This Tuesday, the world was re-introduced to the phenomenon known as NBA Jam. Copies didn't exactly fly off the shelves, as the game was only released for the Wii, but the game has certainly received amazing critical reviews.
So, does this game live up to the hype? Well, yes and no.
But first of all, let me tell you about the game. If you don't know, NBA Jam is a 2 vs 2 NBA Arcade game, where most players can dunk from the free throw line, and almost anyone can pick up and play the game. Everything is exaggerated, from the facial expressions to the size of the players. Even the announcer is quite ridiculous, shouting things like, "He's on fire!" and "Is it the shoes?". All 30 NBA teams are featured, along with some secret characters, like the Beastie Boys and former presidents.
There's several game modes. The typical mode that you'll be playing is the classic campaign, in which you play a standard 4 quarter game. Each quarter is 3 minutes long, and you can make subs at halftime. The other modes include one where the goal is to break the backboard, one where you play a game of 21, and the "Remix Tour", where random power-ups occasionally appear on the court, making the game somewhat more interesting.
But, the aspect that will either make or break NBA JAM has to be the gameplay. Is it a hearkening back to the old Jam? Or is it like the newer NBA arcade games, where button combos ad sloppy controls are king?
Well, there is good and bad news. But mostly good news. The good news is that this NBA Jam is simple. You can pass, shoot, use turbo, jump, shove, steal, and perform a crossover. That's it. No pressing 5 different buttons in order to perform a dunk. Just turbo, lift up the Wii Mote, watch your player go, and slam it back down. The games are usually close, the pace is frantic, and, above all, it is fun.
But, it does have it's share of problems. First of all, it's way too difficult to make a 3 Pointer. In the old NBA Jam, 3 Pointers were made about 50-70% of the time, if you had a good shooter. Bad shooters could make them maybe 20-30% of the time. Now, the shot relies way too much on exact timing and whether a defender is in front of you. It's nearly impossible to get an open three in NBA Jam, and it's silly to think that someone could pick up the game and get the jump shot timing down within a few shots. This leaves a lot up to the player, discouraging them from picking up a shooter-type player. It's a minor problem, but it does become frustrating at times.
Secondly, sometimes, when you're driving down the lane, your player will inexplicably stop and try a short hook shot. This usually happens when you are out of turbo. This is understandable, given that it's harder to dunk when you're tired, but why can't the player just do a simple layup? The hook shots almost always get blocked, and even when they don't, only half of them go in. It's avoidable most of the time, but in the heat of the moment, you hate to have your game end instead of going into OT because your player decided to throw up a hook shot rather than laying it in.
But, to be quite honest, these are very minor complaints, and I might be just a bit bitter about the game diverging from the old Jam. The game is very playable, and blows any recent NBA Arcade game out of the water.
Moving on to the sound, you couldn't ask for better audio. Rather than being riddled with the popular songs of the moment, the game has some very basic and repetitive beats going on, like the first Jam did. You won't get sick of the same song playing over and over, because these songs have no lyrics, and they're not memorable. And that's exactly how it should be. The announcer is the original announcer from the old Jam, and his voice is as memorable as ever. He has a much wider array of things to say about the game (likely because there's more space on a Wii Disc than there was on a SNES or Genesis cartridge), and the phrases never get old. If you're not familiar with his style, it's more of reactionary broadcasting, if anything. Far from play-by-play.
The visuals aren't anything to write home about, but on the Wii, were you really expecting much? The Wii's graphics are completely outdated by this point, so the Jam team got around this by having basic 3-D bodies and digitized faces, rather than 3-D Modeled heads. This makes the players look much more true to life (I still have trouble recognizing players on 2K11), without looking like cardboard cut-outs. Excellent design job. The crowd still looks a bit fake, and the coaches look downright ridiculous on the sidelines, but it's all in the spirit of JAM, and it's hardly noticeable. After all, the first Jam has advertising messages that told you to recycle and be drug free.
Lastly, I'm sure you're all wanting to know how the Thunder are in this game. While they don't have a deep roster or unlockable historical characters (Rumble is the only unlockable), they do have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, which make a nice team. Durant can do most of your scoring and rebounding, while Westbrook will make the steals, passes, and clutch dunks that you need. You can also use Jeff Green, should your playing style be more suited to taller players who can dunk and score easier without much regard to stealing or handling. To be quite honest, Green and Durant are just as good as any big man, and Westbrook is just as good as any other PG. So you should be able to beat your friends with the Thunder on any day of the week.
Overall, it is one of the best arcade basketball games I've played in a long time, and one I'm sure I'll be playing for years to come. I'm not going to give it a number rating, but I will give it a "Buy it Now" recommendation. Unless, of course, you want to wait for the 360 version so you can have online multiplayer. For which you really can't be blamed.
What did you think of the game? Voice your opinion by voting in the poll or posting a comment below!