NBA Smash
| NBA Smash

Shooting hoops, ballin', netball – whatever you call it, the game of basketball will never hold anything more than a niche appeal for the people of Great Britain. It is to Johnny English what football is to Chuck American – a game for school kids, women and video gamers.

And it really is perfectly suited to the gaming medium. Fast-paced, end-to-end, high-scoring and played by flamboyant characters employing outrageous skills, it's as if it were tailor made for digital translation.

Up steps Gameloft with NBA Smash, a distilled, concentrated version of the sport that whittles the participants down to 2-on-2 and exaggerates all of the aerial feats. At certain points in the game players will leap 20 feet in the air, somersaulting like a Russian gymnast, before slamming the ball into the net.

If this format sounds at all familiar to any of you, it probably means you were around in the early '90s when a certain NBA Jam was released on every format under the sun. NBA Smash certainly bears more then a passing resemblance to this classic, but sadly fails to emulate it in several key areas.

First impressions are positive, with excellent presentation and finely detailed graphics. Equally intricate are the controls, with a console-like set-up of directional keys plus four action buttons – '5' to pass, '0' to shoot, '*' for tricks and '#' for a special move.

This allows for a wide array of possibilities as to how you stick the ball in the net. Do you pass it around, waiting for an opening and a prompt to execute an unstoppable dunk, or perhaps throw an audacious feint to buy some space for a long-range effort?

Unfortunately, this range of controls also proves to be one of the game's major flaws. In a fast-paced game such as this you need to be able to access each of the controls comfortably and instinctually. This is easy on a console controller, but not so on a mobile phone keypad.

You'll tie your fingers in knots trying to hit several different keys in quick succession, and most phones simply won't react sharply enough to such demands. This creates a kind of lag between certain button presses and the corresponding action being played out.

It makes the game surprisingly tough from the get go (I opted for the Normal difficulty level) as your fingers struggle to keep up with the action. I quickly found an exploit to enable progress through the Career mode – simply hold onto the ball around the Key until you receive the aforementioned '5' prompt, which results in a virtually guaranteed point. Cheap, I know, but it really didn't take much experimentation to figure out, and all alternative means of acquiring points are far harder won.

Which is a shame, because the structure for Career mode is mostly excellent. You play against each of the fully licensed NBA teams, ploughing your winnings into buying new players and upgrading your personally created player's skills. It's another commendably ambitious attempt to bring a console experience to your mobile phone, but one that again doesn't quite pay off.

With the unbalanced, slightly random gameplay I didn't really feel the burning need to make full use of the skill upgrade system. I also found it slightly irritating to narrowly lose a closely fought game and not be awarded any skill or player acquisition points for my efforts.

But for all its faults, there are elements to praise NBA Smash for. It looks the business and boasts plenty to be getting on with in its Campaign and Tournament modes, for instance. Gameloft should be respected for attempting an ambitious shot from way downtown. That it's ended up throwing a bit of an air-ball certainly doesn't lessen our expectation of a successful follow-up.

NBA Smash

In creating an impressively fully featured basketball game, Gameloft has failed to pay due attention to the limitations of the platform. NBA Smash would benefit from a little streamlining for its inevitable sequel
Jon Mundy
Jon Mundy
Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.