Developer: Electronic Arts
Price: $9.99
Version Reviewed: 10.1.18

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★☆☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

Developers, up to now, have had an interesting time making sports games on the iPhone. We’ve seen all sorts of attempts at a true genre showcase, but people just can’t seem to figure out what consumers actually want. Companies like Freeverse have the Flick series that takes games to their most basic components, providing people with stripped down, but addictive time wasters. Other companies like Gameloft have found their niche creating seemingly realistic games that have some arcade elements to speed up gameplay. Being the grandaddy of all video game sports, EA has decided that they will just port their hit console titles directly to the iPhone, cramming in as many features and do-dads that they can get onto the small screen.

What I’ve noticed about EA’s other games (Madden, FIFA, Tiger Woods) is that they provide what seems to be the most complete simulation available, but the games lack heart. Part of the difficulty with these games, and especially reviewing these games, is that while they are all fairly impressive, I stop playing them shortly after reviewing them. Thus far, there just hasn’t been enough in any of them to grab me… to make me just want to play another game like I would on their console alternative.

Cool replay, but what is the defense looking at?

Cool replay, but what is the defense looking at?

Now comes NBA Live, one of EA Sports’ most storied franchises. The brand has lost a bit of its luster on the console side with some uninspiring versions after the ’05 season (I personally think it went downhill after ’03), but being the first on the iPhone, I had high expectations. To me, my biggest fear with something like NBA Live is that it would try to do too much. The graphics don’t have to be great, but they need to be fluid. Same with the gameplay and the controls. Well, much like Madden before it, after firing up NBA Live, everyone around me said, “Wow”, and I said, “Meh”.

After starting the game up, I quickly started an exhibition game. I figured that a good Rockets vs Lakers rematch would be good, even if my team would be Yao and T-Mac-less. To my surprise, standing in the center of the court was Yao, and he tipped it directly to T-Mac! Oh geeze. Apparently the game just uses the rosters and disregards player injuries that have completely devastated teams. Don’t get me wrong, I like playing with Yao, but little details like this bring up red flags. After the tip, I noticed that the game was rather choppy, but I’ll attribute that to my ownership of an old 3G. With that said, I would definitely think twice before picking this up on anything less than a 3GS.

Von Wafer isn't even in the NBA anymore! Come on EA!

Von Wafer isn't even in the NBA anymore! Come on EA!

My first drive resulted in a rather acrobatic T-Mac dunk… shocking after that micro-fracture surgery. The next drive ended with a similarly acrobatic Trevor Ariza dunk. Then a Yao dunk, then a Battier dunk… and so on. I pulled up for a 3 eventually and it fell right in. On defense, I didn’t even bother trying to steal the ball. I found that if you just stand near the other player the computer will either get a 24 second violation or miss the shot. (On a side note, trying to get the ball faster will stop Marv Albert from saying, “he sets the pick” every 5 seconds) The bots will score occasionally, but with the newly revamped dunkfest Rockets, I had no problem winning by 15. The final score was a whopping 52-37. After convincingly beating the best team by 15, I figured that I would up the difficulty or see if I could slide some sliders… something. Well, after jacking up the difficulty a bit, my next game started a little tougher. The computer made its first two shots, but really just couldn’t compete with the beast man that is T-Mac. I think I put down 15 windmill dunks (the exact same windmill dunk) in a row, which made an LA comeback pretty improbable. For a while, I thought that passing would be a good idea, but then the ball landed in the hands of T-Mac, which again resulted in the same windmill dunk. For the record, there were no crossovers or pump fakes that got me a free pass to the basket, all I had to do was sprint to the hoop and hit the shoot button. If you do this, you’ll win, I promise.

(One odd thing of note… If the ball goes for a long bounce off of the rim and clearly goes out of bounds, don’t think that it could be blown dead. I was caught off guard multiple times by computer players landing whole body lengths out of bounds and then taking shots over the back of the rim. They don’t typically go in, but it would certainly be nice to know what out of bounds is.)

Yeah, that stat line seems pretty correct.

Yeah, that stat line seems pretty correct.

I thought about starting a whole season of this, but thought that a season long T-Mac dunk fest would get old pretty fast. There is just no challenge in running to the hoop and hitting shoot. No tough shots, no amazing crossovers, no crazy passes… just run and dunk. Maybe I should’ve been the Suns!

Aside from the gameplay, the rest of the game was fairly well put together. The opening menu looks quite nice and has the traditional big name NBA Live rap tracks backing it. The options are fairly light, with the only play options being season, playoffs, and exhibition. There are no online features as of now, but with defense being as pointless as it is, I don’t really think watching a back and forth windmill dunkfest would be too exciting.

Well, NBA Live unfortunately turned out to be exactly what I thought it would be. It’s basketball, but it certainly won’t make you want to come back for more. There’s only so much that Marv Alberts voice and EA’s logo can do to make you want to keep playing. I know that this is fairly impressive for a cell phone, but just because the concept is cool doesn’t make the game fun. Someday, developers will learn that they need to start with the basics. Maybe a little NBA Jam is all the iPhone gamer wants. Just give me some 2 on 2 and let me do somersault dunks. Let me get on fire and run around with my glowing red ball. BOOMSHAKALAKA!

Please come to the iPhone!

Please come to the iPhone!

Posted in: Games, iPhone Apps and Games, Reviews

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