This review originally appeared on PSPMinis.com back on June 25, 2012. Read my Postmortem about that website, soon.
I’ve had brief nostalgic attacks while playing Top Trumps NBA All Stars, and it is not because it’s an NBA game but because of the nature of Top Trumps card games. I did play some of them back in the mid-90s. My playmates and I really didn’t know how to play those things; we just compared stats like the least number of miles per hour (we had an F1 race car set) or the longest scientific names (we also had the African wildlife one).
I never understood how to play the games, and with that compounded by the fact that I was not interested in their subject matter, I took no time to learn them. In Top Trumps NBA All Stars’ case, the gameplay mechanics are almost the same as how we treated Top Trumps cards years back, except for some additional rules and being a “basketball game.” Top Trumps NBA All Stars feels personally heaven-sent to me, since Take Two has no plans of releasing an NBA 2K game for the Vita, same goes for every other video game developer apparently.
As I’ve mentioned, the core gameplay of Top Trumps NBA All Stars is all about stat-comparing. It is difficult for me to break down the mechanics, because I might end up writing a manual on how to play the game. There is no software manual included with the game, so you’d better ready yourself for a long DIY session if you are planning to purchase this one.
This Mini is more of a turn-based card game than a basketball game, but there are heavy basketball elements integrated within the Top Trumps mechanics. You and your opponent will have to fight for the tip (by pressing X when the ball goes up in the air in a rather cartoony animation), just like in basketball. There are time limits, a game time clock and a shot clock, with the latter being a time constraint for the player’s turn in making decisions. Players must choose stats to be compared with the opponent. Stats include height, free throw percentage, scoring average, assist average, rebound average and number of playoff games played. Of course, the larger the number, the better, and whoever wins the match-up will win the possession.
Player cards are randomly assigned during the game. So if Chris Paul appears in your hand, you must never choose his height as the stat you would like to compare with your opponent. You choose his assist average. Decisions like that are crucial.
The basketball part in this card game lies in how the session is played. For every match-up win, the winning player will have possession of the ball (after a brief comic book-like cutscene). As long as you can retain possession, you move forward to your basket until you shoot for it. The more you lose, the more your opponent progresses toward his basket and vice versa.
The gameplay mechanics are not as simple as I laid out above. It’s just that there are so many more complex things going on that I couldn’t reduce them all into words. And truthfully, not that I’m lazy, that would be so tiring. It took me several days to write this review, grappling with words; how can I put the gameplay down without writing over 2000 words?
If you are an NBA fan, this game is rather interesting and novel, and pretty amazing. But if you are not, please steer clear, as the game focuses entirely on NBA minutiae. My biggest complaint about this game is its outdated roster. Chauncey Billups is still with the New York Knicks, and weirdly, the player stats seem to have been taken during this season, albeit in the middle of this very season, so you have guys like Dirk Nowitzki averaging 17 points per game. The stats are also inconsistent, with Shaq having a point average of 24 per game, which is his entire career average rather than this season. Not to mention the fact, that he retired this season.
On the Vita screen, you can actually conclude that the graphics and art are immensely beautiful because it all looks good even with the pixelated and stretched-out nature (even with all the bilinear filtering turned on). You can turn off the music since it is an endless loop of Sim City 4-like BGM.
There are several modes packaged into this Mini: a full-blown Season Mode (with trading and stuff), Quick Play, multiplayer (Pass and Play), and mini-games. The mini-games are ridiculous as a whole since they are just things like a tip-off game, a free throw shooting game (which alone offers more entertainment than Free Shot Frenzy—though that is not saying much), and a game of spinning a ball on your fingertip. Yes, spinning a ball. But there is also this mini-game within the Mini (Minception?) that is rather nice of Ideas Pad to include, a match game featuring NBA logos that gets more complicated as you progress. There are only a few seconds added to your timer for every level you complete, and each successive level is much more difficult due to the greater number of cards to be flipped up—which means speed runners would love that mini-game!
Top Trumps NBA All Stars is a good service to NBA fans who are PSP/Vita owners also. In fact, if you need an NBA fix for your PSP/Vita, buy this. This is far more entertaining than what you can get from those hideous Live and 2K ports. I’d beg the devs to at least update the rosters and make the stats consistent across the board, because this game is all about stats, and the careless treatment for these is the only thing I don’t like about this Mini.