Despite writing extensively about the greatest sports video game athletes, I am not one you would call a sports gamer. Tracking stats, and jockeying for playoff spots is insta-snooze from my point of view. I’ve always been more partial to sillier endeavors such as Tecmo Super Bowl and Mutant League Football, titles that have more liberal interpretations of the sports on which they’re based. They feature accessible controls and fun, over-the-top action that appeals to audience that wouldn’t normally pick up a sports simulation title. That’s why EA Sports’ NBA Jam for iPad is most excellent. It’s missing some modes found in the NBA Jam console releases, but makes up for it in other ways.
The $4.99 NBA Jam for iPad keeps the fundamentals that made old NBA Jam an arcade quarter-muncher in the ’90s, courtesy of Creative Director Trey Smith and original Jam Lead Designer/Lead Programmer Mark Turmell who served as a consultant. It’s a two-on-two hoops game that strips away the less action-packed basketball elements, except for goal tending and the 24 second violation: It’s all about backboard-shattering dunks, long-range threes, monster blocks, shoves, and “He’s on Fire!” There are two virtual control setups: a traditional virtual D-pad and virtual control set up which I find clunky as you have to “press” the buttons against the iPad’s glass. The other is swipe-based, which is far more intuitive.
Playing the game with four players (local over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi) is one of the most thrilling and smack-talkingest experiences you’ll have in video game form: throwing ‘bows, executing killer crossovers, alley-oops, and setting the net on fire after hitting three in a row never get old thanks to the fast pace and crisp controls. Playing vs. the CPU, however, is an exercise in futility when the fourth quarter hits, particularly on harder difficulty levels. The computer-controlled opponents go on a shove and steal spree, doing whatever it takes to rip the rock from your paws. Deft passing will allow you to over come this, but you have to be damn near perfect–I’ve seen huge leads dwindle thanks to multiple last-period turnovers.
NBA Jam for iPad lacks the console versions’ Remix Tour, schoolyard favorite “21,” Boss Battles, and more. But in exchange you get updated rosters. For example, Carmello Anthony is a Knickerbocker. Playing though Classic Campaign unlocks lots of classic players (the Knicks combo of Ewing and Stoudemire is GODLY). NBA Jam for iPad supports in-app purchases that unlock a good deal of the hidden booty.
Classic NBA Jam announcer Tim Kitzrow brings his wacky commentary to this version, complete with some hilarious new lines that I won’t spoil here. The soundtrack on the other hand isn’t quite as stellar; it’s a fairly generic hip hop tracks. I wish NBA Jam had a truly iconic theme worthy of its lineage and place in video game history.
NBA Jam features a unique visual style combines elements of both yesterday and today. The character models consist of high-resolution 3D polygons that include high-resolution 2D photographs mapped onto the heads. The effect works wonderfully; character models move fluidly, but have a slightly-less-than-realistic appearance that separates it from its simulation brethren. Even the backgrounds contain this throwback arcade look–the cheerleaders, mascots, and celebrating teammates are deliberately given a digitized look and slightly herky-jerky movements that recalls the graphics of the original–a very nice touch.
When gamers and reviewers discuss their iPad Game of the Year, NBA Jam for iPad deserves a mention as it summarizes what makes video games great: pure, unadulterated fun.