By -- Richard J.
Back in '93, Midway released an arcade classic. The game was NBA Jam, and it is an understatement to say that it set the arcades on fire. Over the years, the game was ported to various consoles such as the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and the Sega Game Gear. Personally, I had no idea NBA Jam existed until it was too late. I was born in '93, and then was too busy playing Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past at the age of 8 and Crash Bandicoot on the PS1 to care about NBA Jam. Years later I finally discovered what the game was, but I was never a huge fan of basketball games and didn't bother looking further into the game. Now it's October 2010, NBA Jam is on the Wii, and I'm assigned to review it. I dived in head first, and this is what I found.
When I first picked up NBA Jam, I went right into the tutorial titled ''Jam Camp''. The game taught me exactly how to play the game, and I was quite satisified with the tutorial. Best of all: once the 5 - 10 minute tutorial is over, you unlock Big Head Mode. After that, I jumped into a Classic Campaign with the Phoenix Suns. I wanted to experience the classic gameplay that I've been hearing people talk about since the game was released, and this was the best place to do so. With my big head bobbing, I was instantly immersed in the quick and snappy gameplay of NBA Jam. Jumping for three-pointers was easy with the snap of the wrist, as was pulling off insane dunks. The amount of nets on fire and "Boom Shakalakas" from the announcer instantly had me hooked, and I gladly played through my 36 game campaign. For hardcore basketball fans, Classic Campaign features a special "retro" battle every sixth game in the campaign where you fight classic versions of certain teams.
After my 36 game campaign, I finally dipped my toes into the "Remix Tour". This is the main selling point for the new NBA Jam, so I had high expectations when I went in. Unfortunately, it didn't meet my personal expectations. When you first enter the Remix Tour after picking your team, you will see a map of the US split up into divisions. All of the divisions except for one are locked, so the game forces you to start in one place. After selecting the open division, you are presented with five different teams to play. Each team has bronze, silver, and gold challenges to complete. Each of these challenges is a special Remix Mode, which consists of the following:
- Remix 2 V 2
- Domination 2 V 2
- Boss Battles
2 V 2 is a regular game of NBA Jam. The only differences are playing on a special court, in a darker area with vibrant lights and the handful of power ups that can make you shrink, become a giant, run faster and more. 21 is the classic game everyone knows. For those who don't, two to four players compete in a game half-court basketball with the winner being the player who scores 21 points or more first. Smash is a 2 on 2 battle that has each team trying to smash their opponents glass backboard first. Domination has you shooting from one of five specially marked spots to "own" them and gain points. The goal is to "dominate" the majority of the spots and gain more points than your opponent(s). Domination 2 V 2 is the same as regular Domination, except 2 on 2. Elimination is very similar to 21. Four players play half-court (without need to clear the ball) and attempt to score as many points as possible. Each round the player with the least amount of points is eliminated until only one player is remaining. Finally, boss battles have you playing one of these modes against a classic NBA star.
My biggest problem with the Remix Tour is how all of the modes (except for Remix 2 V 2) are, or feel like, mini-games from a regular NBA game. Playing Domination against big headed NBA stars is fun, but not praise worthy. It is definitely not enough to sell an entire $49.99 retail game on. I may be a bit hard on this feature of NBA Jam, but I just felt completely underwhelmed by the experience. Not to mention that having Larry Byrd kicking my ass on easy time-and-time again is not my definition is fun. I hope that long time NBA Jam fans get a kick out of the Remix Tour, but personally, Classic Campaign is the way to go with this one.
Graphics wise, NBA Jam is a beautiful game on the Wii. The game isn't flexing any graphical muscles as it is all pretty simplistic, but you can't beat its cartoon-y charm. The characters have great physics and all of their moves are very fluid. The other team members on the bench do their little dances whenever you score, and it might be a small feature, but carries the charm of the game so far. The graphics do their job perfectly by telling anyone who looks at them that this game is not serious at all, but can be if you want it to.
Sound wise, I wasn't quite as impressed. Clearly missing from NBA Jam is a great EA Sports soundtrack. The game features some cliche filled, generic rap beats in the background, and doesn't improve from that. While that does sour my opinion a bit, the fantastic voice overs from the announcers almost make up for it. The classic NBA Jam lines I have heard on the internet are clearly spoken throughout, along with new lines that are nearly as good. If you love the announcers, but don't love a licensed soundtrack, NBA Jam will keep you more than happy.
As you probably guessed, NBA Jam is chalk-full of replay value. Since 1993, NBA Jam fans have been surviving on Classic Campaign, and that is only a fraction of this new game. The Remix Tour is just begging for multiple playthroughs, and in the Remix Modes section of the game, you can play all of the individual modes. NBA Jam also has a bunch of in-game achievements called ''Jam Challenges'' along with a record of all of your high scores. Where NBA Jam really missed the mark is the complete lack of online play. Gamers had their fingers crossed since the game was announced that EA would bring online through the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, but they failed to deliver and the game suffers from it. Online play has become such a standard that its absent from NBA Jam is very noticeable. Despite the large amount of replay value, I have a feeling that most Wii owners won't keep Jam in their Wiis just for local multiplayer. This will inevitably turn Jam into a party game, but really only for guys who remember playing Jam in their dorms ''back in the day''.
Overall, NBA Jam easily lives up to its name. The Classic Campaign is absolutely fantastic, but the Remix Tour is not nearly as fantastic. Graphics in the game are simple, but beautiful and add a lot to its charming look. The soundtrack is awful, but the voice-overs are fantastic and the local replay value is another strong point. However the complete lack of online multiplayer takes a lot away from what this game could have been. EA Sports has left me scratching my head as to why they completely excluded any kind of online modes, even just some simple 2 V 2 matches. If you are a fan of the original '93 classic, NBA Jam will bring you back to the past and remind you of why the arcade game was so great. Those who aren't NBA Jam fans may have quite a few bones to pick, but shouldn't necessarily push it off of their radars.
- Fantastic classic campaign
- Beautiful graphics
- Classic voice-overs
- Huge replay value
- Remix Tour feels like a bunch of mini-games
- Awful soundtrack
- Complete lack of online multiplayer