Many a Thunder fan was disappointed to learn of the cancellation of "NBA Elite 11" for home consoles. Elite, a new franchise of basketball game being developed by EA Sports, promised to have a truly unique control system that would "revolutionize" the way basketball video games were played.
More importantly, however, it featured the Thunder's very own Kevin Durant on the cover as the poster child.
While I have not been made aware of the reason behind the console version's cancellation, the game itself was not cancelled, and is now available for purchase for about $5.
While, indeed, the console versions are but an unborn dream, a version of the game developed for the iPhone/iPod Touch was already completed and released, and is available for purchase and download from the iTunes App Store.
I sat down with a fresh download of this game and immediately felt apprehensive. Personally, I have yet to enjoy a basketball game since "NBA Jam" for the Super Nintendo. Secondly, the game was developed for the iPhone, an important fact considering that I own an iPad.
The game features three modes of play: exhibition, season mode and 3 point shootout. Exhibition is your vanilla 5-on-5 game of hoops, whereas the 3 point shootout is pretty self explanatory. You select your character, pick some opponents from the full NBA roster, and go through two rounds of competition.
The season mode is where the content meat of the game is. As with any season mode, you pick a team, a difficulty level and get shooting. You can select from a standard season or jump straight to the playoffs.
The problem with season mode is that it lacks the season AI many of us are accustomed to from modern sports games. The game will let you literally make any trade you want (for instance, I traded Nick Collison to Atlanta for Al Horford, a trade a console game would literally laugh at me for if I even suggested it.) Season options such as a fantasy draft are stripped out, which makes sense considering the game is on a mobile device, but it is still noticeable.
Control wise, the interface is simplistic, if a little spotty. You hold your iThing in both hands like a controller, and use your thumbs to manipulate onscreen controls. Left thumb controls movement, right thumb controls actions (shooting, passing etc.) while you can get some variety depending on how you use the controls (crash the basket and hold shoot to dunk, flick it to do a stylized dunk,) the controls are remarkably advanced considering the medium.
I say the controls are spotty because, on the iPad at least, the movement cross was a little large, and every time I lifted my thumb of the screen, the cross would dissapear, and re-center itself on wherever I put my thumb down next. I could bring my thumb up to bring Russell Westbrook to a stop and then put it down where I thought up was so I could make a cut inside, and he would just stand there because the cross re-centered. This made it hard to keep movement quick and fluid, and I could never tell if the sprint function (double tap the direction you want to go) was actually working.
Ballhandling and shooting, however, were very effective. Shooting was assisted with the use of an on-screen guide to help you find the apex of the jump, and the ring marking the ballcarrier changed color to reflect their accuracy from that spot on the floor. Flicking the pass button allows you to execute a variety of offensive jukes and fakes to keep you driving for the score or throwing off a defender.
The ratings for each player struck me as a little odd. I would have never pegged Thabo Sefolosha to be rated at 74 for three pointers, the highest on the Thunder default roster. Another odd control gimmick, the free throws, requires you to flick the entire device to shoot.
Make sure you have a good grip.
Graphically, it reminds me of the old Playstation 1 games. The animation is polygonal but acceptably smooth, there's some minor color commentary and a small selection of rap and hip hop tracks for the menus. While it looks just fine in the native iPhone resolution, it does look a little pixelly when blown up for the iPad.
Should you buy it? Eh, it's an alright buy for the price (I spend more on the average trip to McDonalds) and is something fun to do while sitting on a bus or waiting for class to start.
Unfortunately, with the console version cancelled, we will never see the full potential of this property fulfilled. What a shame.