words & images Zac Dubasik

If you played in the early shoes to utilize Lunar Foam, such as the first Hyperdunk and Zoom Kobe IV, the thought of a Lunar basketball shoe may be unsettling, from a durability standpoint. While those shoes are both pushing “classic” status for many fans today, the biggest complaint of both, performance wise, was the borderline disposability of their forefoot Lunar Foam cushioning. A noticeable breakdown of cushioning started after the first couple wearings. The fact that foam breaks down is just something inherent to the material. Pretty much any foam will break down over time. But the speed in which that original Lunar Foam became dead was just unacceptable.

So, if you are skeptical at the thought of a Hyperfuse 2011-esque model, utilizing Lunar-based cushioning, it’s understandable. The good news though is that those original shoes to utilize Lunar Foam used a small drop-in forefoot pod, while the Lunar Gamer utilizes a much larger full-length unit. Nike has also since re-engineered the resilient foam compound since the last time we saw it, which was in 2009 with the Hyperize. Throughout my few weeks of Lunar Gamer wearings, to my surprise, the breakdown was minimal. Is it better than any other foam, such as Phylon? That’s the real question. With durability concerns fading, the biggest question is just how good is a full-length Lunar-based cushioning compared to, say, Phylon?

From a weight perspective, Lunarlon is clearly a step above Phylon. According to Nike, it’s 30% lighter. And in an era of hoops shoes being defined by going as light as possible, the ability to cut that much weight out of a midsole is a clear win. Interestingly though, the overall shoe is heavier than the Hyperfuse 2011, which uses Phylon. As far as how it feels, the difference is very perceivable. The Lunar Gamer feels higher off the ground, but is much softer than the Hyperfuse. The good news is that despite its higher stance, the compromise to court feel is minimal. It’s definitely not as good as the Hyperfuse when it comes to court feel, but the Lunar Gamer makes up for it in the cushioning department. I’d say it falls somewhere in between Max Air, which I feel offers a firm feel and too much compromise to court feel, and the aforementioned Zoom Air and Phylon midsole of the Hyperfuse.

Another positive aspect of the Lunar Gamer’s tooling is the TPU support shank, which is much more substantial than that found in the Hyperfuse 2011. The overall transition is very smooth, yet supportive at the same time. One criticism of the tooling, which doesn’t necessarily affect performance, is the finishing where it meets the outsole. Part of this is probably inherent to the material of the upper, but regardless, it looks pretty shabby on a $110 shoe. For the price, I’d like to see a bit more attention to detail and quality. The last element of note on the tooling is the outsole. When I first saw the traction pattern, I had great expectations based on the sheer volume of herringbone. Upon further inspection, you’ll find varying widths and flex points built in by modifying the height of the tread, without actually breaking the pattern. Thanks to those high expectations, I was actually a little let down once I got it on court. My first run in them was pretty unremarkable. Not bad at all – good even – but not the epic level of stickiness and hold I had hoped for. Over the next couple of wearings, however, it got better and better. It never quite reached that top level, but the full herringbone pattern is still great.

Moving to the shoe’s upper, you find a look, feel and construction similar to that of the Hyperfuse line. There is much more of that outermost layer of material than the more open panel construction seen in other models though. While large mesh windows break through the upper of the Hyperfuse in several splashes, there is far less ventilation in the Lunar Gamer. Other than the tongue, the only perfs are found in the Swoosh itself on the lateral side, and in the midfoot panel surrounding the Swoosh on the medial side. While that’s not great to start with, it gets even worse when you take into account the partial-sleeve tongue construction covers at least two-thirds of those perforations from the inside, minimizing their usefulness.

The zonal padded tongue itself is very similar to the Hyperfuse though, and outstanding. It is a concept that almost any performance shoe could benefit from. If there’s one thing that always bothers me on a shoe, it’s having too much lace pressure. The way this shoe combats that issue is through the use of targeting the exact points where the laces cross, and fusing additional padding between the layers of the tongue. This allows the tongue to be paper thin throughout the rest of its length, which aids both weight and fit, but doesn’t compromise protection. It’s basically a benchmark for me when it comes to performance hoops.

Stylistically, there are some slight differences in the collars of the Hyperfuse 2011 and Lunar Gamer, but they have very similar fits. Heel lockdown isn’t the best ever, but when fully laced, was solid and dependable. And as with other Fuse-based uppers, I felt locked tightly over the footbed on cuts. My biggest issue with the upper – which I found much more troublesome than the lack of breathability, was the shoe’s flexpoint. Thanks to the thick synthetics, and lack of segmentation, I had constant discomfort with the flex. It wasn’t a deal breaker, and I’m sure different foot structures will have different experiences, but it made for a less pleasant playing experience than I would have liked.

There’s no doubt that the Lunar Gamer shares many similarities to the Hyperfuse 2011, but it does have enough unique traits to warrant a separate model. If you are a player looking for more cushioning than the Hyperfuse offers, the Lunar Gamer provides a nice balance of support and impact protection. If you want maximum cushioning, definitely look towards a Max Air-based shoe. For maximum responsiveness, look for a heel and forefoot Zoom Air-based shoe like the Zoom Hyperdunk 2011. If you feel Max Air is too much of a compromise when it comes to court feel and transition though, the Lunar Gamer offers a great middle ground. It’s not without its issues, but for players looking for that mid-level of cushioning, in a durable team package, the Lunar Gamer is a very good shoe worth checking out.

best for: players of most positions looking for more maximum cushioning

colorway tested: White / Varsity Red / Black

key tech: Lunarlon cushioning; Fuse construction

pros: transition; durability; traction

cons: unnatural flex point; lack of breathability; finishing quality

improvements: alter pattern of upper to create more natural (and less painful) flex point; more perfs in upper for better breathability

buying advice: As good as Zoom Air is, foam-based cushioning offers a viable alternative. Flex-point issues hurt the shoe’s comfort, but not enough to overlook the positives of the cushioning, traction and transition. For players looking for a durable team shoe, the Lunar Gamer is definitely worth a look.

Available now: Nike Lunar HyperGamer