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. 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 are based.
That’s why EA Canada’s planned attempt to resurrect NBA Jam caught my attention when it was announced earlier this year. It was mixed emotion–I was simultaneously excited at the return of an arcade hoops legend, while also dismayed at how the license would be potentially treated. After playing NBA Jam for weeks, I can say that not only is NBA Jam back, but it’s even better than what I imagined a great, updated NBA Jam could dare achieve, and one of the most entertaining and exciting games of 2010.
New NBA Jam 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, and “He’s on Fire!”
Playing the game with four players 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 gets old thanks to the fast pace and crisp controls. Playing the CPU, however, is an exercise in futility when the fourth quarter hits. 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.
And that’s just the Classic Campaign. NBA Jam also contains several robust alternate modes that add to the slick package. Remix Tour has the schoolyard favorite “21,” an elimination mode for 3-4 players, and more; Boss Battles let you go one-on-one with a NBA superstar in unusual matches; Jam Camp teaches you the fundamentals. These are just the tip of the Jam iceberg. Playing these modes unlocks lots of goodies, and they’re quite enjoyable to boot. They really make this title worthy every penny.
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 that manages to borrow elements from both today and yesterday. 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 picks for game of the year, AAA titles such as God of War III, Red Dead Redemption, and Gran Turismo 5 will likely dominate the choices. NBA Jam 2010 deserves mention with these greats as it summarizes what makes video games great: pure, unadulterated fun.