NBA Live—it’s all net when it comes to entertainment

Posted: October 25, 2009 in Sports

EA should be commended for its efforts to bring full-fledged sports games such as Madden 10 and FIFA 10 to the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. While they haven’t been perfect, they certainly have elevated the playing field for competitors. The latest addition is targeted at the basketball aficionados with NBA Live, which of the EA sports offerings to date, is probably the best of the bunch with balanced AI, easy-to-use controls, and most importantly, engaging gameplay. Those looking for a console-quality experience should stick to your PC, PSP or XBox. Others looking for a high-quality basketball game on the platform should strongly consider NBA Live.

NBA Live has all 30 NBA teams and their player rosters with photos and statistics are at your disposal. NBA Live has several play modes—Exhibition, Season and Playoff. Exhibition mode allows you to play a quick single game using your favorite team. Season mode takes you through a choice of 12, 20, 41 or 82-game season tracking season statistics and standings leading to the playoffs. Playoff mode gives you the option to play a single, 3, 5 or 7-game playoff series. Each mode provides numerous customization options such as quarter length from 1-12 minutes each, but two areas worth noting are penalty enforcement (easy, medium, hard), and most importantly, 3 levels of gameplay difficulty (Rookie, Veteran, All-Star).

The AI can become significantly challenging based on how you set the penalty enforcement and gameplay difficulty. Shot clock violations, out of bounds, reach-in fouls and shooting are enforced. By changing penalty enforcement to medium or hard, additional penalties are leveled. With medium, fouling out and goal tending are included, while hard adds backcourt violations, charging and 8-second violations.

The graphics and animation are solid for the device with minimal lag on my iPod Touch 2g. The different stadiums and arenas are well represented, although the players can look Lego-like. Running up and down the court with multiple simultaneous animations, NBA Live doesn’t experience much stutter, although a device restart upon installation would be ideal before starting play. The game includes optional commentary from Marv Albert, which frankly aren’t bad. Like many games, they are repetitive, but generally fit with the current game situation. In addition, 15 music tracks from artists like Matt and Kim, Snoop Dogg and Xzibit are played except during an in-game session, although playing your own music is allowed. Other options are choice of camera angles (broadcast and baseline), left/right flip controls, and horizontal or vertical button layouts.

NBA Live’s two-button control set-up may appear limiting, but it does make the game intuitively easier and more responsive than say FIFA 10. NBA Live uses a virtual control stick for maneuvering players up and down the court along with a pair of blue and red buttons. Tapping on the virtual joystick speeds up the player, and it works well. These action buttons can be used to do various activities whether your team is on offense or defense. On offense, the blue button is used for passing and the red button to shoot. Depending on how long you hold a button, other options appear. For example, holding down the blue button will bring up icons for other players each identified by risk for making a pass. Tapping a player icon will deliver the pass. Green means a player is open, while red signifies a well-covered player. And, flicking the blue button will also bring up juke and crossover moves.

The red button has a bit of functionality in it depending on how you flick and tap. While tapping will create a pump fake, touching and flicking while driving to the basket will result in a dunk. Depending on the direction you flick, different dunks are unleashed.

On defense, the blue button is used to select which defender to control, while the red button is used to activate blocking and rebounding. Holding down the blue button allows you to cycle through the players to select which to control, while the red button can be used to steal and reach in.

Foul shots use the accelerometer. In free throwing shooting situation, a shooting gauge appears in the lower right corner where the accelerometer is used to line up the shot to the hoop. Once that is done, tilting the device back will set the player to shoot, and tilting forward will shoot the ball. The mechanism is a bit of a novelty, and I found making free throws relatively easy.

Offense
Blue Button—for passing; holding brings up icons for other players each identified by risk for making a pass (green—open, yellow—risky, red—well defended); flicking activates juke moves

Red Button—touch and hold to shoot; releasing at the peak of the jump increases chances for completing the shot; tap to pump fake

Dunk—charge the basket and hold the red button
Different dunks—touch the red button and flick in various directions to unleash different dunks

Foul shots—shot meter can be tilted to line up free throws; tilt the device back to prepare for the shot; tilt forward to shoot

Defense
Blue Button—touch when a player is near the ball; tap the blue button to switch to the closest defender; hold to manual switch players

Red Button—tap to attempt a block or to rebound

One of the nice features is the ability to call plays. The Clipboard icon in the top right is used to select plays on offense and defense. For example, you can select zone or a 4-1 offensive play set as well as specific plays such as a pick and roll or set up for a 3-pointer. On defense, a limited set of play sets are available such as man to man, and various zone set ups.

Offensive Play Sets
3-Out, 2-In—general purpose offense play
4-Out, 1-In—good for teams with good outside shooters
Zone-2—plays to counter zone defenses
1-3-1—simple offense with good high- and low-post presence

Other Select Plays
Pick and Roll
Isolation
Three Pointer
4-3

Defensive Play Sets
Man to Man
1-3-1 Zone
3-2 Zone
2-3 Zone

Team management is probably one of the weak spots for NBA Live. Trading and customizing rosters is done by dragging and dropping player names and profiles between select teams. Like Madden 10, there are no roster limitations based on salaries, although teams are required to have certain position players, which tends to make team management shallow and less than fulfilling. Literally, you can create your own dream team without too many restrictions. Signing free agents is also allowed, and there is a set of available players available for signing. As mentioned, statistics and player profiles are available so you can look for the best perimeter shooter in the market if that’s your desire. Another nice touch is the addition of Legend Players such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Dr. J, which are unlocked based on your progress through the season.

The gameplay is as good as you would expect with NBA Live, and a lot of this goes back to the controls and AI. While some may disagree, the simplified control set up consisting of a virtual joystick and two action buttons make this game accessible to a broader audience. NBA Live incorporates the rules of the game including a 24-second shot clock and fouls. For example, when fouled behind the 3-point line, I get 3 foul shots as if it should be. And, when a great play is made such as a down your throat dunk, the replay function kicks in. This is a good feature that allows you to view the play in all its glory, although there is no replay record and save. In terms of camera angles, broadcast tends to provide the best view, while baseline provides a close-up and arcing view that may be disorienting for some, although it shows off the game nicely.

The AI works smoothly and ratchets up nicely playing an intelligent offensive and defensive game so NBA Live is not game where you can play through the game half heartedly. In fact, on defense, getting caught without moving players back on time will generally result in a quick basket by the opponent. And don’t expect to make outrageously crazy shots from half court. The gameplay is quite immersive so making substitutions and calling timeshots are important aspects to remember if you’re to win. Playing defense does require quick thinking since the ball will move around a good deal requiring you to rotate through players. And, the AI will pick-and-roll you into the ground if you don’t set the right defense. On offense, if you play the game with penalties set on easy, driving to the basket and dunking makes the game tremendously simple and repetitious. Switching to medium or hard will ratchet up the difficulty since charges are called and foul outs more common.

Beyond the lack of a franchise mode and shallow team management, the gameplay tends to fall on the arcade side of things which may be an issue for some. This goes hand in hand with the graphics which while perfectly fine, are on the blocky side.

NBA Liveis not a perfect game, but it does deliver a fun and immersive basketball game. Whether playing a quick game or a more prolonged season mode, the game is a solid offering and provides a good degree customization without too many complex controls. For the overly easy AI in Madden 10 and the high learning curve of FIFA 10, NBA Live seems to be right in the middle balancing the right degree of challenge within a manageable environment.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (intuitive and natural controls should appeal to novices and advanced players alike; balanced AI and good degree of customization; incorporates the rules of the game; decent graphics and a nice touch with the replays; team management tends to be on the shallow side)

Check out my review at http://toucharcade.com/2009/10/26/nba-live-shoots-and-scores/

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