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NBA Jam

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: Arcade/ Sports (Basketball)

Graphics & Sound:

BOOM SHAKA LAKA!

After many years on hiatus and numerous false rumors, the king of the courts, NBA Jam, finally makes its triumphant return. With a new look, new controls, and ostensibly a new roster, NBA Jam is poised to make the biggest comeback of its lifetime. But is it too late for a retro title to reclaim a new audience in today's market?

Short answer: no. NBA Jam is just as great as it ever was, if not better. The artwork and presentation for NBA Jam is nothing short of exceptional. The 3D models play up the nostalgia factor, reminding us why we fell in love with a cartoonish basketball game in the first place; for the sheer ridiculousness of seeing the photo cut-outs of real life players imposed on gravity-defying super players. The blend of photo-accurate detail and silly, over-the-top animations creates a surreal experience that can't be explained until you play it. Make no mistake, this is NBA Jam through and through. While it isn't in HD on the Nintendo Wii, it still looks great and I challenge anyone to find anything wrong with the delightful visual style that makes NBA Jam so charming.

The soundtrack is much more hip-hop flavored this time around, which makes sense considering it was trying to compliment an NBA Elite sized hole in the holiday line-up. (For those that don't know, NBA Jam was supposed to be the fun party alternative on the Wii, while the 360 and PS3 were supposed to get a free downloadable voucher with their copies of the proper basketball simulator, NBA Elite. Well, Elite got put on hold and Jam is now coming out for each platform.)

All of the classic sounds that made the original arcade (and console) NBA Jam games memorable are present. The buzzers, power-ups, even the dunk sound effects bring me back to a time when I was fighting over an arcade cabinet trying to put my quarter down. Tim Kitzrow, the famous announcer, has even returned to lend his wonderful voice talent to the commentary and repeat such famous lines as "From down town!" or "Jams it in!" or "Oh my! He's on fire!" It is simply marvelous to know that so much care and effort was put into reclaiming and reliving the glory days of a weary franchise.


Gameplay:

With all the little touches still intact, it is good to see that the gameplay didn't lose anything during the process. This is exactly as you would remember NBA Jam, and if you have never played a Jam game before, you are in for a treat. It seems like a typical 2 vs. 2 basketball game at first. Turbo speed, no fouls (except goal-tending), crazy power-ups, and absolutely ridiculous dunks ensure that you have never played anything quite like NBA Jam. You can go for buzzer beaters. You can even shove your opponent onto the ground and steal the ball for an alley-oop from half-court. NBA Jam deals heavily with recreating an arcade authentic experience and when you get three friends together for some local multiplayer, words can't really describe trash-talking your best friends and then dunking on them while the ball is on fire.

But there wouldn't be much to the package if all that was offered was standard 2 vs. 2 matches. That's why NBA Jam for the Wii includes an all-new Remix Tour Mode. Remix Tour offers the fast and frantic pace of the regular games with a focus on varying game types not found in the standard Career Mode. Your team starts off in your desired division and as you progress through ranks and become the top of your division, you play each team in different half-court games that include Domination, 21, Elimination, or a full-court game of Slam where the goal is to break the opponents' backboard using only dunks.

Each game type in Remix Tour is available for quickplay from the main menu including the super tough and super fun Boss Battles found throughout the Remix Tour. These one-on-one games are incredibly imaginative and equally ludicrous. Playing against Magic Johnson proves to be one of the trickier games because as his name would imply, he uses Magic to teleport across the court. You can even go up against The Beastie Boys and unlock them for use in all game modes, which continues another long-running tradition of NBA Jam that most fans will be glad to know remains intact...

Easter eggs. NBA Jam is full of Easter eggs and unlockable cheats. It would be fitting to include a entirely separate character select screen just to house all the secret characters, which include political figures, musicians, Mark Turmel (the game's original creator), mascots, NBA legends, and even ESPN sportscasters. NBA Jam is overflowing with fan service in all directions. The game-changing cheats and options like Big-head Mode and unlimited turbo are all tracked by in-game challenges (like mini-achievements) that unlock as you work your way through the finer points of the Jam experience.


Difficulty:

The original NBA Jam is widely regarded as the first game to enact "rubber-band" A.I., which means that as you played better, the computer opponents would go into overdrive to reduce your lead and always maintain a back-and-forth flow of the game. NBA Jam on the Wii keeps that same principle and while I curse and scream and yell at the computer team for making impossible shots or pulling off ridiculously defensive maneuvers, I wouldn't have it any other way. The constant struggle is actually what makes me keep coming back.

There are adjustable difficulty settings if you find it too difficult, but the real fun is gathering up three close friends and having a free-for-all in the grandest way. The computer controlled A.I. is exceedingly smart and continuously cheats its way to victory on more than one occasion, but getting frustrated with intentionally difficult CPU teams is missing the point of what makes NBA Jam fun. Although it is a sports game which is a turn-off to some people, this is definitely one of the best party games to ever grace the Wii in a while.


Game Mechanics:

The only problem that I have with an otherwise excellent remake of NBA Jam is the control scheme. There are many different methods from the start like Classic controller support and Wii-mote only controls. The main controls using both the Wii-mote and Nunchuck are a bit cumbersome, however. The motion controls aren't overused and definitely fit appropriately with the over-the-top animated stylings that NBA Jam is known for, but the responsiveness just isn't there. Lifting the Wii-mote in the air to emulate shooting a basketball isn't always as responsive as it should be, although slamming it down for a massive dunk is satisfying. The same goes for blocks and jump balls as well; the act of lifting of the Wii-mote causes more mistakes and errors than poor game design and it is more a fault in the hardware than it is the mechanics.

NBA Jam is truly a great return to form for an ailing and misguided franchise. The controls are simple, the action is fast, and it serves as one of the best pick-up-and-play party games currently available for the system. Sometimes wonky controls and lack of online play might damper some people's excitement a bit, but that should not stop anyone else from enjoying pure, distilled fun in the form of NBA Jam. I think I'll the let Jam announcer, Tim Kitzrow, explain it for me:

"IT'S GOOOOOOOOOOD!!"
Thanks, Tim.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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