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NBA All-World hands-on: Bringing basketball games back to the streets

Niantic's latest AR app might be the best use of its location-based tech yet.

Video transcript

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SAM RUTHERFORD: Now, most people know Niantic as developers behind major mobile games, like Ingress and Pokemon Go. But today, we're here in Brooklyn, checking out their latest app as the company tries to leverage their expertise with real world location based gaming into a brand new title called NBA All World. So right here, we're checking out the kind of map of NBA All World, and as you can see, it mirrors the real world.

So right here, we have different kinds of locations, so we have the purple location. These are drop zones, where you can get items or money, depending on what kind of location it is in real life. And then off in the distance, you can see there's a core over here, and then some of the locations-- you can't really see them right now. --are also yellow. It means there's an active drop zone, where you can tap and collect something.

So right now, we're kind of just checking out the local scene in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and I guess the next step is to kind of play a game. So normally, you have to physically go out to the courts, but because we're kind of trapped inside for the moment, we've enabled the developer mode. So we can move over to this court that's right down the street. And if I tap it, we should be able to get in, and now, we're looking at the enter the court. And from here, you can see what's going on, and now, we want to play a pickup game. And we can see, we hit Play.

We're kind of searching for a challenger. All right, so now, we've got a match-up, Paul George versus Domantas Sabonis. And let's kind of see. Let's get into the action here.

Now for NBA All World's, defense is sort of on autopilot. You have the option to steal or block as the situation arises, but your main focus is really besting the other person on offense. So you see, I'm starting, and down at the bottom, you're going to see I have controls. So I can swipe left to move around, swipe forward and back.

Hopefully, I can kind of get him out of position and then drive. Or if not, I've just got to take what he's giving me. So when you want to shoot, you can press the button on the bottom, and there's also an aspect of timing. For anyone who's played 2K, this will be really familiar.

But now, I'm on defense, so I've got to try to make sure that my guy stays in front. And then, if he goes up for a shot, I want to hit block in time. Let's hold on. Let's see if we can actually get a little bit of skill in here.

I'll go for the steal. All right, so obviously, he was kind of just sitting under the basket. So that gives me an opportunity to kind of steal and then see if we can drive on, yep.

So right now, I wasn't in the greatest position. I went up, kind of threw out a shot hastily, and it got rejected. Rightfully so, so now, I'm back on defense. All right, not the most elegant point, but you know, a bucket's a bucket. I'll take it.

So right now, you can see the different skills, offense, defense, fitness, energy. Now, we're going to go through a little upgrade process. So we've got level up. We got some XPDUs, so we can just hit the level up button right here. And that's, obviously, using a little bit of credits.

You have to pay for your upgrades. Things don't come easy, right? You got to earn it. So obviously, you see offense, all the different stats go up, and there's star level.

So as you continue to generate, accrue more EXP, you know, your player is going to level up with you, and obviously, you've got to manage your XP across your whole roster. Because you can't just have one baller, and then everyone else is kind of busted. You've got to make sure your whole squad's gonna cut it out, right?

Now, I see there's someone else here, so that's the other big part of NBA All World is that we have the court kind of over here. And then, obviously, you want to add more people to your roster. So if you come over here, you can kind of challenge other people. So right now, if I play him, I can beat Tobias Harris. I can add him to my roster.

So right now, we're kind of in the shooting mini game, and this is just pure shooting. You've got a time limit, and this will be familiar to anyone who's played pretty much any basketball game in the last 10, 15 years. So obviously, you see that there's a little slider, and you've got to time it.

Green is optimal. And if you kind of miss time it, you'll get yellow or red, and then that decreases your chance to make the shot. So even though I've only had a brief time to spend with NBA All World, there are a couple of things I really like right off the jump. The first is that by tying the game to real world courts, everything feels a bit more grounded, instead of something, like Pokemon Go, in which you often see groups of people standing at, like, random street corners or whatever to participate in raids.

On top of that, because you have to go out to real courts to battle others, you might end up with situations, where someone initially heads out to play NBA All World, but ends up hopping into a pickup game at the local park. That's kind of awesome, and it could really bring people together across the basketball community in a way that playing NBA 2K at home on your couch can't really do. The other nice thing about NBA All World is that it isn't just launching in the US. That's because when the game goes live on January 24, it's getting a full global release, which really ties back to the international appeal of basketball itself.

Heck, the last four winners of the NBA's MVP Award come from Europe, not the US, so it's nice to see All World hit every corner of the map on day one. Now, that's right. NBA All World is still just getting started. Niantic says it has big plans for the game still to come, including, hopefully, partnering with more big names, like Nike, or possibly upgrading character animations with mocap performed by actual players.

And while the winter weather in the US, especially up here in the Northeast, means there might not be a ton of pickup games happening outside right now, that's OK. Because as Niantic Senior Producer Marcus Mathews told me during our hands on demo, it's always summer somewhere. But that's it for us today. For more news, hands on, and reviews, make sure to comment, and subscribe to Engadget, because we have more videos coming real soon.

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