Editor’s note: This review is focused on the iOS version of the title, not a console edition. The review cannot be extrapolated to a console edition of the game.
As I have said before, putting a game out on iOS (or any handheld OS… like that Android thing I keep hearing about) requires a different approach than doing a console game. Honestly, I think it’s a far more difficult proposition. You need to have constant saves and allow advancement in little bits and pieces. Controls are hard to setup – you want something that really allows the player to do their thing, but space is terribly limited (especially on an iPhone as opposed to an iPad). And, when there’s already a console title available of the same game, making the necessary changes for an iOS version can often leave the iOS version feeling like a dumbed down offering. I think the effort made with NBA 2K13 for iOS is valiant, but I also think that by all those measures it comes up wanting.
There is effort here and there is polish, it just isn’t in all the right places.
Maybe part of the problem is how I view my iPhone and how I play games on it. Games on my iPhone are for the between moments – I’m at my daughter’s school 10 minutes early, I’m sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, that kind of thing. Consequently I need games that can be played for a few minutes here and a few minutes there; they need to be constantly saved, either manually or via autosave. NBA 2K13 doesn’t do that. If you play a game with four minute quarters, you’re playing it straight through, you can’t save in the middle. You can quit if you have to and if you don’t do too much with your phone or wait too long before you pick the game back up you may be able to start from where you left off, but the odds of that taking place aren’t very good.
If I’m not reviewing a game, I don’t regularly sit down for 20+ minutes straight to play on my phone. Yes, you can alter quarter length, but four minutes always feels good to me… surely you can’t go much below that and have a satisfying game. So, to have a sports title on my phone that resets in the middle of a game without ever offering me the opportunity to save that game—and not having that opportunity is the heart of the issue—is problematic and deeply frustrating.
NBA 2K13 allows you to do an exhibition game, a minimalist franchise mode, or play a “Greatest Game” which allows you to repeat feats of various famed basketball players (Jordan, Shaq, etc.). All of that is well and good (seriously, if it didn’t have a season or multi-season mode would they ever have put it out?), but games themselves don’t put you in the driver’s seat as much as they should.
The controls scheme offers two basic types, a regular and a simple one. The simple one is, understandably, more basic and just allows passing and shooting, but the classic doesn’t give you terribly much more. You can jump and block and steal, but it’s not controlled by a myriad of buttons, just a few (switch player, block/shoot, jump, alley-oop), and they’re all so close together that you often hit one when you want the other. The virtual buttons are semi-transparent so as to not block your view of the screen, but once you throw your fingers over them, it’s tough to tell which one you’re on. Plus, as they’re so close together that you’re hitting one instead of the other, it regularly makes it hard to learn which is which.
Between problems saving and problems controlling on court play, much of the fun has been sucked out of the title. The animations are good; the feel for season progression is good; and even if you don’t get into the nitty gritty of managing a team as much as you might on a console sporting title, there’s an enough to keep you occupied.
For me though, the title as a whole isn’t enough. The inability of being able to save nearly kills it all and the frustrating controls help strangle whatever life is left in the app. Then, there’s the bit we haven’t mentioned, the 1.5 gigabyte file size. That is tremendously big on a device which holds a mere 16 gigabytes of data in total.
After that, there’s another odd issue I routinely encountered (the sort of thing that, if I’m not the only one with the issue will eventually be fixed in an update) — sometimes when you hit “play game,” you end up getting a simulated game with your team rather than a user controlled one. I cannot find any rhyme or reason for that and what makes it worse is that once you have started a game, you can’t change things and take control of your team.
Diehard NBA videogame fans will find things here that they’ll like, and the ability to take an NBA-based fans with them everywhere will appeal. That being said, more casual gamers will find the shortcomings frustrating enough that it simply won’t be worth the effort—and file size—to stick with it.