Though Freeverse’s releases to date have varied between hits and misses on gameplay, virtually every title we’ve seen thus far from the company has offered extremely impressive, iPhone OS-pushing aesthetics. As the third title in its “Flick” series of sports titles, Flick NBA Basketball ($5) continues both the company’s reputation for eye-popping releases and Flick’s unbroken tradition of one-upping sporting competitors. Only two issues — controls and framerate — keep it from being the best light basketball game we’ve yet seen in the App Store.
In addition to featuring fully 3-D modeled likenesses of 30 real NBA players who collectively represent every team in the league, Flick NBA Basketball includes five substantially different events that almost entirely justify its asking price. The first is 3 Point Shootout, which lets you choose a player to take 60 seconds worth of three-point shots from set positions around the hoop. Thanks to a realistically rendered 3-D court and the detailed character model you watch from behind, this mode is Flick’s most visually appealing, but also the most disappointing, as it seemed to involve little skill: there’s no on-screen meter or other obvious skill required to sink shots, and we scored almost perfectly on our very first try. It turns out that you can in fact screw up shots by flicking less than perfectly straight on, but we had to make an effort to score poorly in this mode.
By comparison, H.O.R.S.E. is a one-on-one competition where you and the CPU or you and a friend take turns taking the same shot, and if one player fails to duplicate the other’s shot, he racks up one letter towards the word “horse.” The first player to get five letters loses. This mode uses most of the same 3-D graphics as 3 Point Shootout, but is more challenging since it also adds a horizontal shot meter: you need to tap the screen to position your shot close to the center of the moving meter, and then flick to actually generate the power to take the shot. You can also flick in a direction in an attempt to correct for a poor tap on the moving meter. Freeverse’s timing on the moving meter varies based on the difficulty of the shot, but it’s almost always too fast, and the process of trying to determine power and correction with a flick isn’t graphically assisted with a second meter, and consequently isn’t as fun or skill-building as it should be. Fixing this system with a better horizontal meter and a new vertical meter, then implementing the vertical one in 3 Point Shootout would make both modes better.
Hotshot is a completely different game, based on the arcade basketball machines that give you several mini-balls at the same time to pitch into a basket that occasionally changes position. Here, rather than choosing an NBA player, you actually see a wire and metal cage in the center of the court, and get 90 seconds to flick one or four balls towards the basket at the same time. The basket shifts backwards every 30 seconds to make shots more challenging, and a rock song plays as you take your shots. While the flicking controls again feel a bit shallow here, and the frame rate’s not totally smooth, this is as good an arcade basketball title as any we’ve seen sold as separate apps for $1-$2.
Long Shot takes Hotshot’s general theme onto the half court, giving an NBA player 30 seconds to take a series of four shots that start “in the paint” and gradually move to the half court line for “the money shot.” You can repeat each shot over and over until you sink one or run out of time, and the controls are the same as in H.O.R.S.E., with a moving meter and then a subsequent flick for power. Once again, the meters designed for the controls take away a little from the action; the same cleanups suggested for 3 Point Shootout and Horse would help here.
The last mode is Ball Spin, which puts a finger on the screen and lets you swipe repeatedly try to keep a ball balanced and spinning on it, “not too fast, not too slow.” While the idea sounds simple, it’s made interesting by your ability to tilt the device to position the finger, and then challenging by requiring you to keep the ball rotating for quite some time—no easy feat—or flicking the device to toss the ball into the air for extra points, quickly repositioning the finger to continue the spin. While this mode never would have worked as a standalone title, it is a great feature to include in a mini-game compilation like this, and improved through some cool particle effects when you keep the ball moving.
Those particle effects are actually on display elsewhere in the game, as is an especially neat visual effect that’s used during the player selection screens, re-skinning the wireframe body images with new art that transforms a generic player into a plausible version of celebrity athletes ranging from Yao Ming to Shaq, Carmelo Anthony and Lebron James. Flick’s dramatic camera sweeps, quality music, very good sound effects and voices are only modestly undercut by in-game animation that looks a little less than totally fluid on the iPhone and iPod touch. Still, Flick NBA Basketball is probably Freeverse’s most impressive title to date on aesthetics, thanks to the very strong impression made by its detailed character and court models.
While Flick NBA Basketball may only be a collection of mini-games and not the full basketball title that many people would love to see on an Apple device, Freeverse has packed it with enough diversity and value to seriously impress us in all ways save control. No other title has the players or fantastic character models seen in this game, and though we preferred the three-point-focused Hoopster’s lower pricing and widescreen presentation, Flick offers a lot of additional excitement at a higher price. Better control meters would have made this an A-worthy game, but for NBA fans, it’s a must-see, anyway.
This week’s earlier iPhone Gems column featuring Assassin’s Creed, World Cup Ping Pong, Silent Scope and Uniwar is available here.
Company and Price
Title: Flick NBA Basketball
Compatible: iPhone/3G, iPod touch/2G