Striding purposefully onto the App Store this past week is Slam Dunk King, a nifty little sports simulator with dreams of making it big.
And thanks to the frankly ingenious deployment of a freemium model, it might just do exactly that. Just keep a careful eye on your wallet, because there's a strong chance you're going to get hustled.
How does it play?
Have you ever known that simple, zen-like satisfaction you get when sinking a basketball through a hoop? The graceful curve of your arm, the steady concentration, the delicate movement through the air as you approach your target? No, we can't say we've ever felt it either.
Anyway, this game is an exaggerated approximation of that thrill, which you can virtually experience over and over again. And if you can bring a little bit of style to your game, you'll be earning extra points for performing tricks and combo-chains.
Calling it a sports simulator is stretching the term; your fingers are doing basketball stunts on the touchscreen that are physically impossible. Also, there's the tiny problem that bombs are being routinely flung into the court to distract you. Where exactly is this contest taking place? Libya? Iran? Texas?
In addition, there are special mascots who can introduce special power-ups when activated, like score-multipliers or a temporary freeze on bomb spawning. That's a great deal more effective than the real-life sporting mascots we've seen, who are usually middle-aged men in funny animal suits, drinking methylated spirits as they bumble around the touchline.
There are three modes of play; Time Attack, Arcade, and Sudden Death, each of them with their own, self-explanatory challenges. The better you play, the further you move up the court rankings from a lowly peasant to a glorious king, and you can earn yourself some crowns along the along the way, the in-game currency.
This last thing is important, but we'll come back to it in a minute.
Why do we like it?
First off, the game meshes together the best bits of other App Store classics like Fruit Ninja and Paper Toss. If you like objects being flung through the air and then being driven home through a target, then this is the game for you.
Secondly, it's got a distinct sense of urban style, lifted straight out of sporting movie classics like White Men Can't Jump and Hoop Dreams, with a liberal dash of Will Ferrel's Semi-Pro thrown in for good measure. The soundtrack is awesome too.
Finally, the freemium model. This is the really clever bit. In theory, if you earn enough crowns, you can unlock all of the features of the game without paying a single penny. These features are pretty attractive too, with different styles of court, balls, and mascots on offer.
The downside is that the crown-to-sterling ratio is rather piss-poor. It's tempting to save time by unlocking all the features with real cash instead, which is exactly what developers PikPok want you to do. Fiendish, isn't it?
Regardless of how you choose to proceed, Slam Dunk King is a game that easily lives up to its name. If you've ever wanted to be a baller, then you don't have to worry about being taller. Just play it on your iPad or iPhone instead.
Slam Dunk King is free on the iTunes App Store and is available for iPhone and iPad. [iTunes]