Whether you're a sports fan or not, basketball games are often some of the best-made games on any platform. The latest news in the ongoing NBA lockout (which began July 1) is that the owners have decided to skip the preseason entirely, and if the players and owners don't come to an agreement by the end of the day on Monday, they may start to cancel regular season games.
Whichever side of the argument you're on, the iTunes App Store has more than enough basketball-type games to keep you occupied. What's particularly interesting is how developers have come up with clever ways to use the touch screen to play basketball-like games.
This week's collection of apps is all about basketball. The first lets you slam-dunk a basketball with a swipe of your finger. The second lets you shoot baskets and challenge others online against a sci-fi backdrop. The third is the iOS version of a megapopular console basketball game.
Slam Dunk King (free) is an excellent time-waster, letting you perform slam dunks on a hoop using only swipes of your finger. We were initially skeptical, but only after a couple of dunks it was easy to see how this game could become wildly addictive.
The game mechanic is simple: when a basketball is launched in the air, your job is to "grab" it by touching and holding it with your finger, then "dunk" it by swiping your finger toward the basket. Different types of swipes will give you various types of dunks--a 360 counterclockwise motion will get you a windmill dunk, while a quick double swipe vertically will perform a double-clutch dunk. There are 12 different moves (swipe types?) in all. Bombs occasionally also are launched onscreen and your job is to swat them away from the basket.
There are three different ways to play Slam Dunk King: Time Attack, Arcade, and Sudden Death. In Time Attack you try to score as many points as possible in 90 seconds using unlimited balls. Combos of complex dunks yield more points, and you can string together combos by connecting your dunk moves with link actions like the off-the-backboard or alley-oop moves. In Arcade mode you try to get as many high-scoring dunks as possible without dropping any balls--if you lose three balls the game is over. In Sudden Death you simply try to last as long as possible without dropping any balls. Each game type challenges you differently, giving Slam Dunk King plenty of replay value.
As you progress through the game, you'll earn "crowns," the in-game currency used to buy different styles of basketballs, new courts to play on, and mascots that give you bonuses. In the game, performing successful dunks raises the energy bar for your mascot, and when it reaches full you can activate your mascot to get various bonuses for a short period of time. While the game is free initially, you have the option to buy more crowns with real money so you can unlock courts, mascots, and balls more quickly, but you can also earn them simply by playing. There are also small ads in the game until you pay ($2.99), but they're unobtrusive and easy to ignore. It will be interesting to see how this generous freemium model does.
Overall, Slam Dunk King is a great time-waster with plenty of moves to master and game types to check out. Basketball fans, and really anyone looking for a good touch-screen game, should check out Slam Dunk King.
StarDunk Gold (99 cents for a limited time) is an older 2D arcade basketball-like game that was updated early this year and challenges you to get a high score by shooting balls into a hoop and unlocking bonuses that get you more points. The control scheme involves swiping your finger to set the trajectory, then letting go to launch the ball toward the basket. The backboard plays a part, too: it's broken up into four segments, and you'll need to "light up" all four to get a random bonus for a short time (some of which, like multiball, can help you rack up the points much faster).
The game mechanic and smooth graphics alone would be enough to make StarDunk Gold interesting, but you also can take your skills online and play against other players to compete for the high score. Once you agree to play online, the game automatically sets up a game among active players, and you're notified when the contest is about to begin. From there you'll have 2 minutes to compete for the high score, trying not only to make baskets, but to unlock bonuses as quickly as possible to rack up the most points.
As you play, you'll earn Starpoints you can spend on new balls (with different characteristics) and strange themes to add some variety to the backdrop. You also can use real money to buy Starpoints in the in-game shop called the Star Shop. With some patience, you'll be able to earn Starpoints on your own, so there is no barrier for those who don't want to pay.
Overall, StarDunk Gold is a frenetic arcade game that has little to do with real basketball, but still manages to give you that feeling of accomplishment from getting the perfect swish. Anyone who likes basketball or wants a fun way to compete online will like this game.
NBA 2K12 ($4.99 for iPhone; $9.99 for iPad) is the iOS version of the megapopular console basketball game, but it doesn't quite live up to its promise. To be clear, it's a beautiful-looking game and is certainly fun to play, but the slimmed-down version suffers from having fewer options and controls than its console cousin and also has a few unfortunate presentation issues. (Check out CNET editor Brian Tong's First Take of NBA 2K12.)
You have a few different game modes to choose from in NBA 2K12, including a league mode in which you can take any of the official NBA teams through a full or abbreviated season. There's also a playoff mode where you can just play through the excitement of the NBA playoffs to the championship. A Quick Play mode lets you play single exhibition games. For something different, you can play through the Michael Jordan challenges originally found in NBA 2K11 on consoles. Each of these modes plays the way you might envision it, but control issues and the lack of options will limit your success, especially on the difficult Jordan Challenges.
While the game is beautiful to behold for the most part, the graphics for facial features compared with real NBA players are marginal at best--some even look downright scary. With that said, NBA 2K12 does a great job of animating specific player tendencies--you'll see signature move animations while dribbling up-court and driving to the hoop that remind you of the real players. As a graphical side note, there seems to be a glitch after made baskets that shows empty bench seats or some extremely unhappy-looking players stuck on the sidelines, but we figure this will be fixed in later updates.
You get two different control systems to choose from and they're much more limited than in the console version. A classic control system gives you a fixed joypad on the left and buttons for passing, shooting, and alley-oops on the right on offense. On defense the buttons on the right change to attempt steal, switch defenders, and jump for rebounds and blocks. Your only juke moves are limited to flicking the joypad for a fairly generic crossover. Unlike in the console version, you won't be able to perform hop-steps or step-backs or choose specific players to pass to. You also can't call plays, or even change your general coaching strategy. This becomes very apparent when an opposing team plays full-court defense and there is no way for you to return the favor.
The second control system is much more hands-off, letting you swipe to jump, touch a player to pass, or touch and hold your player to shoot. While much less stressful, it can get frustrating having no control over where your players go on the court. Still, it's a fairly innovative control system and some people might prefer the less hands-on approach.
Overall, in spite of its problems, NBA 2K12 is probably the best 5-on-5 basketball game in the iTunes App Store. With some practice, we were able to have fun playing it, but be aware it will take time to get used to the limited controls (and some of the scary-looking players).
Got a better basketball game? Let us all know in the comments!