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January 31, 2004
NBA Jam - Review
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Slam Dunk!!!
“Welcome to NBA Jam!” With these words, many people got their first experience of multiplayer brilliance back in the early nineties, be it in the arcades, or on the Super Nintendo or Megadrive. NBA Jam was a fun stab at NBA basketball, dishing out foul-free 3-on-3 arcade-style gameplay, which was easy to pick up and too addictive to put down. Featuring all the teams from both conferences, with extras like Bill and Hillary Clinton and big-head mode, there was little this game didn’t do right. And who could forget the classic commentary of Tim Kitzrow; heck I still find myself saying random commentary quips today...

“He’s on fire!” With NBA Jam TE, the series peaked, and started to rapidly go downhill from there. Sequels on the Nintendo 64 and Playstation strayed away from the arcade roots of NBA Jam, producing games that were sub-standard compared to other basketball games at the time. And as for the Gameboy (classic, colour and advance versions), don’t even go there. So does NBA Jam’s debut on the Playstation 2 offer any hope for this dying series? Yes and no. While it does hold onto its arcade roots, it holds on perhaps a little too much, producing a confused blend of 16 bit and 128 bit gaming.

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He's on fire.
“Is it the shoes?!” Aside from the standard arcade mode, NBA Jam has included the now-customary league mode, and a legends tournament mode into the game. League mode is what you’d expect; choose a team, and play through the ranks of the NBA. The legends tournament lets you venture into history and play against the classic teams from yesteryear, through to teams from not-so-long ago. Complete with old-school stadiums, afros and pulled-up socks, the game even plays in black and white with old-style commentary to add to its charm.

“Can’t buy a bucket!” What made the original NBA Jam so easy to pick up and play was its simple and straightforward control scheme. While Midway has kept the controls simple for NBA Jam, they haven’t tweaked the gameplay and engine accordingly to keep up. Put simply, at its core this game plays like the original, with basic gameplay and cheap AI. The game is frustratingly hard at first, with button-mashing being the easiest form of defense; after a few minutes you’ll soon realize that running and dunking over and over again is not only cheap, but effective. While being “on fire” is still included, there is a new hot spot function which you have available when you fill your hotspot meter (like a ‘style’ meter that slowly fills up). Activate a hotspot, and you can pull off a 3-point crazy dunk from the 3 point line, similar to the gamebreakers in NBA Street. Each subsequent hotspot dunk you pull off in a game is then worth 4 points, then 5, then 6 and so on. On paper it sounds like a good idea, but in practice it doesn’t add much to the gameplay, and feels more like a yearning to be like the NBA Street series.

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That's one big head.
“Reeeeejected!” Unfortunately, shonky gameplay isn’t alone in NBA Jam’s basket of faults. The overall presentation of the game is poor, with no intro, excessive load times, and corny repetitive menu music. Commentary, which used to be one of the highlights of the original NBA Jam titles, lacks the charm of the earlier games, and sounds more like videogame commentary from 5 years ago; very minimal, and lagging behind the gameplay more often than not. Now I’m not normally one to complain, but if you told me that the crew at Acclaim had finished this game 12 months ago, then sat around playing Quake all day and only released this a month ago; I’d believe you. It feels, looks, sounds and plays old; and that’s not old in the ‘good’ retro or classic sense of the word either.

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Getting some major air!
“It’s a turnover!” They say a picture says a thousand words, but the screenshots of NBA Jam don’t say much more than ‘average’. While there are some nice lighting and reflection effects, models, crowds and stadiums are simply modeled. If it weren’t for the 3d sense of depth, you could almost claim they did a copy-paste of the rear two thirds of the crowd from the 16 bit days. The hotspot dunks are well animated, though transitions between movements is a bit inconsistent, making the players appear jerky and being able to dunk without jumping. My final gripe with the graphics is with the legends games; while the black and white filter looks like a nice touch, sometimes trying to distinguish dark grey from not-so-dark grey is more of a headache than anything else.

“The Nail in the Coffin!” Well, surely the sound must be the NBA Jam’s saving grace? Sadly not. Commentary, which used to be one of NBA Jam’s strong points, is average to say the best. The trademark cries of Tim Kitzrow are all but gone, and they haven’t been replaced with any equivalents either. He only comments when shots are made or scored, which leaves big blanks throughout which could easily be filled with comments on the game’s progress. Shoe and ball sound effects sound as one would expect, though in-game they would be well backed by some organ music or short music clips as is done in the real world (some is included in the legends game, but it's minimal).

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Another slam dunk!
“Boomshakalaka!” Acclaim had good intent with NBA Jam, but fell well short of the mark with the final product. It is obvious they were up against considerable talent with NBA Street Vol. 2, and while they tried to incorporate similar features, it has been to no avail. If you were really hanging out for this title, you’ll almost certainly get more kicks out of playing the original NBA Jam; no sorry, you will. And it’s a darn shame that none of the originals were included as unlockable extras. So do yourself a favour, go out and buy a Super Nintendo or Megadrive with a copy of NBA Jam TE, and you’ll not only have more fun, but it’ll probably cost you a fraction of the price.

Review By: Chris Gobbett

GRAPHICSSimple models all round, and a bland menu system.
SOUNDTim Kitzrow is back, but a shadow of his former character.
GAMEPLAYA cheap mish-mash of button-bash.
VALUEThere’s extras, but they won’t keep you hooked for long.
OVERALLNBA Jam is an improvement to the NBA Jam games of late, but that still doesn’t make it a worthy game. With some nice ideas, but poor execution, NBA Jam is almost certainly now engraved in stone as “the great game that was”...

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