they are awarded at 45 and 120 points respectively but really they are only lit at the NBA saucer and you need to shoot the saucer to collect them.
Basketball points earned so far are shown each time more are added, and each shot also shows the current record holder for the person who made it the most times in a row.
The current player's total is shown on the left side while the next award and the number of points needed to collect it are on the right.
In this software version, the display didn't take into account the possibility that the high score names could be set to accept 10 letters rather than the more common 3. Consequently, some names overflowed outside their allocated space.
The basketball points are also included as part of the end-of-ball bonus as we shall see later.
When the start button is pressed, ball 1 is kicked into the shooter lane and we have our first decision to make.
Unusually, it's not about the skill shot because NBA doesn't have one. No, your first choice is to choose which NBA team you want to be.
All of the 30 NBA teams are available for selection and they can be cycled using the flipper buttons.
The current team's logo is scrolled vertically on the display and you select the team shown by plunging the ball.
The selection makes no difference to the game's features or scoring, so unless you're a fan of a particular team you can skip this and just choose whichever team is currently being displayed. The team you choose determines the logo shown during the bonus count and the names of the players called out by the commentator during gameplay.
The team is actually locked in when the ball first leaves the plunger and the switch in the shooter lane is released.
The shooter lane switch also triggers the up-post at the top of the orbit lane which is where the ball heads as it's launched onto the playfield.
Since the game uses a manual plunger, you can choose to plunge with regular strength and send the ball to the top of the orbit lane, or give a weak plunge and let it roll back down the right orbit lane entrance and back to the flippers. There's no real reason to go for the latter option unless there's a particular All Star mode lit you really want to play.
That's quite unlikely, so usually the ball heads round the orbit lane where it is stopped by the aforementioned up-post and sent into the pop bumpers.
The pop bumpers serve a dual purpose. Their main task is to count down towards lighting the Rebound captive ball.
Each bumper hit reduces the number required, which starts at 60 for the first Rebound and increases by 30 for each successive one.
If you collect the required number of hits, Rebound is lit at the captive ball.
This lights the Rebound insert until either the Rebound award is collected or the ball drains.
One good hit on the captive ball will send it crashing into the white standup at the end of the Rebound lane, scoring your Rebound award which begins at 1 million and increases by 200,000 for each subsequent award.
You can use the pop bumpers to build towards the next Rebound award before you've collected the current one, but you can't stack them. So make sure you collect one Rebound before lighting the next one.
Pop bumper hits are shown as camera flashes in the crowd and initially score 3,000 points each, although that can be increased by 1,000 points by shooting the captive ball when it's not lit for Rebound. The unlit captive ball also scores the new pop value.
As the ball exits the pop bumpers, it encounters the M-V-P (most valuable player) targets which form one of the game's most important scoring opportunities.
Although they only have one purpose, it's an important one. Complete all three targets and you activate a period of double scoring.
The 20 seconds might appear a little misleading since the time starts when the third drop target falls after which there are about three seconds of display animations. That means by the time you get to see the countdown clock it is showing 17 seconds.
It then starts to count down towards zero.
If you complete the M-V-P drop targets a second or third time during the double scoring period, it resets the timer to 20 seconds and you see the M-V-P animation again. That means you never get to see more than 17 seconds on the clock.
To help you keep track of when double scoring is running, the crowd chants M-V-P at you and the flasher lamps on the two ramps light up as well.
M-V-P doubles all points awards, so it's clearly worth keeping it running for as much of the game as possible. The position of the drop targets makes it a little tricky to hit accurately but it's a reasonably safe shot since the ball will usually rebound off the targets and end up in the bumpers.
The next item on the progress grid is one of the hardest to complete - NBA multiball.
NBA has one stand-alone multiball mode, supplemented by two All Star modes and the Super Star wizard mode which are also played as multiballs.
On default settings, NBA multiball is ludicrously easy to start. Just two shots and you're there. It's a curious mode, lacking some of the terminology we're used to seeing in multiball modes. There are no locks as such and terms like jackpots, double jackpots or super jackpots are out too.
Apparently this is because the NBA didn't want these terms used in conjunction with their brand. Well, we're not the NBA, so we'll use them anyway.
NBA multiball is qualified by shooting the right NBA saucer to light N-B-A insert letters.
The first time you play it, one shot into the saucer completes the N-B-A inserts and lights the green multiball insert.
One further shot into the saucer starts NBA multiball.
NBA multiball is a three ball mode where the aim is to collect regular jackpots, double jackpots and finally the super jackpot.
There are seven major shots in the game indicated by large orange arrow inserts. Working left to right they are: left orbit, Rebound captive ball, left ramp, All Star saucer, NBA saucer, right ramp and right orbit.
At the start of NBA multiball, all seven are flashing. Shooting any one of them scores a jackpot of 150K and turns off that shot.
If you have M-V-P running, the score is doubled to 300K.
As we mentioned before, the game doesn't call these jackpots - you just get the points award displayed - but that's what they are for all intents and purposes.
You get to collect three of these single jackpots before the stakes are raised and the value increases to 300K for the four remaining double jackpot shots (600K with M-V-P running). You also get a different animation for the double jackpots.
Or with M-V-P running...
After you collect the seventh shot, the Super Star insert lights to indicate the super jackpot is available at the Super Star target in the pop bumper area.
One hit on the orange standup collects the Super Star value.
If you can get a ball into the bumpers, you'd be exceedingly unlucky not to get the required hit on the standup to collect the points.
That Super Star points value is calculated by adding together your three single jackpots and your four double jackpots ((3 x 150K) + (4 x 300K)) = 1.65M.
While that's a nice score, any M-V-P-multiplied jackpots are included in the Super Star total. So in theory, if you had M-V-P running the whole time, your super star value could be as high as 3.3M ((3 x 300K) + (4 x 600K)).
Remember that this Super Star value is in addition to the jackpots and double jackpots scored along the way, so M-V-P could mean the difference between a 3.3M multiball and a 6.6M one. You can see the point of keeping M-V-P running for as much of the time as possible.
Once you've collected the Super Star super jackpot, the multiball rules go back to the start with all seven shots lit for single jackpot values, which remain at 150K regardless of how many times you collect the super jackpot. The Super Star value also resets to zero.
NBA multiball ends when you have one ball or fewer remaining in play.
Subsequent NBA multiballs require more shots to the NBA saucer to start. The second one asks you to light each N-B-A letter individually, so that's three shots to spell N-B-A and one more to start the multiball for a total of four shots. The third multiball ups the ante and needs two shots to the saucer to light each N-B-A letter. The first shot makes the letter flash, the second locks it in for a total of seven shots.
Stacking of All Star modes with NBA multiball isn't possible, as any modes currently running pause for the duration of the multiball and resume once multiball ends.
The next feature on the progress grid we will examine is the Triple Double.
In case you don't know what a Triple Double is, it means a player has made 10 or more (i.e. double digits) of three (triple) from the following in a single game; points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots. Remember these objectives, as they'll be back when it's end-of-ball bonus time.
In NBA pinball terms, the Triple Double is a specific combo of three shots in quick succession. The shots are the three which feed the basket - the left ramp, the right ramp and the All Star saucer.
You have to shoot all three, one after the other, in any order to complete the task. The order is not important but the time is, since you only get one chance to make each shot before the timer resets and you have to start all over again.
The announcer will tell you when you've got two of the three and there is extra help available from the ramp diverter.
If your third shot of the three is left jump ramp, after you make the second shot, the diverter on the right ramp return will kick in and send the ball to the right flipper, setting you up for the final shot. Otherwise it will keep out of the way and give you a clear shot at either the right ramp or the All Star saucer.
Making all three shots in succession earns you the Triple Double combo which is worth a fairly paltry 30K points but adds six points to your basketball points total. The sound, light and display effect when you make the Triple Double leaves you in no doubt you've completed it.
You can continue to collect more Triple Double combos but they have no effect until you've completed the progress grid and played the wizard mode, which resets all the rings on the grid. Then, your next Triple Double will relight the ring.
Our next feature brings the orbit shots into play, as it's time for a Fast Break.
There are no spinners in NBA, so the orbits would lack any real purpose were it not for the presence of the Fast Break hurry up mode.
Each orbit shot scores 30K and counts down towards the start of Fast Break. Initially, it takes three orbit shots start Fast Break. Each shot counts down the number remaining on the display.
After your third orbit, Fast Break starts and gives you an immediate 100K points.
Fast break is a repeat hurry up where the number of points available starts at 750K and starts counting down to its minimum value of 400K.
Any orbit shot made during the hurry up will score the displayed number of points.
After a brief pause to show you the points you scored, the countdown resumes.
You can collect multiple Fast Break awards but once the number of points counts down to 400K, the mode ends.
There is, however, a short grace period where the count stops on 400K for a second or so, during which you can grab a 400K award before the mode finishes.
As always, M-V-P scoring applies and doubles all Fast Break awards, making it a reasonably valuable mode. If you can make the orbits reliably and repeatedly, you should be able to rack up several million even without M-V-P.
After your first Fast Break, the value increases by 250K each subsequent time you start the mode.
The time allowed to collect Fast Break hurry up awards remains the same, but the award value counts down faster.
While the orbits are the shots to start Fast Break, our next mode moves the focus to the right ramp.
Under the entrance to the right ramp are four coloured inserts which spell out F-I-R-E.
Each shot to the ramp lights another F-I-R-E letter and adds 30K points.
When all four letters are lit, On Fire mode begins.
On Fire is a timed mode of 25 seconds where all the three basket shots - the right ramp, the left ramp and the All Star saucer are initially lit. You have to choose one of them to be your On Fire shot which collects points awards and scores 5 basketball points.
The easiest of the three is probably the right ramp since you've just been shooting it to start On Fire but whichever one you choose, shoot it to lock in the shot and score your first On Fire award.
Starting On Fire scores 500K and the first award is worth 200K. Each subsequent award increases by 100K while all shots add 5 basketball points to your running total.
As usual, M-V-P double scoring applies and if it is running when you begin On Fire, the initial 500K award for starting it is also doubled to 1M.
As the clock counts down and reaches 5 seconds, a beep sounds for each remaining second to let you know time is running out.
When the clock reaches zero, the mode ends and your total number of points scored by the On Fire mode (including the initial 500K or 1M) is displayed.
The final ring on the progress grid opens the door to a whole new set of challenges. It's time to meet the All Stars.
The All Stars feature encompasses six modes and awards which have to first be qualified and then collected, much like the mansion rooms in The Addams Family or the TV modes in The Simpsons Pinball Party.
The modes and awards are shown around the edge of the spinning basketball in the centre of the playfield.
One of the six inserts flashes to show the current feature and this is changed by the pop bumpers.
Qualifying the current All Star feature is done by shooting the A-L-L and S-T-A-R target banks on the left and right side of the playfield respectively.
These two target banks light their respective halves of A-L-L S-T-A-R and when all the letters are lit, the next All Star feature is ready to collect. But the task of lighting them all is much easier than it may initially appear.
The first time you complete them, a single hit on either target bank will light all the letters on that side, meaning you only need one hit on each bank to qualify the first feature.
For the second feature, each hit on any of the targets lights two letters on that side.
Thereafter, a shot to any target lights a single letter on that side. It never gets to the stage where you need to hit specific targets corresponding to the unlit letters, which is just as well given the lack of correlation between the number of letters and the number of targets.
So with A-L-L S-T-A-R lit, you can collect the flashing All Star feature by shooting the All Star saucer.
This shows the All Star introduction, scores 100K points and takes you into the lit feature.
As we said before, there are six All Star features. The game calls them modes but they're not really all modes, since one of them is just a mystery award. Regardless of their name, let's take a look at all six.
Skills Challenge lives up to its name by asking you to shoot six of the seven major shots, one at a time, in sequence against the clock.
It's not too grueling though. You have plenty of time and you can still make other shots between the required ones. The clock starts at 25 seconds and each time you make the lit shot, the clock resets. So if you string it out, Skills Challenge could last two-and-a half minutes.
Each shot has a base value of 300K, but that can be increased by shooting any of the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets.
This is something we'll find in most of the All Star features and is vital - when combined with M-V-P scoring - in making them worth significant points.
There is an initial boost value of 12.5K. Any A-L-L S-T-A-R target adds the boost value to the base shot value and increases the boost value by 6.25K. So the first shot adds 12.5K to the 300K base making it 312.5K, while also raising the boost value to 18.75K.
As expected, the shot value scored is doubled for the duration of M-V-P scoring, as is the boost value. Both of these return to single values when M-V-P scoring ends.
The value of the boost can be built up to a maximum of 50K at which point the shot value keeps building by 50K for each A-L-L S-T-A-R target. There may be a maximum shot value you can reach but it's over 5M and All Star Challenge will probably time out before you reach it.
The order of shots alternates between the left and right sides: right ramp, left orbit, right orbit, left ramp, All Star saucer and the Rebound captive ball. The NBA saucer is not used as that can still be lit to start NBA multiball which would interrupt Skills Challenge.
Skills Challenge ends either when the timer reaches zero for any of the shots, or if you complete the six shots.
Slam Dunk is a 2-ball multiball where all three basket shots score the current slam dunk value.
This works in just the same way as Skills Challenge above, so the value starts at 200K and increases with each hit of the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets. The boost is the same (12.5K increasing by 6.25K each time).
We tested the value to more than 6 million before we got bored.
Initially all three basket shots are lit to collect the points, but as soon as you shoot any of them, it will turn off that shot, leaving the remaining two lit. That forces you to move around the playfield a bit rather than continually shoot the same basket shot over and over.
Shooting an unlit basket shot scores nothing. Shooting a lit one scores the current value. Of course, if you throw in a M-V-P as well, you could be talking serious points.
If you are able to cradle one of the balls on the right flipper and reliably shoot the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets with the other without draining, you can cash in by alternating between the right ramp and the all star saucer to really rack up the points.
Slam Dunk continues until you lose one or both balls.
After Slam Dunk comes the next All Star feature - 3 Point Shootout.
3 Point Shootout is a 40 second single ball timed mode which initially lights all the shots but flashes one of them.
Shooting one of the solidly lit shots scores the current shot value which begins at half the number of points we've become used to.
It starts at just 100K but as before, shooting the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets adds 12.5K to that and increases the next boost by 6.25K each time.
If you shoot the flashing shot though, you get double points.
After you make a shot - lit or flashing - that shot is extinguished. If it was the double scoring flashing shot, another shot starts flashing and this continues until all 7 shots have been made, at which point they all relight with one blinking again.
You only have 40 seconds so it's decision time. Do you shoot the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets and built up the shot value, or just go for the shots? Or do you perhaps forget 3 Point Shootout altogether?
Whichever you choose, once the time runs out, the mode ends.
The fourth All Star feature is another multiball mode, called Shooting Stars.
When Shooting Stars begins, the ball is kicked from the All Star saucer and joined by the game's other 3 balls. Being a multiball mode there is no timer and Shooting Stars continues until only 1 ball remains.
When it starts, all seven major shots are lit and score a value which is initially 200K but as in the other modes, can be increased by the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets.
Each A-L-L S-T-A-R target adds 7.5K to the shot value and increases the next boost by 2.5K up to a maximum of 25K.
Simply shoot a lit shot to collect the award.
Shooting any of the lit shots will turn that shot off until all seven have been made, at which point they are all lit again. Sounds kinda familiar, doesn't it?
The scoring isn't huge initially, but with M-V-P and four balls to play with, it's quite possible to use the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets to make the shots worth something more respectable.
As usual, when you're down to just the one ball, Shooting Stars ends.
The next feature on the All Star ring is called Horse
It starts with the vocal invitation "Let's shoot a little horse" which might upset the equine community but leads us into this timed single-ball mode.
H-O-R-S-E is a basketball game in which one player makes a particular shot and all other players have to duplicate it or else receive a H-O-R-S-E letter. Anyone who fully spells out H-O-R-S-E is then out of the game, so the objective is to avoid missing shots and collecting letters.
The NBA pinball version is slightly different but keeps the original concept in that you want to avoid collecting H-O-R-S-E letters until you absolutely have to. All major shots are lit but one is flashing and there is a 20 second timer counting down.
The unlit shots all score 100K points until either the clock reaches zero or the flashing shot is made. Shooting the flashing shot adds a H-O-R-S-E letter, resets the clock to 20 seconds and scores the current mode value which starts at 100K.
But as in the other modes, it is boosted by 12.5K (plus an extra 6.25K for each shot) for each A-L-L S-T-A-R target hit.
There is a twist though. If you make one of the non-flashing shots, the base value for the next flashing shot jumps from 100K to 250K, and all boosts from the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets before you collect the H-O-R-S-E letter are doubled.
Those double-value boosts can soon build the shot value up to a decent score.
Once collected, the base value drops back to 100K plus whatever boost you have built up with the A-L-L S-T-A-R targets.
Your progress towards completing H-O-R-S-E is shown above the timer value but it's not very clear which letters have been collected and which have not.
The mode will end when you either collect all five H-O-R-S-E letters, run out of time on the clock or drain the ball.
The change is to expand the number of awards available. In version 3.0 it was always a simple 2 million points award.
Now there is the usual selection of extra ball, special and points awards to add a little genuine mystery to the feature.
With all six lit, the NBA Finals basketball at the top lights up and the inserts in front of the NBA multiball saucer strobe to indicate you need to shoot it to start the wizard mode.
Note: if you like to keep the wizard mode a mystery until you get there yourself and don't want to read the details of how it works, click here to jump past that section.
This is what all your hard work has been leading to and it's good to report the mode has actually existed since the first release of software.
NBA Finals is a 60 second timed mode which utilises the three basket shots to collect basket awards (jackpots), the seven A-L-L S-T-A-R targets to boost that value and the NBA saucer to collect the bonus points award (super jackpot). Starting NBA Finals earns you an instant one million points.
At the start of the mode, all 4 balls are auto-launched into play and the base jackpot value is set at 600K. The ball from the NBA saucer kicks into the pop bumpers and the three auto-launched balls are stopped by the up-post at the top of the orbit, so they too fall into the bumpers.
With all four balls in the bumpers you get plenty of bumper action going on, however the clock continues to tick down all this time, so it's very easy to find 10 seconds or more have been knocked of the clock before you get a ball at the flippers to start making any shots. So this might be a good time to take manual control of the plunger and gently plunge a ball (or two) so it rolls down the right orbit, straight onto the flippers.
When you do get a ball to flip, shooting any of the three basket shots - left ramp, right ramp or All Star saucer will award you the associated number of basketball points and more importantly, the current basket value as shown on the display. This starts at 600K but increases by 100K each time you make a basket and by 25K for each A-L-L S-T-A-R target you hit.
Crucially, the same number of points you collect is also added into a bonus points pot, much like Total Annihilation in Attack From Mars.
With the basket value raised and the bonus points pot growing, you collect as many baskets as you can during the allotted time. The mode uses all four balls throughout, so any balls which drain are auto-launched back into play until the time on the clock expires.
As we mentioned earlier in this review, keeping MVP running is vital to getting a good score and that is never more true than during NBA Finals.
With MVP running, all basket awards are doubled, boosts to the basket award are doubled, the number of points put into the bonus pot is doubled and the pot value itself is doubled. Ideally you would start MVP just before starting NBA Finals but if you didn't, you want to get it up and running straight away because even if it times out, its effect is felt on all subsequent NBA Finals awards for the rest of the mode.
The bonus pot is cumulative and doesn't reset after it's been collected, so the value only climbs throughout the NBA Finals mode. Collecting the bonus pot with MVP running by shooting the NBA saucer will, as expected, double its value.
As you can see, the points available soon build up but you do have to score an additional basket award each time before the bonus pot can be collected.
It doesn't matter whether it's a 1, 2 or 3 point shot, the basket award is just the same.
When the clock reaches zero, NBA Finals ends and the flippers die while the balls are returned to the trough.
You are then told the total number of basketball points you collected as well as the total number of game points. This isn't an end-of-mode award, it's just informative.
The latest software tells you the game is waiting for all the balls to drain. In earlier versions it simply shows the clock sitting on zero and teasingly tells you how many points you can't score.
Once all the balls have returned home, play begins again with all six progress grid inserts unlit.
That's the NBA Finals wizard mode. It's definitely worthwhile reaching for it since the points potential outstrips any regular mode or feature and it's not too difficult to get there. You need to know what you're doing though if you're going to maximise the returns. If you do, from version 4.0 upwards there is a additional high score entry for the highest-scoring NBA Finals round.
The end-of-ball bonus is comprised of a number of elements, the exact make-up of which may have changed since we got our hands on the game for this review.
In that game, there were 7 sections to the bonus count which took quite some time to complete, so it is understandable of some of those have been dropped or rationalised. Each element carries over between balls and doesn't reset with each new ball. It is also shown superimposed over your chosen team's logo.
You could be forgiven for forgetting you chose a team back at the start of the game. Well, this is your reminder and while we're in the mood for reminiscing, cast your mind back to the different categories in which an NBA player could excel and earn a triple double - points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots - because here they come again.
The first part of the bonus count is a value related to the ball number. It starts at 250K and increases by 125K for each successive ball (375K, 500K, etc).
This ball count increases for extra balls as well.
The second part is for the number of basketball points scored in the game so far.
Each basketball point scores 2.5K towards the end-of-ball bonus.
Next is the number of rebounds and this one lives up to its name, being the number of times the rebound captive ball has been shot successfully.
These are worth double the basketball points score at 5K each.
The fourth part is called Assists and relates to the number of left or right orbit shots made.
Each orbit scores 7.5K towards the bonus total.
The fifth element is both a sci-fi film and something called Steals. This counts the number of hits on the Super Star target in the pop bumper area. It's not clear why but there it is.
Each hit on the target adds 10K to the bonus.
Sixth we have Blocks which is related to the M-V-P targets. Each time a M, P or V drop target is hit the number of blocks increases by 2, while completing them adds a further 2 for a total of 8.
There was a slight oddity where hitting M followed by V only scored 3 points instead of the expected 4. Following extensive testing to try to work out what was going on, that was the only way we found to score an odd number of blocks.
Since this can be quite a high number during a decent game, the 10K you earn for each block can make quite a contribution to the bonus.
The final factor in the bonus equation is our old friend, the bonus multiplier. This starts at 1x and increases each time the H-O-O-P inlane/outlane inserts are completed. You also get 10K points for your trouble.
We tested the bonus multiplier up to 21X and it showed no signs of hitting a limit.
So, add all the bonuses above together and apply the bonus multiplier.
Remember, the number above is the pre-multiplied bonus. The next page shows you your bonus count in all its glory.
It's clear from this how the bonus can be a very significant factor in your overall score. Remember too how all the elements in the bonus except the multiplier hold over from ball to ball, so if you do nothing except build the multiplier up again, you'll get the same bonus on the next ball too.
As with other recent Stern games, you don't get your bonus added to your score until the start of the next ball. If it's your last ball and you get on the high score table, you don't get to see the final score until after you've entered your initials.
The final matter still unresolved is your chance at a free game - yes, it's the match.
As usual, you get an animation which settles on a number and if it matches the last two digits of your score you win a free game. The score display helpfully highlights the last two digits of the score so you know what to wish for as the basketball ball spins round on the display.
Like its predecessor 24, NBA doesn't try to use video clips on the display to impress the player. In a sense, with so much televised coverage of the sport, that would be the easy way out and a little bit too "Premier".
No, NBA's effects are almost entirely self-built animations. We say "almost entirely" because it appears as though a couple of animations are perhaps rotoscoped over live action to get the movement right, such as this one.
Or this one.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Quite the opposite in fact as it looks pretty natural and is quite effective.
The display effects also make effective use of the basketball balls and stars as a devices to wipe on title pages and scores.
The multiple stars and sparkle trails lift the quality of the effects from the merely average to the quietly impressive.
Basketball may not be the most promising of subjects for display effects - no explosions, no crashes, can't even use the word Jackpot - but the Stern team have pushed what they had and got some nice work in there.
On the downside, it's somewhat repetitive with the same transition used for most of the All Star feature awards and the same text layout for many of them too. That tends to lead to the impression they are all much of a muchness and not individual enough.
Overall though, it's an attractive looking package of effects.
Stern took a brave decision in not using a main theme for the game but it actually works pretty well and helps capture the atmosphere of a real match.
One reason it works is the strength of the game's commentator, Tim Kitzrow. The guy clearly knows his stuff and has a confidence that's been lacking in recent voice work taken from other licenses. Every word spoken is spoken for this game, not shoehorned in to fit, and it shows.
Curiously enough, outside the obvious extra ball and multiball-type quotes, the vast majority aren't specifically pinball-related which helps the game sound more focused on the basketball and hence more familiar to new players than a slew of pinball terms might be.
It's only when Tim starts talking about the "left eject" and the "right eject" that the illusion breaks down a little. But still, you really do need to be able to hear NBA when playing to get the best out of it.
Despite lacking a main theme, there is still some good music in NBA as we showed in part one of this review. While the themes are lively and well crafted, they're pretty short loops and don't really stand up to repeated listening on their own.
Some games' music you'd like to put on your iPod. NBA's would have you reaching for the next track button fairly rapidly. Whether that's because the main play backing bed is so long, it didn't leave any memory for longer loops we don't know, but we'd definitely like to hear the tunes developed further than they currently are.
NBA's artwork certainly doesn't take the subtle approach. It's full-on NBA. It's all about basketball. It's also incredibly orange. You almost need some SPF25 to play it.
To give some relief from the almost unrelenting orangeness, there are some welcome blue and red details which reflect the colours in NBA logo and give their respective areas some definition. Otherwise though, it's easy to lose focus when faced with a slew of orange inserts on orange arrows on an orange background which light up orange. Hotblack Desiato would certainly approve.
The wood effect, while nice and in keeping with the theme, adds to the game's rather spartan feel. Although there are good reasons for it, it still seems odd to take a piece of wood and print a wood pattern on it. At least if the game develops any wear spots they won't look too bad.
The translite image is perfectly serviceable if not a masterpiece. It does convey the message and satisfies the licensors, and while NBA followers will probably be able to point out which players no longer play for those teams, for everyone else who doesn't care it's fine.
The cabinet sides are a little disappointing, being both cluttered and uninspired, but it probably has to show all the teams' logos and there are worse ways to do it.
NBA's artwork was never going to win any awards. It does convey the feel of the game but that's about it.
Ignoring all the orangey goodness, the overall lighting level - as you can see in the playfield pictures above - is very good. That's certainly helped by having no large playfield toys to cast shadows, but even the entrance to the orbits which often tend to become a bit gloomy when metal ball guides prevent any direct light reaching the playfield are well illuminated.
Lighting effects are well executed and signpost the start of major events such as NBA multiball and All Star modes. There are flashers behind the basketball hoop backboard and inside the large orange ball which lift and draw attention to those two toys at the appropriate times.
The dome diffusers on the pop bumpers work well, but we would have like to see much brighter flasher effects for the pop bumpers.
With pop bumper hits supposed to tie-in with camera flashes on the display, it would seem to make sense to have the bumper hits flash brightly.
Although there are two flasher lamps below it, the single orange insert simply doesn't spread the light enough when compared to the large hotdog-shaped inserts in games such as Spider-Man which produce a much brighter flood of light.
Overall though, there's little to complain about with the lighting in NBA.
Yes, it's time once again to bring together everything you're read (or skipped past) and give you our overall impression of NBA.
NBA is certainly an interesting game on many levels.
For a start, it's Stern's first revisited design. While Shrek was a variation on Family Guy, those two games effectively came out at around the same time and used exactly the same playfield layout. NBA is a variation of the 13-year-old Space Jam design and to be fair it's not a bad design either - a little simplistic and uninspired perhaps but reasonable enough.
Next, NBA is a much simpler and sparser design than we've become used to. Even some of the features of Space Jam have been stripped out - the skill shot basket, the upkicker into the basketball along with 4 wireforms have all gone - so this is an intentionally simpler-looking game.
In their place we get a spinning disc. It's an old trick and not especially relevant to a basketball theme, but to give credit where it's due, the coating on the disc is highly effective at throwing the ball around. Whether that randomising element is to be welcomed or not is debatable but it will appeal to casual players as something to increase the fun factor.
Those casual players will also like the long throw kickout from the All Star saucer. It's a fairly simple gimmick and will most likely beat up the backboard magnet in next to no time, but it's eye catching and the accuracy is impressive. Pat Lawlor relates the story of how Thing's hand in The Addams Family had players calling people over to take a look at how it grabbed the ball. The All Star kickout is quite similar in that regard.
Matching the playfield, the rules are also of a simpler design. Forget multiple layers of progressive rules for each mode, it's strictly a case of shooting whatever's flashing in NBA. Combining modes with multiballs is out too but that doesn't mean strategy is compromised.
M-V-P is a must. There's simply no reason not to have it running before you start anything important. Scoring is quite nicely balanced with no massive imbalances which made any one strategy a no-brainer. The All Star multiball modes - especially Shooting Stars - can be more lucrative than NBA multiball if you're prepared to work at building up the shot value. If not, NBA multiball is probably the way to go. Alternatively, if you can repeatedly make the shots, Fastbreak (and to a lesser extent, On Fire) is an easy and relatively safe way to rack up the points.
The software is nicely developed and it was far more complete than most recent games when NBA was first launched. It's true it's a simpler game, but having the wizard mode in there from day one is a positive sign.
The main problem with having a simpler looking, simpler playing game like NBA is everyone thinks it should be cheaper. But it's not.
24 offered an exploding safe house, an opening suitcase ball lock, a sniper hideout and pop-up drop targets in the Steve Ritchie-designed playfield, matched with some reasonably complex rules. Yet it costs the same as NBA which has a spinning disc and a grab magnet in a recycled design. If buyers are getting less, they expect to pay less.
Other companies have tried a similar strategy. Capcom had their Capcom Classic range of, err.. 1 machine (Breakshot), Gottlieb had their Street Level range of 6. Neither sold well.
Ignoring that, NBA does address some of the concerns of operators. It's relatively easy to understand, it's easy to get at all the parts with no big toys in the way and there's little to go wrong. It's bright and attractive while the theme makes it good for sports bars. Consequently, it's a good game for locations.
In the home it's a different matter. The theme can easily turn people off if they don't know or like basketball and the "uncomplicated" design positions it a little way away from pinball and slightly towards becoming a novelty piece.
NBA's main purpose was to appeal to the Chinese market in an attempt to grow the sales there. Whether that has been successful or not we'll have to wait and see. Let's hope so.
The more mature western market, meanwhile, has certain expectations for their money and while those expectations have been eroded in recent years with the use of fewer, cheaper components, NBA could turn out to be a step change too far in that direction.
As is customary, we end our in-depth review with the ratings we apply to the various different elements which go to make up NBA.
We always hope you will have read the whole review and not jumped straight to this section. That's not just because we put a lot of effort into creating it, but also because these ratings only really make sense if you know how we arrived at them.
Don't worry if these numbers don't match your own personal opinions. They're only that - personal opinions - and we're bound to give different weightings to the various features.
Total score: 50.5 out of 70
Remember, these are proper marks out of 10 for each element of the game, so a rating of 8 means NBA is 80% as good as the best ever game in that category. No game is ever going to get 10 in every or indeed in many categories.
The rankings are totally subjective and are included only as a guide. Feel free to disagree with them.
If you did jump straight here, please go back and read the full review to see whether you agree with them and if you put the same significance on certain features we did.
Finally, a big thank you to the good folks at Electrocoin for their assistance and hospitality in the making of this review.
With that we end this in-depth review of NBA. Thank you for reading it. We hope you enjoyed it and we'll be back soon with another in-depth review. Next time it's expected to be the turn of Stern's Big Buck Hunter.
© Pinball News 2009