Review – NBA Jam
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Platform(s): Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Arcade Sports
Rating: E – Everyone
ESRB Content Descriptors: NA
Players: 1 to 4
Official site: http://nba-jam.easports.com/home.action
Purchase at: Amazon, GameStop
Please note: This is a review for the Wii version of EA Sports NBA Jam. There is scaled down version available on the Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.
The Scoop: For a lot of people, NBA Jam reminds them of pumping an endless amount of quarters into the early nineties Midway arcade machine while wearing some type of MC Hammer baggy pants. It was an original arcade sports title, where the emphasis was on fast action instead of a simulation. With fantastic gameplay and a truly funny sense of humor, it appealed to both hardcore and casual gamers, and became an instant classic.
The original Jam brings me to the mid-nineties while I was in college. Cheap food and entertainment were what was paramount back then, and for how much a PlayStation cost, it might as well have been available only on the moon. Sega Genesis games, however, were cheap and plentiful. My roommate’s Genesis was hooked up to the living room’s TV set, where it always had Mortal Kombat II or NBA Jam in its slot. Tim Kritzow’s Marv Albert impression shouting “Boom-shaka-laka!” and my personal favorite: “Tenacious D!” would fill the room for hours while supper plates with dried bits of Kraft Mac and Cheese would stay unattended in the kitchen sink.
Now, after years of subpar follow-ups on various consoles, NBA Jam is getting a proper reboot with EA Sports at the helm. Instead of messing with the original formula they have wisely returned the game back to its 2 on 2 roots and delivered a great game.
The Setup: The 2 on 2 games are the core element of NBA Jam and are what you will mostly play. Like the original game, you control one player on the court while the CPU takes care of your teammate. You can call for a pass at any time to take control of the ball if you don’t like where the CPU is going but the AI is really good at getting open for a shot or setting you up for an “Alley-Oop”. There is also a co-op option that you and a friend can use to play against the CPU.
The game recommends you start at “Jam Camp” to walk you through the motion controls using the Wii-mote with the nunchuck. Moving your player is done with the nunchuck’s analog stick, while face buttons on the Wii-mote handle passing and stealing. Like the mini basketball game in Wii Sports Resort, horizontal flicks with the Wii-mote are used for slam-dunks, jump shots and blocking. Old school purists unable to let go of the gamepad can use the classic controller or the Wii-mote on its side but I found flicking in slam-dunks worked really well.
Jam’s roots are in the quarter-eating arcade, so the games are short and fast-paced and will only take about ten to twelve minutes to play. Traditional NBA rules are thrown away save for a shot clock and goal tending so players are allowed to get physical and shove or elbow the competition. If you get three baskets in a row your player is then “on fire” and his subsequent dunks will launch him skyward for “fireball” slam-dunks until the other team scores.
What’s hot: The game looks and sounds great. With an official NBA license, all teams are represented with each having three to six players to choose from. Like the original, real photos of the player’s heads are used and now placed onto modern 3D character models allowing for more slam-dunk and Alley-Oop animations than ever before. The in game music is funky and upbeat with some decent production values that keep it from getting tiresome. Best of all, Tim Kritzow is back as the in-game commentator and has more to say than ever. My new personal favorite is “Like my wife’s top drawer, nothing but Nylon!”
EA Sports striped away the gimmicks that have hampered previous versions of Jam and brings the game’s core elements back to the forefront. The “classic campaign” is the original game with better graphics and is as fun and competitive as ever. Pulling off slam-dunks and Alley-Oops has never felt this good before.
Once the classic campaign is done, you will want to invite friends over and get them playing. Multiplayer is where this game shines and extends its play value. Up to four people can play 2 on 2 at a time and the game’s showboating presentation will bring out the trash talk from unlikely places.
The remix campaign stretches out play value as well with each NBA team having a bronze, silver, and gold challenge to beat. The challenges can be a mini-game (21, Domination, or Backboard Breaking), a 2 on 2 game that is like the classic version but with power ups, or a Boss Battle. Boss battles are 1 on 1 games played on a half court against an NBA legend. Each of these legends comes with a unique ability and some are unfairly strong. Larry Bird’s ability to make it rain 3-pointers with a single throw will have you pulling your hair out in frustration but it is very satisfying once you do beat him.
Jam has a ton of hidden Easter eggs that can be unlocked by using cheat codes and are worthy of searching the internet for. Rap stars, politicians and team mascots are all fair game in Jam’s universe and can create some wild match-ups.
What’s not: I’m not going to say NBA Jam is like a peanut butter sandwich without any jam because the remix campaign does do a lot to build on the original concept. Instead I’ll ask you to imagine you paid $100 to see Lady Gaga perform at Madison Square Garden and she only wore a T-shirt and jeans for the entire show. This game will give you the same feeling after a while since there is a lot missing from what we have become accustomed to in a sports title.
A local leader board tracks a few of your stats with only points scored, shots blocked and rebounds being recorded. EA has also decided to stick with the old school way of inputting your three initials to keep track of your profile. If you don’t pick three letters and stick with them or you do not input them correctly the game assumes you are another profile and you will not receive credit for your stats. Right now KEU instead of KEV is credited on my Wii as having the most rebounds. Cute for 1995, but not so much in 2010. A way to sync your profile to your Mii would have been preferable.
The NBA players are locked to the team they are currently with and there is no way to trade them. Understandably, each team needs to be balanced to fit the design of the single player campaigns, but why can’t I have Lebron James and Steve Nash on the same team for an exhibition match?
Most importantly, with all the effort EA put in creating a wonderful multiplayer experience and since the game is best played that way, online play is missed. Even an online leader board would be welcomed.
Final Verdict: I am going to recommend NBA Jam, even at full price because although it is missing some standard sports game elements; it does successfully bring back the core gameplay from when it was great. The single player campaign experience is thin but you will break it out for get-togethers enough times to make it a worthy addition to your collection.Review - NBA Jam,