(Editor’s Note: Due to shipping problems, this review has been posted later than we initially planned)
Reboots, re-imaginations, excessive sequels, and nostalgia for the sake of irony are common trends in movies and television, but these days it seems like the videogames industry is starting to latch on to these principles at an increasing rate. Still, while it’s easy to cast a cynical eye over such trends, it isn’t necessarily as bad of a move as you may think. Indeed, while there are some classics that are best left untouched, there are of course other games that genuinely do benefit from a fresh coat of HD polish and the addition of a handful of swanky new features thrown in for good measure.
NBA Jam is one classic we were glad to see make the transition to the HD-era. After all, if you are anything like us, you probably wasted a small fortune of quarters playing the game in arcades, or had after school bouts with friends on the Super Nintendo. Now that the game is out on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii, two things are clear: NBA Jam is still a ton of fun, but this latest effort should have been released digitally on the PlayStation Network and other online services.
To bring you all up to speed on the scuttlebutt surrounding NBA Jam’s release on PS3 and Xbox 360, a limited version of the game was originally supposed to be included in copies of NBA Elite 11. EA Sports ultimately canned NBA Elite 11, released the full version of Jam on Wii, and later decided to bring the game to PS3 and Xbox 360. The problem we have, however, is that the title costs a meaty $50, and for an (almost) full price game, NBA Jam is fundamentally too much of a lackluster affair to fully justify parting with your hard-earned cash — especially when you consider the fact a substantial offering like NBA Elite 11 would have cost just $10 more. As such, we think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for developer EA Sports Canada to support the game via a slew of post-release DLC in the coming months to flesh out the game a little more.
This modern take is essentially an HD version of the original with some added game modes. If you’ve never played the original, the concept is quite simple. You play 2-on-2 basketball matches with real players from the NBA world. The game obliterates the use of realistic physics, as one of the main goals is to perform over-the-top, earth-shattering dunks. Hitting three unanswered points literally sets your ball on fire, maximizing your player’s ability and giving you even more incredible dunks. This is an arcade-style basketball game that takes about 10 minutes to play per match, and in that short time the action never slows down.
There are a few controls—shoot, pass, block, and turbo—and the developers were kind enough to add some very basic controls for your AI counterpart when playing alone. Jam is simply begging to be played with others – in pairs at the very least – but up to four is optimal. You can even play online with buddies, so you shouldn’t hesitate to show your game, or lack thereof.
If you plump for the single player experience however, you’re likely to get a little flustered with your AI partner. Overall, we found the basic controls used for your partner a bit underwhelming. One of the biggest problems with the AI is that it rarely seems to stop a dunk on defense. The game is not all that responsive to running plays like alley-oops, and we found a lot of missed opportunities. To put it simply, your AI partner is rarely helpful and typically more of a nuisance than he’s worth. You can, of course, unlock players (even political figures), but we’ll leave those goodies for you to find and experience for yourself. Still, the overall partnership on court is a bit of a sad affair.
There isn’t a great deal of diversity to be found in the gameplay. The good thing is that you can catch on really easily—typically after one game—but the downside is that you may find yourself getting bored fairly quickly. Efforts such as throwing elbows, shoving opponents to the ground, and blocking big 3-pointers are all entertaining enough at first, but the experience certainly doesn’t deviate significantly from match to match.
One particular highlight however is the Classic Campaign, namely an enormous tournament that you’ll likely spend most of your time in. You pick your team, compete in your league against teams that increase in difficulty the further you go, and finish each round up against a pair of vintage stars. Other game modes include 21, Domination, and Smash. These modes seem a bit tacked on, though Smash, despite being a little on the repetitive side, can provide a compelling distraction in the sense it allows you to destroy your opponent’s backboard, as the game limits your maneuvers to dunks only.
Tim Kitzrow returns from the original game as the announcer. All your favorite one-liners are there (including a heap of new ones added in for good measure), and you get all sorts of Jam Challenges to unlock hidden content to boot. While the attention to details is impressive enough, we still wanted to see a bit more meat on the bone, so to speak.
NBA Jam is everything you’d expect from a PSN release of one our favorite classics — only it’s not. Rather, it’s a full disc release accompanied by a near-full price tag that comes off decidedly lacking on the content front. Still, if you loved the classic arcade-style frenzy from the ‘90s, you are going to instantly lap this up. Nonetheless, we’re keeping our fingers crossed EA decides to flesh out the experience with ample post-launch DLC, or we suspect the game will quickly find its way back on the shelf by the holidays.