The puzzle battle genre isn’t new.In this mash of gameplay styles, players control the action on-screen indirectly by lining up gems or sweets or similar shiny things.But NBA Ball Stars Chooses the Wrong Genre
It’s as simple and shallow a gameplay loop as it’s possible to get. While that isn’t always a bad thing, Netmarble’s NBA Ball Stars uses it as more of a vehicle for its ‘freemium’ model than as a genuine basketball experience.
Both NBA and basketball have a storied history as video games. NBA 2K serves as the obvious example but its companion app, NBA 2K Mobile Basketball, rates well with players on Google Play.
Online gaming sites arguably have the biggest variety of basketball games, though. For example, Jackpot City Casino’s Basketball Star will be familiar to people who play online slots in Canada. This Microgaming-powered title utilizes an award-winning random number generator in its design, which keeps the gameplay balanced.
Of course, generic basketball apps like Basketball Stars and Jam League Basketball pick up the slack when the NBA sometimes – rarely – falls down.
And NBA Ball Stars is a bit of a misstep.
It’s worth stressing that the overall NBA Ball Stars experience isn’t a bad one – but there’s just not enough basketball in the title to justify what was probably an expensive NBA license purchase.
Players have four turns per play to increase the chances of an action paying off. Match 3 (or more) gems of the same color to get your shot percentage (for example) to as close to 100% as possible. It’s strangely reminiscent of the quick-time events in mid-2000s PlayStation games.
Sadly, the game lacks human opponents, which reduces the appeal of building a team of superstars. It’s hard to justify spending $2 – $4.99 on a squad that will only ever challenge the app’s AI. This places NBA Ball Stars firmly in the category of a hero collecting game, rather than something like FIFA Ultimate Team, where squad composition means everything.
The players you can collect do at least look authentic though, and you’ll be able to pick up legends like Shaquille O’Neal if you’re prepared to open your wallet.
Overall, NBA Ball Stars occupies an odd position on the App Store. It can’t realistically compete with 2K’s premium games or the giants of the match 3 world, and its lack of actual basketball is likely to scare off fans after just a few games.
There is, however, a bit of a gulf between critic and player reviews. Common Sense Media gave it a flat 1/5 in its review, while its rating on Google Play is a strong 4.3. The gem-matching mechanic attracted the most criticism from users, who noted a complete lack of depth to the gameplay.
The NBA app market feels saturated by virtue of the fact that 2K’s titles are so dominant – and that’s perhaps why NBA Ball Stars’ developers chose to skirt true basketball altogether. It’s hard to see how puzzle battle or match 3 suit the sport, however.