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 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.
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.
The biggest addition to the PS3 and 360 versions of the game is an online mode. You can now hop online and play with up to four players in a host of modes. Sadly as of this writing getting into a game was not always a guarantee, and the competition is really just not there.
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. I know that some people are a little upset that this was initially supposed to be a free pack-in with NBA Elite, but even at $50 fans of the series will likely get their money’s worth when all is said and done.
Review copy provided by publisher.