Reviewed: December 15, 2010
Released: November 16, 2010
Whenever reviewers discuss arcade-style basketball video games (NBA Street, NBA Ballers, And 1 Streetball, etc.) references to the Midways iconic 1993 arcade title NBA Jam are inevitable. NBA Jam is widely considered the title that introduced the entire “street” or “arcade” style of gameplay within the basketball world, and as so it is the title by which all of the others are judged.|
Originally released in the arcades, NBA Jam’s 2-on-2 gameplay invited up to four human players to play simultaneously on one arcade cabinet, performing high-flying superhuman dunks, dishes, and alley-oops, and pulling off defensive stuffs, shoving and elbowing. The game was famous for its flaming balls and boisterous announcer, and every title since has tried to achieve similar notoriety. At some point, Midway lost the rights to the NBA Jam name and the franchise fell into the hands of Acclaim who released a handful of sequels and spin-offs – none of which reached the popularity of Midway’s original release.
Nearly two decades after its inception, and nearly a decade after the demise of both Midway and Acclaim, and the NBA Jam series now finds its way into the very capable hands of EA Sports – who initially intended to release the updated “HD” version of NBA Jam as an unlockable mode in their “new” NBA Elite series. But when Elite was unceremoniously cancelled a couple of months back, NBA Jam found itself released as a standalone game. Sadly, it shows – NBA Jam would have made a great in-game unlockable or even a $15 Xbox Arcade release, but a $50 feature game it is not.
Have you ever played NBA Jam before? If you can answer “yes” to this question, you will be able to jump right into the 2010 NBA Jam with no problem, since it is for the most part unchanged from the original title. It’s the same 2-on-two gameplay of the original – for better or for worse. So what do I mean “for better or worse?”
I mean that sports gaming has evolved greatly since NBA Jam’s original 1993 release – technology now allows us to effectively control more than one player at a time by dynamically switching players on the fly. NBA Jam is so faithful to the original that it does not allow on-the-fly character swapping. Additionally, gamers have become accustomed to using up to eight buttons simultaneously, so the need to relegated control to only a third of the buttons, and then making those buttons overly complicated by giving them multiple meanings depending on the length of holding and the situation at hand.
NBA Jam is an old school game that was kept in the old school – and like the recent releases of Tecmo Bowl, it feels a bit outdated and counter-intuitive. This is further evidence that the game should have been released at some fraction of full price, rather than a standalone release. In fact, in order to reassess my thoughts I busted out my Xbox version of NBA Street 2 and played through a handful of games – further proving to me that EA’s own earlier “arcade basketball” releases far outshine NBA Jam.
Jam allows gamers to pick one of three available players for each NBA team. Others players become available during the course of the game, but most of the players seem to meet similar specifications so roster development is not that big a deal. There are two additional game modes – Smash, in which players try to smash the other’s backboard, and Domination, which is like Horse on steroids. All three game modes – traditional Jam, Smash and Domination – are enjoyable, but none are all that addictive.
Visually, NBA Jam looks every bit like an updated version of a 20-year-old game – in fact, taking a look on the Internet at the past visuals, and the new version is only slightly better. And while it might be nostalgic to have the players rendered using cutout photo faces – as if they were designed to be in JibJab Elf-Yourself video – their heads are simply too disproportionate and goofy to be any more than a novelty. Thankfully, even though the sound quality is very true to the original, with the boisterous announcer calling shots and giving play-by-play.
NBA Jam can be taken online and played by up to four players simultaneously – which Is exactly how Jam was designed to be played. The computer AI is a bit wonky, so having an actual human on your team – thinking and playing like a human – is a real treat. Sadly, the NBA Jam lobbies are relatively empty at this time – probably a result of the expensive MSRP.
In closing, I have to say I enjoyed my time with EA’s 2010 release of NBA Jam, but I would have liked it a lot more if it were a free unlockable or even a $10 or $15 Xbox Arcade release – but as a standalone full-priced release it is hardly worth it.