GodziLAB, of iBlast Moki fame, have taken an entirely new direction with their newest App Store venture, sizing up the portable online scene for a monster slam dunk. Star Dunk [App Store] is a frantically paced, competitive basketball shoot-out, where your task is to score more points than your adversaries in a free throw competition. Graphics are reminiscent of Geometry Wars; a stellar backdrop complete with a light show of shader effects for power-ups and ball handling-- all running at a silky smooth 60 FPS on 3rd Gen iOS devices and up.
When playing Star Dunk, you first choose whether you wish to play online or offline. Either way you are immediately launched into a timed match where your objective is to carefully aim the ball's trajectory by swiping upwards with your finger. After each shot, the location of your next shot is reset to somewhere new. The key to obtaining bonus' and power-ups are through the backboard. When all four panels on the backboard are hit, they'll randomly select a bonus that applies for a limited time. Bonus' include score multipliers, larger rings and multi-balls.
To obtain the really big multipliers however, you'll need to hit a swish-- nothing but net, and that's not easy. Consecutive 'extra clean shots' really ramp up your score, and are key to victory. Star Dunk also features a number of balls to unlock, all with different properties such as speed, bounciness and size. Some of the rarer unlocks have additional properties that add to the score multiplier in certain instances, and can be used to propel your score even higher. These help personalize the gameplay a bit, and add to the game's longevity as some of the more powerful balls take a considerable amount of effort (and sheer luck) to unlock their related achievement.
One other notable feature that we really liked about Star Dunk was how it handles its online match-making. If you choose to play online from the start screen you are thrown into a practice match, and a counter begins to the next online contest. The contest then begins seamlessly, synchronously matching each player against each other in a contest against the clock. Individual scores are then displayed in a ladder once the time is up. There are no lobbies to worry about and no visible connection screens. It was the smoothest integration of online gameplay we have seen, even over 3G. The downside to this seamlessness is that we were unable to directly play against friends, though the game's description alludes to the possibility.
There are other small touches that show the efforts Godzilab have gone to, to make Star Dunk stand out as an online game. Though you can't see your player's actions during a match-up, the Earth in the background will occasionally rotate to find just where your opponent is, neatly displaying their current score and position along side it. An arrow indicator on the top right of the screen also shows how you're faring in the contest; whether you are raising in rank, declining or stagnant compared to your competition.
These touches help make Star Dunk something more than just the simple basket shooter. The competitive nature of the game gives extra incentive to unlock the gamut of Plus+ achievements and their rewards, and the global ranking system constantly updates you on your progress compared to the rest of the world. What we would have liked to see is a way to compete against friends directly (and if it is possible, a more apparent way to do so) and a more detailed explanation of scoring that the current tutorial doesn't offer. In any case, Star Dunk is an entertaining take on a popular sport that should have the competitive types champing at the bit for a long time to come.
Note: The developers have reported that there is a bug resulting in crashes on OS 3.0 and 3.1. An update is already in submission to Apple to address these issues.
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