Is NBA Live on the iPhone a Slam Dunk?

After my overall positive experience with FIFA World Cup 2010, I decided to give my favourite sport a shot. NBA Live for the iPhone and iPod Touch was also on sale for $0.99 when I picked it up. As someone who has generally nit-picked at games based on my favourite sport to the point that I quit playing them years ago, I thought that having a mobile version could be interesting. While I’ve had some fun with it, I’m not sure the game has enough to overcome it’s deficiencies.

From a game-mode standpoint, NBA Live has exhibition, season, playoffs and tutorial. For a mobile game, it’s more than enough. I’ve spent all my time in exhibition. All of the NBA teams and players you would expect are there with relatively accurate stats and abilities. On offense, you get a shoot button and a pass button. The type of shot you do depends on where you’re standing on the court. You can also hold pass and choose specifically which player you want to pass to. On defense, you can change player, steal or block. With the touch of a button, you can also select from a handful of plays. To their credit, all of these functions work as you would expect.

I really liked the circle/star icon under players, which tells you when you can block or steal on defense, or a player’s ability to shoot from that spot on offense. Nice touch. On a base level, it’s enjoyable to score buckets and block shots.

The biggest hang-up the game has is that it’s clearly a simplified version of the more realistic NBA Live. It’s not realistic enough to match up with it’s big brother, but not arcade-y enough to compete with the simple fun of NBA Jam. What you’re left with is a tweener game that mixes and matches parts that don’t all mesh. The pacing of the game in general is slower, like a simulation, but the game doesn’t force you to play it like a realistic basketball game. You can abuse the AI on any difficulty level and dunk the ball on every possession. This is especially apparent when you’re playing as a player with a star under them, such as Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, who can literally run laps around their competition before slamming it home on four defenders at once.

Some of my other gripes in the game include free-throws that are way too easy to hit consistently, how your characters will randomly throw really bad passes sometimes and a few technical issues. I played one game with Lebron James where I was blocked almost every time. However, the game would count every dunk as a made basket.

Even as a fan of the sport, NBA Live for the iPhone is tough to recommend. A lack of focus and some technical issues really bring the experience down. I still play it every now and then when I’m looking to shoot hoops, but there are much better ways to spend a dollar on the app store.

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