Review: bit ballers29 Jan 2019 5
Review: bit ballers
Released 12 Jan 2019
March Madness is almost upon us, and in celebration of this magical time of the year Christopher Dixon has release a tiny little college hoops game designed for casual play. But does it go the distance? The pixel graphics are cute and communicative with a minimum of animation. It would be nice if uniform numbers could have been squeezed into there somewhere, since it's otherwise necessary to keep track of your players based on hairstyle and skin tone (of which there are an impressive variety!). I loved the rim-shattering NBA Jam-esque dunks. The music is great as well: exciting and never annoying.
I do worry a little that the game will get hit with a cease and desist from some of the more litigious universities, who can be very protective of their colors and names. It appears some changes have been made to avoid this: Duke is called "Durham" on the schedule, but DUK on the scoreboard. Of course, the players' names are randomly generated, not reflecting actual team rosters. Still though, you've got 87 "real" teams in seven conferences, so one of your favorites is bound to be in there.
On the court, after the tip-off, your three players will distribute themselves around the three-point line, and based on your chosen strategy of focusing on twos, threes, or a mix of them both, will shuffle around to try to lose their defender or make a drive on the basket. All you get to do is tap a button to make them shoot, or they'll hold on until the shot clock runs out. If they catch the rebound, you can try again. Otherwise, you'll wait for the AI players to run down to your side of the court and do the same. Unfortunately, you don't get any input into how your squad plays defense. That means you'll spend half your time watching your opponent pass the ball around until you get your chance to go for the score again.
Players get fatigued over time, especially as they get bumped, blocked, or robbed by the opposition. When a player gets too tired, they are swapped out for your single benchwarmer. That's a good opportunity to tweak your strategy, encouraging your players to shoot more threes or twos, or a little of both. That's the only other input you get into the game.
Games only last three minutes, but that's about a minute too long to play with so little interactivity. In the end, you're just watching for likely opportunities to make a shot and keeping an eye on the makeup of your team so you can switch strategies if, for example, your three-point star gets swapped out for a dribble driver. If you're looking for a game that you can engage with regularly every ten seconds or so, this might work for you. From the main menu, you can just pair off any two teams for a quick scrimmage, but the more robust gameplay is found in the coach mode - but even here it is simplified too far.
Coach mode sets up a season including a championship tournament. You have some control over the makeup of your team, but just like on the court, this control is sorely limited. Your team is made up of only four players, which keeps one on the bench at the start of a game.
Player skills are pretty much limited to defense, two-pointers, and threes, and each player also has a star rating. They get better over the years, but you'll lose your players when they graduate (And hopefully get picked up by the majors! After each game, you can bench your most tired player and try to woo a star high-schooler to your school for the next season. At the end of the season, you get to pick up the players that have the strongest affinity for your school. Over time, you're building a team with complementary skills, and hopefully one that won't graduate all at once.
Thus, in just a few paragraphs, I've described every possible thing you can do in the game. No secrets remain. What's there is good: on-court gameplay makes sense and is balanced, and coach mode provides some level of strategy. However, it's just not enough, unless you're after something to play with one hand while you are doing something else.
The developer seems to be very active in responding to player feedback and planning future features. I haven't played his previous micro-sports manager Mini Matchday, an association football game, but that previous effort clearly has a lot more going on than Bit Ballers, including a greater ability to control your team's makeup and on-field strategy. With time, Bit Ballers may develop into something really interesting. Adding defensive options and more depth to players (like training, for example) would be a great start.
Right now, Bit Ballers is exactly what it says on the box: a tiny college basketball simulator. It doesn't have enough depth to recommend broadly, but for a basketball fanatic looking for something to play on the subway, it will do well.