Shooting Intergalactic Hoops with StarDunk for iPhone

There’s something to be said about classic arcade games. They’re simple, nostalgic, and it’s always fun to try and beat the next guy’s high score. Of course, in the modern era, such games are less analog and tend to find themselves revamped for platforms such as the iPhone. At least that’s what developer Godzilab is doing with its Plus+ enabled, basketball-shooting space adventure, StarDunk.

Okay, so it’s not actually a “space adventure” but it does take place in orbit around Earth. It’s a simple game reminiscent of those basketball shooting arcade games, but rather than using an actual ball, players use a mere finger and some basic physics. What makes it better though, is that all of this takes place in live, synchronous matches. All the same, like any game that relies heavily on multiple players, it does run a risk of falling short of its potential.

The idea behind the game is simple enough. Players are given two minutes to score as many baskets as possible. Using their finger to drag and direct a half-arc for aiming, users try to guestimate how much force and arc is needed to make it to the spacey hoop. It does take some getting use to, but the physics are pretty accurate and it’s fairly easy to catch on (the game also gives players a full arc when they start doing poorly).

For each basket scored, points are obviously gained, with extra earned for not using the basket’s four-sectioned backboard. Curiously, this does not mean the backboard should go ignored. In addition to making shooting a bit easier, as each of the four sections are hit, they light up. Once all four are illuminated, a random power-up will be enabled such as a flaming fireball for more points or multiple balls shooting at once. As one would expect, this means there is a small tactical choice to be made when playing a round, for hitting each backboard light may require some intentional misses, but could pay off in the long run.

The most attractive, and addictive, part of StarDunk, however, is its synchronous online play. Dubbed “Contests,” a match will start every two minutes, apparently with any players currently logged in. You don’t actually see any of them shooting, but there is a nice feature that displays their names, score, and location upon the rotating globe in the background. Once the round is over, a leaderboard pops up of all participants in the Contest (there are also overall global and regional leaderboards) that not only displays their score, but where they hail from as well (we keep losing to some guy in Germany).

Unfortunately, this is where the biggest downside comes into play. As with any online game of this nature, the fun factor of the game directly correlates to the number of people playing. In truth, it’s less devastating here, as it is just as much fun to play with a few people, as it is a dozen, but with more competition, it does tend to be more enjoyable. Unlike SGN’s newer EXO-Planet Elite, iDevice, title, the synchronous multiplayer is more of an enhancement than a necessity.

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed at jumping into a contest right away, its also possible to play offline for some additional practice. However, the long list of achievements, stemming from StarDunk’s integration with the Plus+ network, are not earnable in this mode. Additionally, an equally long list of unlockable balls are also unavailable.

As a matter of fact, these different balls do add an extra level of interest to the Godzilab title. When first starting out, users get a basic ball with no special properties. Nevertheless, the more they play, the more they will unlock; each with their own unique attributes that will tailor themselves to virtually any play style.

Each of the balls are tied to some corresponding achievement and have their own stats of size, bounce, and speed that is visible via the main menu. Some examples include the Star Ball which gives four, instead of three, balls whenever one gets a multiball bonus as well as increases the chances of getting said bonus. The Ying Ball is more accurate with minimal bouncing. And then there is the Moki Ball (earned by logging into another Godzilab app, iBlast Moki), which increases points earned when a shot is scored without using the backboard. Obviously, this can give veteran players a slight edge over newer ones, but it isn’t all that noticeable. For the most part, it is the level of skill and accuracy of the player that is most apparent.

It is also worth noting that StarDunk is a game with a wonderful presentation. It may be a simple concept, but the visual effects and sound are quite gratifying, down to the slow motion close up of the player’s final shot of the round. Additionally, Godzilab does an excellent job of optimization in that the game never seems to slow down, despite how many effects might be going off.

Overall, for $0.99, StarDunk is a pretty fun time killer and a quality addition to one’s iPhone game collection. Granted, it’s a game that might not be suited for everyone, but it is a fun remake of a classic arcade title.