Box Score is a weekly column that offers a look at sports games and
the athletic side of the industry from the perspective of veteran
reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.
As a guy who
travels the country a lot, my iPad, iPhone and 3DS are constant companions.
Between the three devices, I’ve got everything I could possibly want to
communicate and be entertained. The phone is my hub – calls, texts, tweets,
camera, and music – while the tablet is a go-to device for watching shows and
reading books. When it’s time for real gaming, I bust out the 3DS for a Mario
or Pushmo fix.
massive hole in that equation, though. While dozens of quality stat-based management
and bite-sized novelty sports titles are available, good sports simulations are
virtually nonexistent on any of them. This became painfully evident the past
few weeks. On several flights across the country, I dove deep into the “best”
of what the iPad has to offer in the genre (three $10 “big name” titles) and
experienced something I’ve never felt before – relief at being told to power
down my portable electronics for landing.
middle America, I careened from game to game on my iPad with growing
disillusionment. I started off with Madden 12 HD, which wound up being a
disastrous choice. If you haven’t seen the game in action, don’t bother trying.
It’s one thing for a game to be poorly built – between the hideous visuals and
the need to press the “slow motion” button to actually execute a play, that
part is covered – but another one entirely to exact $10 from your customers for
this “experience.” I guarantee you many thousands of gamers just like me bought
Madden for the iPad expecting (at worst!) a decent game worthy of a few hours
of time. Instead, they got arguably the worst mobile game available on the
My mood set
to foul, I headed next to NBA 2K12 HD. While it’s immediately better than
Madden, it’s only a marginal gain. There’s a lot less happening onscreen, so
you can actually follow what’s going on. I guess that’s a bonus, but it’s still
nowhere close to a substitute for a full-fledged hoops title, thanks to the
slippery controls and PS1-era visuals. 2K12 deserves a pat on the back for
including the full Jordan Challenge, to be sure. However, the iPad Jordan
doesn’t look anything like His Airness does in real life, and within a couple
of games I was ready to be done with the whole thing.
Above: This does NOT look like MJ!
Up next was FIFA
12 HD, which was immediately the superior title. Not only does it look
significantly better in action than the others, it also plays fairly well. The
development team smartly implemented touch controls in spots for things like
choosing your target for corner kicks, which makes something I find incredibly
random in the console game much better. FIFA offers a franchise mode that, at first
glance, appears to have some depth to it; roster management, multi-year goals,
and a demanding board of directors are all part of the process. Even so, the
core of the gameplay remained clunky due to the controls.
course, lies the only real problem with mainstream sports games on tablets – the
inability for virtual joysticks and buttons to replace the traditional physical
controller. With no sense of location,
my left hand continually slips off of the directional pad while my right is
never exactly sure what button to press, or exactly where they are. While I’m
sure if I spent a few hours practicing I would get more comfortable, it doesn’t
change the fact that learning an entirely new way to fundamentally play a
sports game is the last thing any of us want.
I need to
flick real sticks and press actual buttons.
next choice is my 3DS, which actually has these things. Sadly, it’s all but
barren of sports titles. Other than a handful of pretty good soccer franchises
(PES and FIFA), there’s nothing of value; the Madden launch title is abysmal,
and there are no baseball, basketball, or hockey games at all. Sports games
were notoriously poor on its predecessor, so I’m not expecting a sudden change
of course, the Vita. Launching next week, I’m pinning all my hopes squarely on
its back. As a guy who’s desperate for some quality mobile sports games, I’ve
pre-ordered the system along with FIFA, Virtua Tennis, and MLB The Show. My
travel schedule only gets more hectic this spring and summer, and I can’t wait
to finally be able to play these games the “right” way – and, in the case of
MLB The Show, transfer my progress between the Vita and my PS3. It’s an
expensive proposition, but considering the usage I plan on getting out of it,
it may wind up being worth it.
So for now,
I’ll keep using my iPhone, iPad, and 3DS for what they’re best at, and add a
fourth machine to my rotation next week. It’s one more item to carry and one
more charger to bring, but the payoff should be worth the hassle. Or so I hope.
Richard Grisham has been
obsessed with sports and video games since childhood, when he'd routinely
create and track MicroLeague Baseball seasons on paper. He currently lives in
New Jersey with his wife and four-year old son, who he'll soon be training to
be an NFL placekicker. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has
appeared in GamesRadar, NGamer, and 1UP.