I don’t think you are legally allowed to call yourself a gamer if you don’t have some sort of fond memories of playing NBA Jam in the arcades or consoles back in the day. Well it has been over a decade and EA Sports has taken over the reins from now defunct Midway and Acclaim to resurrect the series. NBA Jam for the Wii builds off of the simplistic mentality set by its predecessor. The rules are simple, the gameplay is fast, and as long as you aren’t looking for some deep simulated experience, I challenge you not to have fun with EA Sports latest addition to their stable.
NBA Jam is simple to explain in concept, but hard when it comes to showcasing what made it so addictive. The premise is a simple 2-on-2 game that has no rules outside of goaltending and plenty of ridiculous dunks and wacky looking characters. There are so many phrases that are still muttered to this day from the game including the infamous “It’s gotta be the shoes!” and so many more. This game sucked quarters from gamers, and it is amazing that it has taken this long to recapture such a simple concept. EA Sports has done so by keeping what made the original great, and tweaking it for a new generation of gamers.
The main course here is the classic campaign mode which pits you against every team in the game one at a time. This simple mode allows you to get a feel for the core concept, and is the best place to get accustomed to the style of play. In addition there is also a remix mode which works similarly to the classic campaign, but throws in game variables and power-ups. For instance one game may task you with smashing the opponents’ backboard while another will have you vying for spaces on the court much like a king of the hill match. These game types break up the monotony of the game and offer up some much needed diversion to help justify the steep price tag.
In NBA Jam fashion there are also a host of special characters in the game that you can play against in what are dubbed boss battles. These matches against NBA legends such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are infuriating at times as the AI will simply walk all over you with their ridiculous power-ups. In addition to that you can also unlock some truly outlandish characters just like the original which include celebrities from all walks of life including music and politics. There is no shortage of things to see and do within NBA Jam, which is great considering it truly is designed to be played in short bursts.
In traditional Wii fashion the game does support motion controls using the remote and nunchuk. Amazingly they work well enough that if you don’t own a classic controller you can get by without much issue. You use a simple flick of the remote for shots and blocks while moving around with the analog stick. It all feels fluid and not gimmicky, but if you want the true Jam experience I recommend picking up a classic controller. Performing moves such as the alley-oop and the crazier dunks requires some precise timing, and veterans of the series will have a much easier time with a standard controller. Speaking of moves the team has done a great job of recreating the feel of the classic games while still adding in some of the more recent features. Overall the game just feels right when it comes to straddling the line between remaining true to the series, and updating it for a new audience.
Personally, seeing that EA Sports has decided to stick with the traditional scheme as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel is great. The appeal of NBA Jam was its simplicity and over-the-top gameplay and this update pays tribute to both of those. You should be warned though that this is a game designed for quick sessions and not gaming marathons. It is also worth noting that the Wii iteration is sans any online modes at all. If you want to experience the thrill of four-player action; you will have to accomplish it within the comforts of your own living room with four Wii remotes. The lack of online is easily the most disappointing aspect of this update, because in this day and age it is truly a standard features.
As far as presentation goes the game is a mixed bag. Visuals are outstanding. From the goofy character models to the super slick frame rate and animation, this game looks fantastic. As for everything else your standard fare is lacking. There is no create-a-player, no online and the menus and such are downright insipid. For a game with so much style within its gameplay, it lacks it entirely in its navigation and features. As for the sounds the energetic Tim Kitzrow returns with his classic one-liners and a few new ones to stir up the pot. NBA Jam is definitely not the same without him, so I applaud EA for bringing back the classic commentary.
EA Sports NBA Jam is a great revival of a classic franchise. If you were a fan then there is no reason to pass up on this offering as it brings just enough to the table to make it worth your while. The lack of online is easily the biggest setback and makes you wonder how such an imperative feature was left out. When the game gets released on PS3 and 360 later this year I guarantee it will ship with online which speaks volumes on how companies feel about the Wii and its user base as far as online is concerned. Still even with that omission this is one of the most enjoyable Wii games released this year and it definitely deserves to be checked out by anyone who enjoys classic arcade style gaming.
Review copy provided by publisher.