"BOOMSHAKA... Wait. 50 bucks? Really?"
In the early 90’s, NBA Jam meant buying a clunky, oversized SNES multitap. It meant buying janky third-party controllers so my buddies and I could have an epic tournament. We played until the wee hours of the morning -- drive, dunk-pass for the open three, six consecutive blocks until the shot clock ran out, pandemonium. There was no greater joy than catching fire and hitting 28 footers in your defender's face, all of this culminating in the inevitable game-winning jumper. It was a simple time... a happy time.
As you can tell, the NBA Jam franchise is very near and dear to my heart, so when the news dropped that EA Canada and Electronic arts were going to be putting out a reboot, there was a resounding mixture of utter joy and skepticism from the gaming community. It’s the cinema equivalent of remaking Psycho. In the months leading up to its release, the NBA Jam fans were holding their breath, only releasing oxygen to utter one phrase, “EA, don’t mess this up.” Well, I’m happy to report that they didn’t. Well, almost.
The most important part of rebooting a classic game is to recapture the feel. All we want as gamers is to play the same game but with glorious, updated HD graphics and online play. That’s it. Maybe a few new gameplay modes on top of the standard game, but that's it. That is what you are getting with NBA Jam. The downside is EA is trying to hoof this game out as a full-fledged fifty dollar title when it’s just not that.
- Is it the shoes? For the price EA's asking, you'd could almost buy new ones -
There is not much to say about the graphics other than EA hit it on the nose. The character models, courts, fans, and coaches are all crisp, clear, and colorful. The greatest enhancement made to the character models is having the facial animations be actual photos taken of the all the players. EA even took the time to accurately depict all of the classic players as well. To that I say, "Bravo, EA!". It was a unique thrill to have Dennis Rodman rebound the ball and pass it to Derek Rose for a windmill 360 dunk over Wilt Chamberlin. There was even a Ronnie Seikaly sighting.
I frequently caught myself looking around the arena, mid-game, enjoying all of the little touches of detail. From the bench going wild on a dunk to the stoic faces on the coaches, it all oozes personality. The choppy, fast-twitch animations give it a very “downloadable” feel that matches up well with the depth (or shallowness) of the actual gameplay, so I wasn’t disappointed. Again, not to beat a dead horse, but the only disconnect I found was the price-point.
As far as sound, I have two words: Tim Kitzrow. Mr. Boomshakala! himself reprises his role as announcer, and it’s a joy to have him back. Not only are the requisite “Boomshakalaka!”, “Kaboom!”, and “He’s on fire!” back in full force, but newly added quotables are a very welcome addition. Gems like “No hoop for you!” and “Like my wife’s top drawer, nothing but nylon!” are hilarious, and there are enough to where it doesn’t get old. I’m not sure what “He just got a moutful of chicken knuckle sandwiches!” means, but it made me laugh. All those nuggets cradled in generic up-tempo hip hop beats and you got yourself a solid soundscape.
When it comes to gameplay, this is the NBA Jam that we all look back on so fondly. It is brutal, elbow-swinging knockdowns, slick, lightning-fast behind-the-back passes, and wildy acrobatic somersault 720 dunks.The feel is exactly what you remember, plus a few new features. The addition of the all-purpose right analog stick serves as a useful touch. I found myself using that more than the standard buttons.
- Mini-game modes complement the tried-and-true old school options -
Of course, what would an arcade sports game be without our good friend rubber banding? A feature much maligned by the core and ignored by the indifferent. Every single game of NBA Jam I played while putting together this review was decided either on the last shot or with a perfectly timed push. I’m a competitive guy. I am not a fan of losing... anything! So, when I feel like powers outside of my control are affecting the outcome... let’s just say I’ve been known to throw a controller or two. At points during Jam I thought, “Why don’t we just save some time and play the last 30 seconds?” Being up anything more than nine points turns the computer into beastly warriors who have been trained to kill with no guilt. The second I inbounded the ball I was bum rushed and the ball was either knocked out or stolen. It felt inorganic. But, hey, if you are willing to suspend disbelief, I will admit that all the last second game winners were fun.
NBA Jam would have been an amazing twenty dollar downloadable reminisce-fest. Sure, it’s jam-packed (pardon the pun) with plenty of different modes and unlockable features, but when you boil it down, you are still playing the same simple mini-game. Steal, dunk, knockdown dunk, block, fastbreak dunk. It starts to get repetitive around hour two. Now, if you are looking for a fun party game to play with your friends in the same room, there is a lot of good times to be had. But as far as a single-player experience, Jam gets to be repetitive after only a few hours. I would say the best use of a game like this is to play for who has to go pick up the take out.
Why there is no replay in this game is beyond me. That’s just EA being lazy! I’ll give it a great when the price is cut in half, but only if you have buddies to play it with.
GameDynamo's Score for NBA Jam (X360)
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