EA’s re-imagining of the arcade classic released in 1993 was originally going to be a downloadable title free with NBA Elite 11. Since NBA Elite 11 has now been cancelled, NBA Jam has subsequently been promoted to a full disc-based title. Does this have anyone else’s alarm bells sounding? Downloadable title suddenly becomes full-fledged retail release?
The fact is, though, that NBA Jam succinctly captures the magic of the original and brings it into the current generation. It’s one of the few basketball titles out there that does not require the player to commit complex controls to memory in order to play. All that’s needed to play this game are the left and right sticks and the sprint button. The simplicity of these controls is a nice contrast to the complex and involved control scheme seen in NBA 2K11. And where slam dunks were pretty scarce in NBA 2K11, dunking (of the over-the-top variety) is the order of the day here.
For those of you new to the franchise, this is not your traditional five-on-five basketball game, with NBA Jam being a strictly two-on-two affair. Sure Michael Jordan could virtually fly, but it was nothing compared to the super-powered slam-dunkers featured in this game.
Speaking of dunkers, there are plenty of NBA favourites to choose from. The list includes stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade just to name a few. You can even unlock NBA legends during the game’s campaign mode, such as Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and even a young Shaquille O'Neal when he played with the Orlando Magic. There are some notable omissions, though, including three-time Slam Dunk Contest winner Nate Robinson and obviously Michael Jordan, who is an NBA 2K11 exclusive.
The core two-on-two game has been left relatively unchanged from the ‘90s classic. There are still no count-outs or fouls, which can result in various humorous outcomes. Shoving your opponents down to the ground in order to steal the ball from them is a valid – perhaps even necessary – tactic in NBA Jam. Likewise, the AI doesn’t hesitate to send your kisser floorbound, either.
Graphically, NBA Jam looked hideous the first time I booted up the game. After being wowed by the realistic character models seen in NBA 2K11, the big heads and cardboard cut-out style graphics were a little hard for me to stomach. Having played the game a little more, I’ve gotten used to the comical style of visuals. Sure, they’re not realistic, but it recaptures the visual flair of the original game perfectly. Note: you do have the option of turning off the ’Big Head’ mode, but I’d advise you to leave it on for comical effect.
The commentary is performed by none other than the original voice of NBA Jam, Tim Kitzrow. Long-time fans will feel right at home upon hearing the lines "He's on fire" and "Jams it in!" reproduced alongside some new additions that are just as entertaining.
There are a couple of new gameplay modes introduced in this reboot, too. One of my favourites is called ’Smash’. In this mode, your main objective is to slam dunk as many jams as possible until the glass from the backboard breaks. A game of 21 is on offer, too, where up to four players can compete to be the first to score 21 points.
A remixed version of the traditional game is probably the most creative mode. As seen in many kart-racing games, there are several power-ups littered all over the court that can aid or hinder your performance. ’Quickness’ allows you to run at super speed, while on the other end of the spectrum is ’Mini’, which shrinks your player to the size of an ant. Naturally, this makes it very hard to compete against 6- or 7-foot-tall basketball players.
Most other games have a single career mode, but NBA Jam offers two. One of them is the ’Classic Campaign’, which sees you and your team compete against NBA’s finest in the classic two-on-two game. It is here where you can play against, and unlock, many of the NBA legends that are on offer. The other career mode is ’The Remix Tour’, which is quite similar to the ’Classic Campaign’ but incorporates all the new game modes.
As great as this game is at recreating the original arcade classic, I thought there were a few things that could have been added. For a game that’s mostly about performing as many Slam Dunks as possible, it’s criminal that EA didn’t add any replays. Not only this, but there is no Slam Dunk contest here either. I’m sure many players would have liked to compete to see who could perform the most outrageous dunk ever…
Still, EA’s version of NBA Jam is arguably the best iteration of the series since the original. It packs in loads of new features and a tonne of unlockable content, a lot of which I’ve yet to discover. It not only has some of the biggest NBA stars in history but a few other famous names too (like President Obama). It may not block NBA 2K11 from shooting for the year’s best basketball game, but its fiery balls, big heads and simplistic gameplay present a fun and accessible entry point. BOOMSHAKALAKA!