Set the nets ablaze!
It’s no secret that classic video game franchises have been riding a wave of rejuvenation recently. NBA Jam is the latest classic to be revitalized with the jump to current generation consoles. EA has taken over the NBA Jam name at this point, but you probably wouldn’t be able to notice a change just by playing the game. NBA Jam achieves the same spirit and unrelenting excitement of the original games, but not without a few hiccups along the way.
What I ended up most disappointed with is the way the game controls. There are three different control options: Wii remote and nun chuck, classic controller, and the Wii remote by its self. It’s nice to have options, but unfortunately none of them are the definitive way to play. The stand alone Wii remote method should only be used as a last resort, despite it doing a serviceable job with limited buttons. The Wii remote and nun chuck is obviously the way the game was meant to be played. That’s especially evident when using other control methods, as the button prompts on menus don’t change, which can be confusing. It can be fun swinging your arms around like a crazy person, but eventually I settled on the classic controller. The precision of a standard controller is almost required when the difficulty really starts to heat up.
Rubber-banding A.I. can be a disturbingly palpable part of the NBA Jam experience. It’s especially annoying when there’s nothing you can do to stop them from imposing their will. In certain instances after gaining a sizable lead, the A.I. decides enough is enough, and relentlessly hounds you until they get a steal, or shove your player to the ground. Spin moves and crossovers will counter the shoves and steals, respectively, but the A.I. can become aggressive to the point that it’s impossible to keep the ball for more than a second or two. Generally though, the rubber-banding issues only become glaring when a huge lead is taken. It’s an understandable design decision in the interest of keeping things exciting, but it can result in frustration more often than it should. Adjustable difficulty can cool the A.I. tempers; however, the Remix Tour mode is non-adjustable.
Remix Tour is the game’s main attraction, and it’s likely where you will spend the most time. While the other modes are more traditional and straightforward, Remix Tour has you choose a team and take them on a nation-wide circuit, facing every team in the NBA in a variety of events. These events include everything from regular style 2 vs. 2 with added power-ups, to matches where the goal is to break the backboard, and even full-on boss battles with NBA stars and legends. These bosses each have unique strengths, weaknesses, and sometimes ludicrous superpowers as well. Magic Johnson for example is able to lob passes to the rim and quickly teleport to the ball for the jam. They don’t call him Magic for nothing, I suppose. This may sound unfair, but it ends up being a lot of fun matching up with these bosses and finding ways to finally take them down.
Remix Tour’s a blast, but what is life without a little variety? Outside of Remix Tour there is the Classic Campaign mode in which you select a team and take on a string of other teams in linear fashion until you reach the end. There’s also a quick-game mode called “Play Now” that allows you to quickly enter your soon-to-be famous initials and jump into a match. Each of the special events and individual boss battles found in the Remix Tour are available on their own from the main menu as well. Jam Camp is the game’s tutorial, which upon completion unlocks big head mode—one of the games many modifiers.
Special characters and game modifiers add a lot to the game. It doesn’t get much better than repeatedly dunking the ball on Sarah Palin’s head as President Obama. Also included is the “OG Jam” team comprised of the likes of none other than Mark Turmell (creator of the original NBA Jam) himself, as well as Tim Kitsrow (the flamboyant announcer).
Playing with friends is preferable, but even alone, NBA Jam for the Wii provides plenty of craziness and variety to justify its price tag.