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NBA Jam

Score: 82%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Local and Online)
Genre: Sports (Basketball)/ Arcade/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

I'll readily admit that, while I like to play it in person, basketball isn't really my thing. I enjoyed SNES-era NBA Live games and played more than my share of NBA Street Vol. 2 -- but modern basketball sims couldn't interest me less. Now, the fast-paced arcade stuff I can get behind. The drama surrounding the mere existence of the next-gen retail release of this year's arcade hoops reboot can stay safely away from our site. I'm just here to tell you whether NBA Jam is worth a look. And yes. It is. If you've got the basketball jones and are in the mood for a quick and potent fix, this is what you're looking for. Just don't expect a fully-featured or deep experience.

NBA Jam does full justice to the look and feel of the classic franchise. No, it's not particularly impressive from a technical standpoint -- and no, it doesn't take us back to the days when pixels wowed. Instead, serves up a delightfully retro aesthetic that is all its own. I'm mainly talking about the faces, which look like carefully-cropped photos that change to suit the occasion. New Orleans Hornet David West may have a silly slack-jawed expression on his face for most of the game, but if you launch him into the air, he instantly puts on a comically aggressive game face. This treatment has been applied to the rest of the players as well, and it gels surprisingly well with the rest of the three-dimensional animation (which is quite good, by the way). Dunks look off-the-wall insane, nets and basketballs catch fire, and backboards shatter. Like I said, it's faithful.

NBA Jam's sound design is decidedly minimalist, at least from a musical standpoint. After hearing the annoying menu screen loop five hundred times, I can say that it's for the best. Additionally, this isn't the kind of game you're going to want to play for hours upon hours on end. It's more of a quick-fix kind of game, and the leisurely gametime music is funky and catchy enough to tolerate for a good long time. Luckily enough, it doesn't end up overstaying its welcome. The rest of the game sounds decent. Slam dunks sound like cannon fire, and though the players pretty much all have the same voice, they aren't bothersome. If Tim Kitzrow were absent from the proceedings, we'd have a major problem. Luckily, the veteran announcer returns with his best performance in the franchise. Lots of his corny one-liners repeat themselves several times, but they never get old. The new ones are also great; he even manages to crack an ED joke -- in an "E" rated game, no less!


Gameplay:

NBA Jam is not a deep basketball game. If you presume otherwise, you're flat out doing it wrong. This game couldn't have less to do with the tactics and strategy of an actual basketball game. Instead, it's all about the BOOMSHAKALAKA! and HE'S ON FIRE! If you haven't ever played an NBA Jam game in your life, that previous sentence is 50% pure gibberish. In gibberish, "BOOMSHAKALAKA!" and "HE'S ON FIRE!" really only mean "Get the ball to the basket as quick as you can and don't let your opponent do the same." Sure, that's the game of basketball in a nutshell -- and NBA Jam is essentially that: basketball in a nutshell that happens to suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder.

This release of NBA Jam features a number of modes, most of which vary in terms of quality. You can progress through the Classic Campaign or partake in some Remix action. The Remix Modes are EA Canada's attempts at breathing fresh new life into what eventually turned into a one-trick pony. Collectively, these modes are a nice try, but no cigar. For example, Smash pits two teams against each other as they try to be the first to break their assigned goal's backboard. This idea might sound good on paper, but it's a shallow and contrived addition; dunks and alley-oops may cause more damage than simple jump shots, but in the end, it still feels like any other regular game type. The only difference is a bit of audio/visual flair. Domination has players vying for control over certain points in a half court. Elimination is an every-man-for-himself mode that spans a number of rounds; at the end of each round, the lowest-scoring player is eliminated. 21 is, well, 21. And finally, Remix 2v2 is classic NBA Jam action with power-ups. These additions don't really feel all that weighty or significant when compared to the meat of the game, which is almost identical to that of the original games.


Difficulty:

NBA Jam is a game that really doesn't want you to win. The more you get ahead of your opponents, the more cruel they get with their tactics. Towards the end of your games, don't be surprised when the opposing team's sole defensive tactic is knocking you down. That's just how they roll, I guess. Friendly A.I. is occasionally quite helpful, though it sometimes stares blankly into space.

Truth be told, the only way to keep your opponents at bay is to fight fire with napalm -- get even meaner with your own tactics. This sheds some light on a problem: depth perception can be a problem when you're trying to strip the ball away. Other times, you may think you're lined up properly only to have the game decide that you're not even close. Stealing and pushing attempts are extremely risky, after all, and missing your mark is always the difference between a two-point lead and a tie game.


Game Mechanics:

There are very few mechanics to speak of in NBA Jam. This gave the developers free reign to offer something everyone loves: options. You can take an Analog-Stick heavy approach, or you can stick to your trusty Face Buttons. The best part of all this? You don't have to ever switch between the two! All that being said, the controls are functional and easy to get used to, so you'll be passing, dunking, and alley-ooping in practically no time. Jump shots aren't a big deal in this game, but all you need to know that releasing at the apex of your jump always yields the best results. NBA Jam features some context-sensitive control mechanics that manage to overlap the standard scheme without being intrusive. For example, you can dictate some of the friendly A.I.'s actions. If you want to go up for an alley-oop, simply move as if you're trying to execute a straight slam dunk and hit the pass button as you take to the air.

NBA Jam is a fun arcade game -- no more, no less. The gameplay is accessible but not deep in the slightest, the backbone of the experience is a bit on the weak side, and most of the extra modes feel like afterthoughts. I'm of the opinion that this game would have been better as a less-pricey downloadable title, but you're looking for something to relieve that nostalgia itch, NBA Jam is as good as Calamine Lotion.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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