In perhaps one of the ridiculous premises for an arcade basketball game since Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball, Hoopworld attempts to grab an audience by combining easy pick up and play arcade basketball action with a premise that could be the love child of Dora the Explorer and Indiana Jones. Without a doubt, Hoopworld’s mysterious, forsaken land setting combined with basketball is an odd choice indeed.
Featuring wildly stereotypical teams such as biker dudes, cowboys and Indians, and goth kids, Hoopworld doesn’t take itself seriously; and with such a head-scratchingly strange premise, it doesn’t need to. Despite the wildly variant teams, there’s nothing in the game that tells you each team’s strengths and weakness. From playing a few tournaments rounds with each team, I can tell you there’s not much difference other than the satisfaction of a cowboy shooting three pointers or a robot performing a crafty dunk. (Sadly, I’ll probably next be able to use the phrase ‘damn, this cowboy can’t shoot’ in a sentence, ever again.)
Mechanically, Hoopworld is archaic and bland. The passing and shooting mechanics work well enough and animate beautifully, but the lack of any cancellation options really dulls down the gameplay. Without the option of changing your shot to a pass, or your dunk to a layup, Hoopworld quickly starts to feel like an aged relic.
The random power-ups that grant abilities point shaving shots or increased accuracy are fine and dandy, but the lack of core fundamentals is a major blemish. Without even the most basketball basic moves, such as pump fakes, the blandness of the gameplay starts to seep through Hoopworld’s charm. Evasive dribbling techniques and the option to throw the ball in the face of the defender feel like forced afterthoughts and fail at adding depth.
Even on the defensive side, you’re limited to waggle-induced punching and kicking and a shot blocking move that only works against regular shots. Once a character goes up for a dunk, there’s nothing the defender can do; any attempt at shot blocking or attacking goes undetected. The immunity that is created by the dunking animation is quite a glaring flaw that sends Hoopworld back a few decades in terms of a gameplay.
Despite some unfinished business in the game mechanics department, Hoopworld paces itself quite well through crisp and fluid animation and simple yet sensible AI teammates who generally act like they should – even fill passing lanes, making cuts to the basket, or sliding to the perimeter in applicable situations.
Even so, the environments look smooth and the characters all have a distinct and unique feel, even if they do tend to share the same animations. To the untrained eye, Hoopworld masquerades as a seamless arcade experience, even if the gameplay is a bit too primitive. In the past, arcade basketball was at its finest when it achieved a fine balance of fun and simplicity; Hoopworld falls short in both categories.
The interesting, colorful visuals and unique style of Hoopworld fails to hide its biggest weakness: the convoluted control scheme. I’d rather not turn into an instruction manual here, but quite simply, Hoopworld took the waggle bait and didn’t let it go. Shooting, passing, and a few variants of attacking all are tied to some sort of waggle motion that sometimes requires a button press for modification and sometimes requires the timing of other buttons during said waggle motions. Yeah buddy, you try teaching that to your girlfriend.
A complicated control scheme combined with simplistic, unfinished feeling gameplay mechanics that scream “get this out before NBA Jam” brews up a game that should be reserved for only the most forgiving of casuals. The controls in place here are not geared toward the target audience of this game: those looking for a few quick rounds of arcade hoops with their buddies or the family.