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NBA Jam [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

NBA Jam for the Wii manages to take the highly entertaining formula from the old Jam games and faithfully recreate it for a new era of gamers to enjoy. Despite using the Wiimote, NBA Jam offers an incredible amount of fun through its nostalgia, over-the-top gameplay and inventive modes. NBA Jam fans shouldn’t do themselves a disservice by not checking out the game now as EA definitely didn’t give us a bastardization of the granddaddy of arcade basketball games.

The Pros: 

Controls are good and thankfully are devoid of waggle moves. Seeing a big-headed version of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James looks good and perfectly captures that silly NBA Jam vibe. The Remix Tour and boss battles are really nice additions to the NBA Jam franchise and provide some thrilling moments.

The Cons: 

Occasionally the A.I. teammate is either brain-dead or is a ball hog. The game doesn’t feel as fast as it could be as the Turbo button doesn’t seem to give a huge boost to speed. A few of the boss battles may be too challenging for some. Rating : 

Everything has two sides to it, whether it’s obvious or perhaps hidden underneath the surface.  As much as some would like everything to be the same, there are those out there who like variety, hence the dual nature of things.  The dual nature of things is perhaps better felt anywhere else than in the world of video games.  With thousands of games released every year, we often have multiple variations on one key format or formula, which usually is meant to please the gamers out there who want something different.  With sports games it’s a bit tricky to nail down what people want but that’s why we have arcade sports games as an alternative.  Back in the day there was one arcade sports game that trumped them all: NBA Jam.  Featuring the NBA players that were greatly loved at the time, the game offered flaming basketballs and dunks that had players jump 25ft off the ground.  Now, after a brief absence NBA Jam returns once again to balance the Ying & Yang in the basketball video game genre.

With the return of NBA Jam it almost seems like all is right in the world.  Well, that depends on who you ask since right now NBA Jam is making its debut on the Wii.  Yes, Nintendo’s console is the first to get the insane Boomshakalaka goodness, but PS3/360 gamers will be getting the game later this year.  Even though NBA Jam is on the Wii, that doesn’t mean it’s any less of a good game or shouldn’t be checked out immediately by those who either own a Wii or know someone who does.  With what EA has given us in NBA Jam it’s not only a faithful follow-up to the NBA Jam games of past, but it’s one of the best games in the dying arcade basketball genre.

When NBA Jam was out back in the mid-1990s, it gained popularity for the vibe it gave off and because of the almost blindingly fast nature of it.  Even with a change in developers (Midway did the original games), none of NBA Jam’s magic has been lost in its reboot/re-imagine/bringing back the “omg, he just did a flaming dunk” attitude of the classic game.  Right from booting the game up and hearing the announcer say “Boomshakalaka” I knew this was going to be the NBA Jam game I wanted, even if I was holding a Wiimote instead of a PS3 controller.

Holding a Wiimote and playing a NBA Jam game is definitely something that felt foreign to me at first and no doubt that feeling will be felt by many gamers out there. But for as much of a departure it is compared to a joystick and arcade buttons or even a regular video game controller, NBA Jam works exceedingly well.  With a simple up and down motion on the Wiimote, I sent my slightly big headed version of Kobe Bryant up in the sky to nail down a spinning slam dunk, the game is that easy.  Nailing down the dunks and regular shots (though who would want to do those?) does require some timing as you need to swing the Wiimote up and then do a forward motion when your player is at the peak of their jump.

Getting a bit aggressive and doing a forceful shove is another simple task as all I had to do was a simple tap of the B + Z buttons.  Surprisingly despite being on the Wii, NBA Jam isn’t filled with tons of waggle mechanics and at the core remains relatively grounded in the realm of arcade sports games.  That doesn’t mean the game is entirely perfect on the Wii as it did take me a while to get acclimated to the shooting and going back and forth down the court. Perhaps my arcade basketball skills were simply rusty at first having not played an arcade bball game since NBA Street.  But once I got into the rhythm of playing and performing last minute aerial dunks or setting up alley-oops, it was pure arcade gaming bliss.

NBA Jam just doesn’t rely on nostalgia to keep players interested since the game offers several new modes, the highlight of which is the Remix Tour.  Keeping the core NBA Jam formula, the Remix Tour throws out several game specific challenges to players such as keeping control over specific spots on the court which in turn provide points.  Besides featuring specific game challenges, the mode also takes the already stylish yet realistic looking portrays of the pro NBA players and shrinks them down to pint sized versions with massive heads.  It’s definitely a cool addition to the game, but I often found things to become a bit unmanageable in some of the Tour Mode challenges due to the added speed of the characters and the sometimes wonky nature of the A.I.

Perhaps this will be a cue to play some violin music for me, but not having a lot of friends I initially had to play NBA Jam by myself. Unlike other sports games of both the sim and arcade variety, NBA Jam is a game that really beckons to be played with a buddy.  When going solo I found that my A.I. teammate was reasonable as he occasionally stole the ball and did his very own dunks. But every now and then the A.I. would pull off a brain-dead move or wouldn’t immediately pass me the ball after I went skyward for the alley oop. So if you want to reach the full level of enjoyment and arcade amazement NBA Jam offers then you better have a buddy to play since it’s like playing a completely different game compared to having an A.I. teammate.

After a brief absence from the world of gaming, playing NBA Jam again is like being reunited with a love one.  EA’s take on the game is filled with the same level of fun and character the old arcade games had and the new additions, particularly the tough as nails yet enjoyable boss battles, are the natural evolution of the series.  I would honestly say that not much is lost in the game being on the Wii as I still had as much fun as I did playing the NBA Jam games of yesteryear.  If EA maintains this same level of quality with future NBA Jam games while slowly upping the crazy factor (got to have some crazier bonus characters) then I foresee NBA Jam becoming the crown champ of arcade basketball games based on how good NBA Jam is on the Wii.