The backboard-smashing classic, NBA Jam, makes its glorious return the home console. After a few terrible sequels (NBA Jam Extreme, NBA Jam 2003) the franchise was left to die. EA Sports got its hands on the license, worked their magic, and surprisingly managed to capture the essence of what NBA Jam was all about. The over-the-top stylized dunks, the 2 on 2 gameplay, and playable political figures are all present in the 2010 incarnation of the game. As of lately, we’ve seen remakes and reboots of games but they’re never as fun as we once remembered them, this is not the case with NBA Jam.
Before NBA Elite got canned and NBA Jam was sent in to replace it on the Xbox 360 and PS3, EA Sports had the nonsensical idea to keep this game a Wii exclusive. For what reasons? I have no idea. I don’t see why this game wasn’t planned for a multiplatform release from the get go. That’s not to say that NBA Jam doesn’t work well on the Nintendo Wii because I believe it works perfectly if you like easy controls and no crazy movement controls.
The Wii version of NBA Jam seems likely to have a great advantage over the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions in terms of variety of control settings. NBA Jam allows you to choose between three different control settings; the wiimote and nunchuck, sideways wiimote, and the classic controller. All of them work fine but I felt most comfortable with the wiimote and nunchuck. The game controls themselves are really easy, anyone can pick up and play. You have your turbo button, spin button, pass button and that is all you need. To drive the ball in for a dunk or to shoot, you flick the wiimote upwards for the momentum and flick it downwards to slam it down. You do this motion to block the ball during defensive plays, and push both triggers to give someone a good shove. Score three baskets in a row, and light yourself on fire to perform some crazy dunks. The controls really are as simple as that.
NBA Jam offers some classic and even new and interesting play modes. As far as classic goes, you can do the Classic Campaign – pick a team, and defeat all 30 NBA teams with boss battles between every five wins. The Remix Tour is a new take on NBA Jam’s “campaign”, and works similarly to a tournament. You pick a team, and battle your way out into other NBA divisions. Each opponent needs to be defeated three separate times, in three different game types like in a game of 21, horse, domination, and a remixed take on the classic mode that now contains power-ups. Every now and then you’ll encounter a boss battle with one of the NBA’s biggest stars, a hall of famer, or someone special. Each boss battle is a one on one match with a certain objective. For example, the boss battle against Shaq requires you to stop him from shattering the backboard. Boss battles are a neat idea, but they rely on luck more than skill to pull off the win. The rubber-band AI was my main frustration with the game. You will win all three quarters, and then the AI finds a way to come back in the fourth quarter. I know that’s how NBA Jam always was but this is 2010, I expect the AI nowadays to behave appropriately to the difficulty setting of my choosing. The lack of any online mode is also missing, although I’m not sure I would even play it considering the Wii’s online features.
When you hear “Boom-shakalaka!” you immediately think of NBA Jam. That line along with many other classic lines like, “Is it the shoes?” and “He’s on fire!” make their return. EA Sports even brought in the original announcer, Tim Kitzrow, to re-record some old classics and to produce new lines that are capable of one day being classics of their own. The music during gameplay is decent enough, although I would of loved it if they had remixed some of the old classic tunes instead.
Being a game on the Wii and looking really good is kind of difficult if you’re not Nintendo. NBA Jam has some decent graphics considering the capabilities of the Nintendo Wii. EA Sports did some real motion-capturing for the 3D player models, and the result is fluid animations. Next they used high resolution photos of players for the heads. I thought it would look terrible but it works well with the vibe that NBA Jam is going for. The faces on the players were a little unrecognizable until I turned on Big Head Mode.
EA Sports has remade a classic and added to the legacy that is NBA Jam. There is very little to dislike about this rendition of NBA Jam, if there is then you probably never liked the it to begin with. NBA Jam is the sports game you want to have at your disposal this upcoming holiday season. It’s fun, easy to pick up and play, and will bring you fond memories of the good ole’ days.