‘NBA Jam’ Review – Boomshakalaka!

Through the annals of video game history, there is one sports game that stands out above the rest as one of the greatest arcade and home console experiences of all time. “NBA Jam.” In the 1990s, it blended over-the-top arcade-style gameplay with both competitive and co-op play to create a uniquely appealing crossover title that basketball fans and their friends could enjoy. It’s been 17 years since the original was released, and now EA has taken a stab at rejuvenating this classic by taking a novel approach: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Basics

“NBA Jam” has always kept its rules and presentation simple and straightforward: it’s 2-on-2 b-ball, no fouls, no out of bounds, really no rules at all except for the shot clock and goal tending. The new game keeps the gameplay in tact, and really expands on the game modes offered. In addition to the standard arcade and campaign modes, there’s also a remixed tour, which changes up the rules of the game, and significantly adds to the amount of gameplay offered.

The Highs

Classic Gameplay
One of the best things about a new “NBA Jam” game is that this one actually feels like an old “NBA Jam” game. Over the years many games have tried to replicate the feeling of the classic 2-on-2 games by changing up the formula to try to appeal to new players, but this is the first game to really get it right, and they barely needed to do anything. The nice thing about the changes that were made to the overall gameplay, outside of the fluid animations, is that this title doesn’t require that you have friends over, as it offers a glut of content for those solo “Jam” fans out there.

Remixed Tour
Outside of the game’s campaign, there is a secondary mode that allows you to work your way through each of the game’s teams by competing with them three different times, playing three different types of games. Instead of straight 2-on-2 action, the Remixed Tour offers numerous different types of match ups, everything from 1v1 Boss Battles to 1v1v1v1 Elimination games. There’s even a match type that has you defending your backboard from dunks as you try and shatter your opponents’. Each mode is an enjoyable take on arcade basketball, and should have players spending hours working their way through the whole tour.

One of the defining aspects of the original “NBA Jam” was its abundance of Easter Eggs and hidden characters that could be found at virtually every turn, and the updated game is no different. From the game’s outset, you’ll be unlocking everything from players to modes and you won’t be through for a long time. One notable difference is the game’s Jam Challenges menu that’s selectable via the game’s title screen that actually breaks down how to unlock certain characters, and even goes so far as to name whom you’ll be awarded with for completing each challenge.

The Lows

Where’s The Online?
Of all the things that “NBA Jam” has in common with its predecessors, the lack of online is the most upsetting. In today’s day and age, it’s a necessity for a competitive game like this to offer the ability to be able to showcase your skills against another human being whenever you want to. Fortunately, “NBA Jam” has always been at its most satisfying when you can actually see the face of the person you just dunked on, but that’s more of a rational than anything else. This is perhaps the biggest strike against the game, so much so that it might be worth the wait for the 360 or PS3 games to drop.

Motion Controls
Maybe I’m a purist, but it seems like “NBA Jam”’s name should be added to a long list of games that have had the Wii’s motion controls shoehorned into them just because that was the system that it was being released on. On the plus side, at least the controls work fairly well, but they’re unnecessary, especially when the game thankfully supports the Classic Controller. The downside of that support is that the team didn’t remap the majority of the onscreen buttons that drive the menus to the correct face buttons on the Classic Controller. Sometimes it’s the little things that get overlooked.

Stuck with the same team
While it’s easy to see the reasoning behind it, it’s still frustrating to have to play through both the campaign and the Remix Tour with just one team. While you are able to select different players from that team, it would have been nice to mix things up as it tends to get a little monotonous always driving the lane with Lebron James, every time.

The Verdict

Outside of not including online play, it looks like the team at EA Canada got just about everything right from the classic series, fixing a lot of the problems that the originals had (this game’s announcer is somehow less annoying), and adding hours of gameplay to a once very shallow title. Over the years the series has become diluted and the name has been tarnished, but hopefully this title can usher in a new generation of satisfying arcade basketball games under the once mighty “NBA Jam” moniker.