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NBA Jam

 

NBA Jam

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Sports
 
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8.1
 
Author:

Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA

Features:

Players: 1-4
Co-op: 2-4
356 KB to save game
HDTV: 720p/1080i/1080p
Online Multiplayer: 2-4
Leaderboards

I loved NBA Jam back in the day. From playing it in the arcades to playing it at home, I played quite a bit of this crazy arcade basketball. I do admit I am not the biggest NBA follower, but the arcade fan in me loved the two-on-two style of play. I played a lot on the Sega Genesis as well as the original PlayStation. For those trivia buffs out there, the original PlayStation version, from Acclaim, was launched at the same time as the first PlayStation was launched, but there was a glitch in the game. It was programmed in such a way that the easiest skill setting was actually the hardest skill setting and vice-versa. I only found this out after the fact, and it indeed explained a lot of my frustration. Fast forward to this generation of consoles....EA has acquired the rights to NBA Jam and they have resurrected the name, game, and experience. The game has already been released on the Wii, and since NBA Elite was canceled, they have now released stand alone versions for the Xbox 360 and PS3. Well I had a chance to play the final retail version for the Xbox 360 and after a few extended play sessions I have to say “welcome back NBA Jam.”

Graphics

The transition to HD has been good to NBA Jam. The detail and clarity is great to watch, as everything moves smooth, fast, and there are lots of special effects (e.g. fire trail on ball). There can be some craziness on the court as players push, shove, and run amok, and the in-game engine handles it all with ease. Arenas are well detailed and there is a lot more crowd movement than I expected. As for the players, the over the top facial expressions are crazy and make for a true NBA Jam experience. Seeing the familiar faces of the basketball world look as crazy as they do has a bit of charm given it is not something you see on a regular basis. Overall EA Canada did a good job with the visuals.

Sound

One of the biggest memories of NBA Jam was the commentating. Such classics as “Boomshakalaka!” and “He’s on Fire!” are only two such sayings that became infamous with the arcade basketball experience. And that voice, the voice associated with the commentating is just as memorable as the words spoken. Well EA knew that in order to keep that experience alive they would have to replicate this voice, and not only did they do that, they actually brought back the original guy who did the commentating. Tim Kitzrow is back to voice all the classic lines, as well as new ones, even ones created by fans. It was so good to hear that voice again as it only reinforces the whole experience. As for the rest of the sound effects, from the sound of the half time horn, to the sound of a ball ‘swooshing’ through the net - all of them sound great, especially in Dolby Digital. If I had any one complaint it would be that the music is a recurring track that loops over and over again. I think that EA should have included a custom soundtrack option.

Gameplay

NBA Jam is not your typical sports game. Although you will be playing with authentic NBA players, on authentic NBA teams, the traditional NBA rules have been thrown out the window. This is the way the game played when it was out in the early 90’s, and this is the way it is played now. Your goal is to win, at almost any cost. Although the majority of rules are not imposed, there are two main ones that you cannot ignore. You still have to abide by the shot clock, and goaltending is a definite no-no. Beyond those two rules pretty much anything else goes.

Given that the original concept of NBA Jam has not changed, you take control of a team of two players, and of course your opponent will consist of two other players. As you start your game you will be able to choose from three players from your team of choice, and you will unlock more as you play. What is great about the fact that it is a two vs. two arcade style game is that the skill of each team is not paramount. The main gameplay element is to score using high flying dunks, long distance fade shots, and some pretty nice alley-oops. Although the skill of your team is part of the equation, given the arcade nature of the gameplay the skill factor is not particularly important, so feel free to choose any team you want as you can be competitive with pretty much anyone.

Although the game does emphasize high flying offense, defense is also a key to winning in this game, either against the computer AI or another human opponent. This plays a bigger role than some might expect. From shoving the opposing player to the floor, timing a jump to block a shot, to swiping at a pass stopping it from going down court, a well implemented defense will help you in your efforts to come out on top. Trust me, the first time you time a jump and block a 30 foot 3-point shot attempt it is very very satisfying, and this feeling continues each time you do it. In many ways that is the beauty of this game, the reward of feeling so satisfied when you pull all your skills together to go on a long string of wins.

EA Canada has made a valiant attempt to improve upon the old NBA Jam formula. There are some new modes made just for this modern version. Along with the Classic Campaign, where you take your team on a journey through all other 29 NBA Teams, there is a new Remix Mode, which is very similar to the Classic Campaign, but it throws a few unexpected turns in an attempt to spice up the gameplay. There are two new half-court modes as well. 21 and Domination are interesting as you play from a different perspective in a half court game, but they just don’t have the same excitement as the first two modes I mentioned. There is also a new Boss Battle mode. This mode has some of the greatest b-ball players that have played the game. You must beat them, but these legends are given special powers, and this can be quite unfair. I found myself frustrated more often than not and it was as fun as I hoped. Finally there is a new mode called Smash Mode, where only dunks count towards your score. The only issue with this mode is that after seeing all the various dunks, you may come to tire of this mode. Overall I give some credit to EA by adding more to the single player experience.

With NBA Jam, is not just about gameplay. There are a bunch of unlockables and hidden goodies for you to open up or find. This fact alone extends the replay value. You unlock NBA Legends of all sorts and new arenas to play in. But wait, there is more. You can also unlock mascots, sports hosts, and even politicians. There are also modes to unlock as well such as the famed big head mode. Overall there are lots of secrets for you to find, and this will give you more reason to play.

Given the arcade nature of the game, the controls are pretty simple and utilize a nice combination of buttons. There are not a whole lot of things to worry about given that you only need to pass, shoot, jump, block, push, and swipe at passes. Overall I think that most people will be able to handle the control scheme. As for the computer AI, as you ramp up the skill level it can get pretty tough. I also noted the higher the skill the more ‘rubber band’ type of AI it had to keep the game close or enable them to win. All in all the AI could be frustrating at times, but it can still be fun nonetheless.

NBA Jam is also the perfect multiplayer experience. From playing against a friend(s) in the same room, to playing online over Xbox LIVE (the Wii version was not online compatible), this game excels at bringing multiplayer experiences home. Being able to play any of the modes you’d play at home with friends online, and being able to play cooperative online as well, is awesome. Overall there is a lot you can do in the multiplayer arena. There is nothing like taking on the computer AI with a friend, or going head-to-head against friends and being able to lay the smalktalk down. This game is really geared for a person-to-person experience and EA Canada delivered in spades here.


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