NBA Jam Review

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Publisher: Acclaim
Developer: Acclaim

Platforms: Xbox and PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

It's been awhile since the original NBA Jam emerged as an adrenaline-filled, fast and furious gaming experience. This incarnation offers three-on-three gameplay, as opposed to the older version's two-on-two style, but maintains its ties to over-the-top dunks, zany extras and barbecued ballers, who become, quite literally, on fire. With the addition of couple of tournament modes and the ability to create and customize a player, NBA Jam is a solid entry into the arcade-style basketball market.

Solomon Dirigible

Gamers will no doubt recall the original incarnation of NBA Jam as one of the first licensed sports games to go with style over substance. The offspring, for lack of a better term, of the original include MLB Slugfest, NFL Blitz, and the NBA Street games, among others. To say "style over substance," of course, isn't meant to imply that these games are inferior to more traditional simulations such as the NBA Live series. It just means there is a greater focus on zany gameplay and fast-paced action than on a realistic recreation of sport. Acclaim's release of an updated NBA Jam continues this tradition.

Fast Paced Three-On-Three Action

The game modes are limited, with the ability to play a single exhibition game, a Jam Tournament (in which you select a team to face NBA opponents in a tournament to determine the league champion) and a Legends Tournament (in which you select a present-day squad to face all-star teams from previous decades in an effort to prove this generation's superiority). Regardless of which mode you play, you start by selecting a team to control. Games are played in a full-court, three-on-three style, with no timeouts, no out of bounds, and no fouls. Substitutions can be made at halftime, and are important as players can become fatigued. For example, if you select your best three players to play the first half, you can expect that you'll have to sub for at least one of them at the half. The players you pick for the second half are also the ones who will play the overtime (if needed), as no substitutions are allowed after the end of regulation play. After you select your starting lineup, a familiar Midway Cheat menu appears (in case you need to play using big head mode), in which you can tap buttons rapidly to activate cheat codes in the game. Following that, it's on to the court.

Gameplay is fast-paced – almost too fast. You can further accelerate your player by using the turbo button. The turbo is limited, and you'll suffer if you elect to mash the turbo button down all the time, so you'll have to use it carefully. The biggest problem with the gameplay is the almost comical absence of defense. Granted, defense isn't meant to be a major part of this game, but preventing a computer-controlled team from scoring borders on impossible. Essentially, the only way to stop them from scoring is to knock down the man with the ball and steal it from him before he can go up. Easily 90% of all the shots in this game are dunks, and once a player takes off to throw it down, it's virtually assured he'll score. Adding to the difficulty is the speed of the game. It's difficult to figure out where the ball is at times. It can be even harder to guide your player to that spot fast enough to stop the other team from scoring.

The Crowd is There To Cheer You and Your Friends

The players look cartoonish by design, but there really isn't much to distinguish them on the court. Facial expressions are non-existent and at times it's difficult to players apart. However, the ambient graphics are amazing. My first thought upon starting a game was that this is the first sports game I have played in which the crowd looked like a collection of individuals as opposed to an amorphous mass. Another nice touch is the revolving billboard ads on either baseline. Other games should definitely take note of the ambient graphics in NBA Jam.

Primarily, this game is designed for multiplayer play. Get together with your friends, talk trash, hoot and holler at every outlandish dunk. NBA Jam added depth to the single player as well. By accessing the Jam Store, you can create a player and customize his appearance, from his body size and shape to the style of shoes he wears. You can choose whether his shorts are long or short, and what tattoos he sports. As you play games, you will earn points based on your performance. These points can be redeemed in the Jam Store to boost your created player's abilities, purchase new outfits and accessories for your player, unlock other cheats, or new places to play (including venues such as NYC's historic Rucker Park).

Spontaneous Human Combustion

You may recall the original NBA Jam's most famous feature, that your player would catch "on fire" and be nearly unstoppable. Well, that feature returns in this updated version – with a slight twist. After your player sinks three successive baskets without the other team putting the ball through the hoop, your player will quite literally become on fire. He will burst into flame, and continue to flame until the other team sinks a basket, which is made more difficult by the fact that when a player is on fire, he can goal tend without penalty. All this is supplemented by the commentary in the game, which entertains by having the announcer throw out comic lines with every outlandish play.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the game is the Legends Tournament. When you start out playing a selection of pre-70's all-stars, the game takes place in a 1950's style arena. The gym is small and there's no three-point line. The lane is as comically skinny as it is in old films of George Mikan hook-shotting his Minneapolis Lakers to successive NBA titles. The crowd dons coats and ties, and even the commentary is adjusted, with the announcer blithely saying things like, "Oh, that's a real Jim Dandy of a shot." Equally amusingly, the display changes to black and white. This doesn't mean that the style of your opponents will mimic the games of that era. There are no two-handed push shots, and they won't run the weave. Nate Thurmond and Sam Jones can run by you and perform windmill dunks just as easily as Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant can.

On the whole, this incarnation of NBA Jam is a worthy sequel. While the player graphics could have been sharper, and preventing the computer from scoring is exceedingly difficult, the game modes are fun and quirky, and there are plenty of extras to make the game entertaining. Similar arcade-style games featuring the NBA license, such as NBA Street, take away what made the first NBA Jam unique, but it's still a great game to play with your friends, and the unlockable extras make the game fun for the single player as well.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on October 16, 2003 9:29 PM.

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