Reviewed: November 6, 2003
Reviewed by: Travis Young
Released: September 23, 2003
If I had a quarter for every quarter I stuck into a NBA Jam arcade machine I’d…err…break even I guess. Actually, I dumped a small fortune into this game back in the day when arcades existed and I was going to them. Between “then” and “now” there have been a few attempts to bring the Jam-experience into the home but these have been dismal in comparison to the coin-op that spawned the franchise.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a NBA Jam title, so long in fact that I thought the series had been killed off; certainly a reasonable deduction considering the horrible game they tried to pass off as a Jam title a few years back. While Acclaim’s NBA Jam does bring back a certain energy and spark to the series, it is still a far cry from the original. Most of the things NBA Jam has implemented to get the game back on track have already been done by other games making this new offering more of a “catch-up with the pack” title than a tribute to a legendary franchise.
NBA Jam Features:
NBA Jam now supports 3-on-3 action, which is a big improvement over the original Jam game but nothing new in the grand scheme of current arcade basketball games. The gameplay is totally arcade and over-the-top with little semblance to the real sport other than you are trying to get the round ball through the hoop.
You have all sorts of wild and crazy moves that include plenty of crazy air, spins, and perfectly timed alley-oops. Nail three shots in a row and your player bursts into flames granting them with unlimited turbo and enhanced stats for the next minute, five goals, or until the other team interrupts your streak.
All of this ties into the Jam meter that slowly fills as you play the game. When the meter is full you can squeeze the trigger to reveal the “hot spot” then move your player into this area and fire off a super-sensational air jam with enough pyro-techniques to burn out your retinas. Performing massive dunks scores points to win the game but they also earn your Jam points that you can spend between games in the Jam Store to unlock bonus goodies like new courts and vintage jerseys.
NBA Jam offers all the traditional game modes we all expect from sports titles. My favorite was the Legends Tournament that actually starts you back in history (complete with black & white graphics) then advances you through the ranks and time into new seasons and color TV. This is the only way to unlock the Legends teams for use in other game modes.
Another nice feature is the ability to create your own player or even draft you own custom team. This really lets you personalize the game but the system is designed that you need massive amounts of Jam points so you will be playing this game for weeks before you can really explore these finer aspects of the title.
The controls worked well enough but the entire pacing of the game seemed just a bit too fast for my taste. Sure, it’s arcade basketball but the game is so fast you really never have time to develop any strategy. You simply race around the court, passing the ball and lining up dunk after dunk after dunk. The computer doesn’t offer much of a challenge in the AI department, making the single player game rather boring.
Multiplayer is where this game shows its true potential, but the PS2 is limited by the nature of the system. You only get two-players out of the box unless you invest in a multitap in which case you can have six players, but there is no support for PS Online - shame on you Acclaim. The Xbox version offers full Live support and a much better multiplayer experience. Unfortunately, the Xbox version wasn’t made available for us to review so I will only briefly mention it here – if you have an Xbox and Xbox Live and want to play multiplayer NBA Jam then get that version. The PS2 really “drops the ball” in the multiplayer department.
If you enjoy blazing special effects then you’ve come to the right place. NBA Jam is all about the special effects and not much else. Every shot is embellished with starbursts, flashes, flames, explosions, and particle effects to such a degree that it becomes more of a distraction than an enhancement.
The courts look great even though the shiny floors are just a bit too reflective. The 3D bleachers are filled with 3D spectators, although their uniqueness is limited and you will see the same guys and gals repeating in the same rows with the same animations.
The players themselves were mildly disappointing. Considering there are only six players on the court they just aren’t that detailed. While you can probably recognize the famous players most of them look like caricatures with oversized heads. It was humorous to see some of the huge Afros made famous in the 70’s.
The camera angles work well enough for the gameplay and the action is recapped from just about every conceivable angle in seemingly endless replays after each shot. After a few games I got the distinct feeling this game was all about presentation and special effects and very little about the gameplay.
Tim Kitzrow is back in the booth to make all the play-by-play and color commentary for this game. Fans of the original NBA Jam with instantly recognize this legendary announcer, but since the game plays so freaking fast anything Tim might have to say is already outdated by the time it leaves his mouth.
NBA Jam excels in its massive music library that spans 30 years of classics from legends like Chuck Berry, James Brown, Kool & the Gang, and too many others to mention. Whether you are dunking to “Word Up” or “Super Freak” you’ll be jamming your way to the bucket each and every time.
It’s sad to say but you will probably tire of NBA Jam in less than 3-5 hours. The gameplay is just way too repetitive for the single player with no strategy or intelligence required. It just becomes all too mechanical and you’ll find yourself snapping out of a “dunking trance” when the game is over.
Those of you who enjoy unlocking all sorts of trivial bonus items will find some additional value in the Jam points system and there is a bit of fun to be had with the multiplayer mode but with no online support the PS2 pales in comparison to it’s Live-enabled Xbox cousin. It’s just way too hard to find five other guys to come over on a regular basis and multitaps are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
I was really looking forward to NBA Jam and while Acclaim has managed to make a game that is better than any of the other attempts at a home edition NBA Jam still doesn’t live up to the arcade original and falls short of other arcade hoops like NBA Street and NBA Showtime.
If you’re a hardcore Jam fan then this might have you reliving your misspent youth and save you a few hundred quarters, but if you’re like me you won’t be able to get past the super-fast pacing, weak AI, repetitive and uninspired gameplay, and lack of online support on the PS2. Xbox owners will have a better chance of experiencing this game as it should be played.