NBA Jam: Hit or Miss?
First off, I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving that you didn’t eat yourselves into a coma. Remember, all things in moderation.
While you were spending time with your family and ingesting massive amounts and turkey and various other holiday deliciousness, I was playing NBA Jam. Only because I love you guys and wanted to allow you to make an informed decision when you’re deciding whether you should drop some cash on this update to the wildly popular 90s video game which just recently became available on PS3 and Xbox 360. I’m no video game expert, but I was a huge fan of the original game when I was a kid. So when the opportunity arose to purchase a copy for an affordable $30 instead of $50 (thanks for the Black Friday pricing, Wal-Mart) I had to do it. And here I offer my thoughts, for whatever they’re worth.
Let me start by saying that I am one of the lucky individuals to still have access to a functioning Super Nintendo and a copy of the original NBA Jam. There was a stint earlier in the year where I played heavily, so the game is still fresh in my mind. I imagine that this is the reason that the new version didn’t knock my socks off. Let me explain.
My SNES NBA Jam had three buttons aside from the directionals: shoot, pass and turbo. On defense, the shoot button allowed you to jump for blocks and rebounds and the pass button was for steals and shoves. There was nothing complicated about it. The new version incorporates the the analog stick– which is the new trend in basketball video gaming, I’m told– for shooting and steals/shoves. Depending on how good you are with the stick and if you’re prone to let the direction you’re facing affect the direction you push it, you will screw up. Also, the order of the other buttons is different than the original, which adds to the confusion. There is also a crossover/spin move feature that has been added. It makes it feel a lot like NBA Street, but without outlandish moves and gamebreakers. All of this is to say that if you’re expecting to pick up where you left off 15 years ago, you should definitely lower your expectations. You’ll need some time to get used to things and the new gameplay.
With all of that negativity right there, you probably think I hated the game. You’d be wrong. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. I spent my time playing the classic campaign (the other game modes were, in my opinion, not really worth the time) and I couldn’t put it down. It was two on two hoops with your pick of a few players from each team. Many players have some of the same characteristics as the real life guys they’re portraying. Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki’s releases were there, as was Kobe’s tendency to shoot fadeaways and Tony Parker’s penchant for making whoopee with teammates’ wives (Kidding!) The witty commentary is there with your old favorites ("Boomshakalaka!") and some amusing updates ("He shot that from his mother-in-law’s house!")There are some challenges thrown in to vary things up a bit as well as some unlockable classic characters (no Jordan, of course) against whom you’re matched periodically. I particularly enjoyed going against the Chris Mullin/Tim Hardaway and Hakeem Olajuwon/Kenny Smith duos. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird also team up here, despite their assertions this summer that they never would have done such a thing. But that’s another story for another time.
That’s not to say that I don’t have complaints. I didn’t like that I needed to pull off a crossover move of some sort anytime I didn’t want to get my shot blocked and that the computer opponents didn’t figure out that strategy. Sure, it was fun getting 26 blocks with Ray Allen, but really? I also miss Tag Mode. You can press the buttons and make your teammate perform those actions, but it doesn’t compensate for the AI being pretty dumb. I was disappointed that being on fire still meant that I could get my shot blocked and not rain threes from halfcourt. I also hated that I could do pretty much whatever I wanted in the first quarter but that I had to completely alter the way I was playing by the fourth. I’m OK with increased difficulty when the game’s on the line, but this felt like a different game. I didn’t like that Mike Brown was still on the sideline for the Cavaliers. I thought it quirky that each coach wore a gray suit and blue tie every game. I disagreed with some of the player ratings (Is Derrick Rose really not faster than Paul Pierce? Did the guys who gave Olajuwon a 5 passer rating not see him finding open shooters during the Rockets’ championship runs?) and was disappointed that some players who were traded before the season began weren’t on their appropriate teams in a game that was released in mid-November.
Overall, I’d say the game was enjoyable and definitely playable, but far from where I would have expected it to be. That places its grade squarely at average, which is far below the awesomeness of the original. But if you never played the old game and think NBA Street is too over the top for you, this might be right up your alley.