games / Reviews

NBA Jam (360, PS3) Review

December 11, 2010 | Posted by Trace Aber

Game: NBA Jam
Genre: Arcade Sports
Players: 1-4
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Rated E for Everyone

Who doesn’t remember the countless hours they invested in NBA Jam, the classic arcade title that for my money was the best sports game of the time. After being put on the backburner for far too long while other arcade sports title tried took their shot at the market, NBA Jam has returned featuring all new modes and an HD overhaul – but is the game still as fun as the original?

Before we get started, it’s important to mention that this game was, for those unaware, initially scheduled to be released as a package deal with the recently-canceled NBA Elite 2011 on the 360 and PS3. Now, instead of getting two games for the price of one, you’re getting the formerly-free game for $50. While they added quite a bit compared to what we were going to get, some people are going to be put off by the price point and rightfully so. Therefore, I’m not going to judge whether or not this game is worth the $50 because some people are going to want it for the nostalgia, and others will not be satisfied with paying for something that was originally supposed to be free regardless of what they add. I agree with both sides, and will let you judge for yourself.

Now that we got that out of the way, it’s important to note that this game is just as fun as it was when you were younger – perhaps even a bit more. The gameplay is all about over the top dunks and plays, and all of them are just as impressive as they were before, though this time they have an HD gloss. Players still have big heads, hilarious facial expressions, and you can still go on fire. There’s even the classic campaign which sees you taking on all of the NBA teams until you take on the special teams at the end.

Of course, it wouldn’t be worth remaking if they didn’t add something new to the game. This retail package includes five new game modes in all, each slightly altering the original formula. My personal favorite is Smash, where you try to destroy the opponent’s backboard with dunks and alley-oops. The best part is when you finally annihilate the board in slow-motion victory. There’s also Domination, where you control various spots on the court by making as many shots as possible in that area. It’s probably the second most fun mode in the Remix Tour, as the rest are uninspired. There’s 21, which is exactly how you played when you were in school, and a potentially interesting “elimination” mode that disappoints. The person with the lowest score is eliminated from the game after a set period of time until one man is left standing, but in the end it’s just not as interesting as it should be.

In addition to the new modes, there’s also power-ups that make the game feel similar to other arcade titles such as NHL 3-on-3 Hockey. I actually expected to play this mode more than any other, but found that the classic gameplay is just too hard to beat. They also have some fun one-on-one boss battles as you complete each section of the Remix campaign, but it feels more like filler than actual creativity as it’s so similar to the original campaign.

Controls can be mapped out to either the buttons or the right analog stick, though I personally prefer the analog stick. You have two basic movements (up/down and left/right) that do just about everything outside of turbo. Players will want to master the controls as the rubberband AI from the original still exists, and while some people might look down on that, in a sports game I find it boring if I’m dominating a team by anything more than 10 or 15 points. It certainly keeps things interesting though it can be extremely frustrating if you lose that way. Which is why you should take my advice and simply not lose.

The game does feature online play though it’s not nearly as fun as playing with friends sitting right by you. There’s no lobbies – you simply join a game and hope you’re not the only person playing. Plus, it seems like the only teams people play as are the Heat, Magic and Celtics. I’ve noticed anytime I get a substantial lead that opponents tend to drop quickly, largely due to there being no penalty for disconnecting. It’s a shame because a game like this should thrive in the online community but it seems like EA Sports of all people didn’t focus on this like they should have.

As with the original, there are tons of unlockable and Easter eggs to find throughout as you advance in modes. In addition to completing campaign, additional characters and features can be unlocked by completing challenges, which the game has plenty of. These usually come in the form of getting a certain number of rebounds or points, but I could see it taking someone quite a bit of time to unlock all of the content if they so desired. And of course there are codes you can put in to get wacky teams like the Republicans and Democrats.

The graphics look like HD updates from the classic, and everything looks really crisp and clean. The facial expressions when a player is in mid-air or getting shoved are always funny, and the sidelines can provide for some great moments. Tim Kitzrow also returns, doing commentary like only he can. He re-recorded all of his original great one-liners, as well as a few new ones to boot! While the presentation is good, there’s nothing that really screams “retail” about it – in fact, it’s perfect for a downloadable title but nothing else.

-Classic gameplay has returned
-Tim Kitzrow returns on commentary!
-Provides one of the best local multiplayer experiences of the year
-Tons of unlockables

-Disappointing new game modes
-Poor online options

The 411
NBA Jam’s biggest flaw is its price point, even if some people were willing to buy the $60 NBA Elite solely to have Jam. Fans of the original will love this remake, as everything is just as great as the original, if not better. The new modes, while fun enough to play, don’t outshine the classic campaign and local 2v2 games, and thus don’t play as big a role as they should have. The online multiplayer is disappointing to say the least, though sometimes you can find a good game with fair players and it’s quite fun. But, again, this is NBA Jam and you know if you like it or not – now you just have to decide if you want to buy it or not.

Graphics7.5While the models look good, they should look better considering this is a retail package. 
Gameplay8.5They didn't change too much from the original formula, and in this case that was a very smart move 
Sound7.0While Kitzrow is great on commentary, the music leaves a lot to be desired 
Lasting Appeal7.5This game thrives off its multiplayer appeal, and as long as you have buddies to play with this game is always going to be pulled out 
Fun Factor 8.0Jam isn't about creating an accurate representation of the NBA, it's about having fun and making crazy dunks.  
Overall7.5   [ Good ]  legend

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Trace Aber
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