In the past, the relationship between publisher THQ Wireless and developer Lavastorm Engineering has proven to be a fruitful one. They made a hit home-run derby game in 2004 that relied on a simple one-button-press gameplay scheme, real players, and scads of options to carry the day. NBA All-Star 3-Point Shootout, which will be rolled out around the NBA All-Star Weekend, midway though next month, uses a similar blueprint: Keep the gameplay very simple, let mobile gamers shoot threes with their favorite players, and polish the presentation to a high sheen. It seems that this recipe will once again pay dividends, given how solid the game is looking a month out from launch.
3-Point Shootout is positively drowning in gameplay modes and options, ensuring that even the most exacting three-point enthusiasts will find a surfeit of long-distance shooting here. You can set up a quickplay match to participate in a one-off competition against two random players, or you can set more comprehensive parameters in the exhibition and tournament modes. Exhibitions are straightforward contests between two players of your choosing, while the elimination-style tournaments start out with eight players and are gradually winnowed to a shootout between the two best marksmen. If you like, you can also use the practice mode to work on your jumper from any of the five shooting spots beyond the arc. In any case, you'll have a roster of 60 NBA players from past and present to choose from--including 20 "legends" such as Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, and Pete Maravich. Just for giggles, the developers have also made Shaq and Yao Ming available, in case you ever feel like bricking a bunch of shots. All the players' basic statistics have been built into the game's engine, so don't expect a shot-blocking center to fill up the hole from 24 feet out.
Successfully shooting three-pointers involves the carefully timed use of the action key, and nothing else. One press grabs your next ball, a subsequent press and hold sends your player up for the shot, and the release sends the rock flying towards the basket. The closer you are to the apex of your jump when you release, the more accurate you'll be. The rules of the game are true to the real-life contest. There are five racks of five balls positioned around the floor, and the last ball in every rack is a notorious "money ball" that counts for two points, should you put it through the hoop. You have 60 seconds to shoot all your balls, which will almost never be a problem, thanks to the game's accurate simulation of NBA shooters' quick releases. You can also enable the all-star mode, which reduces your shooting touch and also introduces a fatigue meter into the mix.
Historically, a lot of one-button mobile games have been lackluster efforts from an aesthetic standpoint. The opposite is true for 3-Point Shootout, which will provide a spectacle on the order of a trampoline-bouncing monkey mascot. For one thing, the entire game is rendered in true 3D, from the character models to the court. This means that basketballs bounce accurately and even roll to the sidelines. Also, the players were shaded very realistically on our test LG VX7000, and featured different skin tones, distinctive hair styles, and real-life numbers. The on-court effects, which you can turn off at your leisure, are gorgeous. There's a laser-light show beneath the basket that responds to your shots, a scrolling electronic banner around the upper deck that displays flames when you're "on fire," and even NBA-style rotating ads along the courtside tables. Despite this visual finery, the most impressive aspect of the game's presentation has to be its sound, which includes a digitized emcee, crowd and court noises, and a great title theme.
Lavastorm is really putting the effort in for 3-Point Shootout, and it shows. The lack of any sort of online component is inexplicable, but this game will probably still be one of the top casual basketball games available when it comes out in February. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more coverage.