NBA Jam Retrospective and EA Sports NBA Jam Review
by Ed

Basketball season in Fall/Winter never made much sense to me, seeing as how basketball is a sport you'd primarily play in the spring and summer. Maybe I'm just overthinking it, but fall and winter are taken up by three different major sports in the US while one or two (if you count soccer) take up the spring and summer. Is it odd? Maybe. This is actually not that relevant to the topic at hand or the reviews I'm about to do, I just needed a lead-in.

NBA Jam is pretty much the game that put arcade-style sports games on the map. Sure there was Arch Rivals and Double Dribble before it, but they never really caught on the way NBA Jam did. I personally think it was The Announcer (voiced by Tim Kitzrow) who made NBA Jam special. I mean there's just something exhilarating about "BOOMSHAKALAKA" and "HE'S ON FIRE!".

Anyway now that EA Sports has done a (surprisingly well-done) revival of NBA Jam, I thought it would be nice to look back at the major NBA Jam games as well as the new one. Why this retrospective? Writers Block, mostly.

NBA Jam (Arcade, SNES, Genesis, Sega CD, Gameboy, Game Gear : Midway, 1993-1994)

NBA Jam was one of the first sports games to feature NBA licensed teams and players, as well as their digitized likenesses. But what the game was far more notable for, was the lack of fouls (except for shot-clock violations and goal tending), and of course the ability for players to go beyond the impossible and rocket high into the air doing amazing gravity-defying dunks.

In the arcades the game was notable for being particularly expensive for the time, costing $1.00 to $2.00 to play a full game. However, the game became a smash hit in spite of this, bringing in over $1 billion in revenues (in quarters, of course).

I never played the arcade version, what I did play was the Genesis version. I remember being particularly blown away by the funky music tracks, the dunks, the color commentary, everything really. Course I was also confused as to why Shaquille O'Neal didn't appear in a game where you could shatter the backboard glass by dunking (since he was well-known for doing that in real life). Licensing issues kept him and Michael Jordan from appearing in NBA Jam game and pretty much all further iterations. (though Shaq would later appear as an unlockable legend in the 2010 game).

Another reason I think NBA Jam worked so well is because even though it was 2-on-2 it still felt like a real basketball experience. 5 on 5 games your players were always too small to really identify but here it felt like you were watching a game. Granted it was a game where the laws of phyiscs no longer applied but that just made it awesome. Like the Harlem Globetrotters meets And1 meets Space Jam...well maybe not Space Jam.

Also of note was the ability to play as secret characters by entering certain initials. Said secret characters including team mascots, President Clinton, Vice-President Gore, and First Lady Hillary Clinton.

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (Arcade, SNES, Genesis, 32X, Game Boy, Game Gear, Sega Saturn, PlayStation and Atari Jaguar: Midway, 1994)

Much in the way that Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was a sort of special edition of Mortal Kombat 3. NBA Jam: Tournament Edition was a special edition of NBA Jam; featuring added features, players, easter eggs, and a team made entirely out of Rookie players from the 1994 NBA Draft. I enjoyed playing as the Rookie team because instead of having a team name announced their team name was apparently replaced by an unintelligible scream. And since unintelligible noises were fucking hilarious to my 10-year-old brain, I would pick them almost constantly. That and I knew who Grant Hill and Eric Montross were.

One of the big things Jam: TE introduced was power ups. These items would let you do things like be on fire without having to get 3 baskets in a row, or be able to dunk from all the way across the court. You better believe when that little "D" showed up I would go for it immediately because fuck dribbling down the court it's time for some coast-to-coast action.

The game also introduced hot spots, which allowed you to get extra points if you made a basket from taking a shot while standing on them. And of course there was "Tournament Mode" which turned all the cheats off for competitive play or whatever.

Interesting side note: in early versions of the game you could play as Mortal Kombat characters. Unfortunately due to the whole controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat at the time, this feature was quietly removed from further home versions.

After Tournament Edition, things basically fell apart for NBA Jam. The license went to Acclaim somehow (they had been the publishers of the home editions) and they decided the best thing to do was to make NBA Jam go into the third dimension, and then take out Tim Kitzrow and replace him with Marv Albert. Now while replacing Kitzrow with Albert wasn't the worst idea (after all, the commentary style had been based off of Marv Albert in the first place), moving the game to the third dimension definetely did ruin it. Personally I blame Sony for this. The game appeared on the Playstation and Sony had a huge boner for 3D-only games appearing on the Playstation in its earlier days. In any case NBA Jam Extreme (1996) was a huge flop.

Meanwhile Midway would continue to have moderate success with the same proven NBA Jam forumula when they made NBA Hangtime for the arcades and home consoles. The NBA Jam concept would later give rise to Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey and NFL Blitz, but as for NBA Jam, it seemed to just stagnate, only being temporarily revived in 2003 for a 3-on-3 game that didn't do so well either.

EA Sports NBA Jam (Wii, Xbox360, PS3: EA Sports, 2010)

EA Sports decided to take up the mantle of NBA Jam and introduce it to a new generation with their 2010 entry. They brought in the original creator (Mark Turmell) to consult, and brought back TIm Kitzrow to do commentary. So far so good. It gets better. A full career mode with unlockable legends. A remix tour mode with more unlockables. The cheat codes return giving you the ability to play as multiple secret teams (more on them later). But most importantly, the game goes back to its 2.5d roots and doesn't try to make it all "next-gen".

It is damn hard for me to find anything wrong with NBA Jam 2010. Even the motion controls work well, from taking simple shots to dunking to performing alley-oops, the game never feels difficult to play. Also the staggering list of unlockable players adds to replay value, as does the ability to play with secret teams like the Beastie Boys, and teams consisting of modern-day Democrat and Republican politicians. Obama stuffing McCain with a hard drive to the basket is about the only way I can get enjoyment out of their administration these days (political humor lolololol).

Anyway back to the game. The regular game plays and feels like the original (you can use a classic controller on the Wii version if necessary) with a couple things added (alley-oops and crossovers, namely), while the Remix tour has you play modifications on the regular game and square off in one-on-one battles with legendary players. The Remix Tour is somewhat of a weak point of this game, however. At times some of the game types just feel a bit wedged in and the legend boss fights are ridiculous at times. The game against Larry Bird, for example, took about 15 tries to beat because he has the ability to score 9 points simultaneously that you cannot block against. And this is a game being played to 21 points!

All things considered though, if you liked NBA Jam or any other arcade basketball games you'll definetely want to give the 2010 iteration a look. The Wii version doesn't have any online play so if you're devoid of friends in close proximity who want to play with you, pick up the 360 or PS3 version.


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