Review: NBA JAM (Nintendo Wii)
by Alex Lucard on October 15, 2010

NBA Jam
Developer: EA Vancouver
Publisher: EA Sports
Genre: Arcade Sports
Release Date: 10/5/2010

Ah, NBA Jam. It’s one of the few Midway/Acclaim titles to have universal love shown for it. Between that game and Mutant League Football, 1993 was THE year for arcade sports in the Lucard household. I spent a lot of time and quarters on the original arcade game and happily picked up the Sega Genesis version when it came out. However I just wasn’t a fan of any of the sequels. NBA Jam Extreme, NBA Hangtime, College Slam and the other NBA Jam remakes failed to capture the magic of the original.

Here we are seventeen years after the original release of the game and EA Sports has picked up the license and brought the series back to life. Of course, we all know the controversy surrounding this titles and that Wii owners are more than a little pissed off with the fact that the PS3 and Xbox 360 are getting a HD version of this game with online play for a lower MSRP, but it is what it is. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how spectacularly awful EA handled the release of NBA Jam – what matters is if it is a good game or not. So does the newest version of the game put up a brick, or is it on fire?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Unlike the original NBA Jam, which was simply two-on-two basketball, EA’s version of NBA Jam is more centered around “campaigns,” which are basically season modes. The classic version is there in Play Now save for the fact you can only control one of your players instead of both. Classic Campaign is where you pick a team and play games straight through. You play one game against each team in a division, which culminates in taking on a secret team. Remix Tour lets you play two-on-two with random power-ups that come up, along with several other modes. These modes include “Domination,” which requires you to shoot from certain flashing spots on the court, “Elimination,” which only uses half the court and forces the lowest scoring player to be eliminated, “21,” which is simply a race to hit 21 points or more first, and “Smash,” which is an attempt to break the backboard. Remix mode also has “boss battles,” all of which are quite different from each other. Finally, there is Jam Camp, which is teaching you how to play the game, but only with the Wiimote and Nunchuk setup, which kind of screws over people who just want to play with the Wiimote or the Classic Controller.

In all, I’m happy with the amount of modes offered, but found Jam Camp and Remix Mode left me cold. I didn’t really enjoy either: the former for only allowing one sort of control scheme and the latter because it didn’t feel like NBA Jam to me. As such I spent most of my time in Classic Campaign because it was the closest to the real thing, this game offered. So, there’s a nice set of modes, but I only enjoyed half of them.

Modes Rating: Enjoyable

2. Graphics

Much like the previous versions, NBA Jam uses digitized heads of current NBA players, along with icons from yesteryear like my beloved Julius Erving and the return of politicians and musicians. Alas, I haven’t found George Clinton yet like in the original. The player’s heads look great although the bodies are obviously generic. Of course, they’re meant to be that way. The bodies are 3D while the heads are 2D which does give one pause at first, but then you completely and utterly fail to notice it after the first few games.

The backgrounds are sparse. It’s basically a low key generic basketball court. You have the same “on fire” animations and some great dunk animations -many of which are in no way, shape or form, possible in real life, which only adds to the zany fun. There really isn’t a lot here visually. It’s very low key and nothing to write home about. It’s just classic old school gaming fun complete with digitized heads and a few special effects to unlock like big head mode or the ability to change the basketball’s colour. What’s here is fun, but it’s by no means jaw dropping or one of the best looking games on the Wii.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

All you need to know is that nearly every classic line from the original game is back and Tim Kitzrow is providing all of the announcer dialogue. There is no other voice acting. It’s just Tim saying, “Boomshakalaka” and other classic lines. In fact the only two thing I didn’t hear from the original game are, “Is it the shoes?” and the random screaming of “Petrovic!” There is a lot of new dialogue recorded too, and all of it is gold. Honestly, Kitzrow should do the announcing for every sports video game EVER. I know I’d buy more of them if they did.

The music is the game isn’t as good as the original, but then It was heavily influenced by Parliament Funkadelic and that fit the game perfectly. The music here is still pretty damn good and fits the fast paced play of an arcade basketball game nicely. You’ll find your head bobbing in time with the few tracks there are. The game sound wonderful and truly, the audio was such a huge part of the original game that it is great to see that aspect preserved so nicely.

Sound Rating: Great

4. Control and Gameplay

There are three different control schemes for the game: one involves the Wiimote and numchuk, one involves the Wiimote held like a NES controller and the final uses the classic controller. Oddly enough, the classic controller is the worst of the three schemes, but that’s only because of poor layout choices. You see the classic controller’s button’s are completely inverted from what the screen tells you. So if the screen says “Press A” you want to actually press B. Same with the controls for the actual playing of the game itself – everything is the opposite button of the Wiimote/Nunchuk controls and as that is the only one the game actually WANTS you to use, it’s the opposite of every in-game instruction you get. As such, you will be confused at times and find yourself making more errors simply because your brain is telling you do to what is on the screen but also trying to remind you to actually do the opposite of that.

The Wiimote only controls are the second best. However with less buttons to press, you might find yourself not hitting the B trigger in time with a button and thus shoving instead of stealing or the like. Oddly enough, the Wiimote and nunchuk control scheme is by FAR the best in the game and I think the previous two that I mentioned were added as an afterthought. Honestly how can you screw up the classic controller layout? The Wiimote and nunchuk combo plays nicely, but it will hurt your wrists after a while, especially in a high scoring game.

My only problem with the game, and this is on me rather than the game’s fault, is that I can’t dunk to save my life in this game. Every time I try it turns into a lob or a hook shot. Now I can dunk like crazy on my Genesis version or the Arcade cabinet, but here? HELL NO. Part of the problem is that with two of the three control schemes (both wiimotes) you have the same controls for dunking and regular shots, but for some reason the game won’t let me dunk. With the classic controller, you have to use both sticks and press a button and that’s just so convoluted that it hurts my head. It doesn’t really matter in the end as I simply mastered defensive gaming and learned to steal or shove the ball away consistently – even keeping the computer down to a max of 30 points on the highest difficulty. Play to your strengths I always say.

However this brings up my one BIG problem with the game – the best part of NBA JAM is gone. That is, of course, the ability for you to control both your characters. In the original, if you passed the ball, you’d take control of the second guy. You were always in control. Not so with the new version. Here the computer controls one of your players at all time; you can’t even switch characters on the fly. You are stuck with the same character for the entire half. I actually really hate this, especially since the computer never misses a shot unless blocked by another CPU controlled character and it really prevents you from mastering the offensive game as much as you could in the original. It’s a big pet peeve for me, and others who adore the original NBA Jam, but the game is still highly playable and a lot of fun.

Overall, I feel the controls have taken a huge back step from the original and I want to find the person who laid out the classic controller scheme and ask them how they could possibly screw that up so badly, but I still enjoyed playing the game and had a lot of fun seeing my guy with forty or so steals each game, but the gameplay was just lacking things from the original that made me love it so.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable

5. Replayability
At first glance, it wouldn’t appear that a game like this has a lot of replay value. I mean, it’s 95% two-on-two arcade basketball games, right? Well, when you actually get into the game you find that there’s a lot of depth to it. There are a ton of unlockable characters, modes, and other things to unlock as you progress through the various campaigns. There are old school button press codes to unlock things like Democrat or Republican characters, and even one for the Beastie Boys of all things. The game is just so madcap and frantic, that when you couple that with all the unlockables, you can find yourself putting a lot of time into the newest version of NBA Jam. There are so many combinations of players and modes that it’s an arcade b-ball fan’s dream come true.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance

This is probably the weakest aspect of NBA Jam as unlike the original, this game can be brutally hard. I don’t mean hard in a “challenging” way; I mean it in that the AI is set so that the computer controlled team never misses a shot (unless blocked obviously) on ANY difficulty setting. Now your CPU partner will always suck at defense, so your best bet to get past the game is to get really good at defense. This definitely works but at 99% of the fun in the original NBA JAM was balls to the wall offense, this sucks a bit of the fun and nostalgia out for me. The other balance issue comes with some of the control issues mentioned earlier, but really, all of these quibbles are minor ones. You’ll adapt to the controls and the newfound need for a more defensive game and that’ll be it. Just be ready to have some rage issues on the highest difficulty setting that you never would have had with the original game.

Balance Rating: Enjoyable

7. Originality

There have been a lot of NBA JAM clones over the years, including remakes of the original. Although this 2010 release looks, feels, and sounds like the original, there are some obvious changes. Remix mode consists of most of these, but there’s also the new control schemes and the need for a really good defensive game if you’re going to beat the computer at a higher level. The game is close enough to the original to feel like it and different enough that you can tell it is both a modern game and feel different enough from the original to not be mistaken for a mere roster update.

That said, while it HAS been a while since the last NBA Jam title, the game really doesn’t do enough to feel fresh or innovative. Without the brand name and announcer, it would feel like just another arcade basketball game.

Originality Rating: Poor

8. Addictiveness

I’m not really a big fan of basketball, which probably explains why I chose the 76ers as my main team. What can I say? Compared to a lot of the other teams’ stats, they were outclassed, but I managed to get through the campaign challenge on Normal without losing more than once or twice thanks to defense. Now on other difficulty settings, I won’t lie: I got my ass kicked. But I still had a lot of fun with the game.

Remix mode did nothing for me, but I’m more of a NBA Jam purist. At the end of the day I had fun with the game, and probably the most I’ve had with a sports title that wasn’t MLB: The Show in years. It’s fast, frantic and fun. Best of all, even if you’re not into basketball at all, you’ll still be able to have fun with the game, and that’s what matters.

Addictiveness Rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

You saw the last line of the previous section, right? Even my girlfriend wants to play this and the only “sport” she likes is professional wrestling. The only thing you need to know about basketball with NBA Jam is that the ball goes in the hoop. As long as you can keep that one basic thing in mind, nearly any gamer that picks this up with have a blast with it. NBA Jam has always been one of those games that transcends its genre and said genre’s usual fan base.

Is it possible to dislike NBA Jam? Of course it is. Every game has its detractors, but in this case, the majority of people who play this will have fun with it, even if they don’t find it worth purchasing.

Appeal Factor: Great

10. Miscellaneous

I hate to end this review on a downer, but it’s no wonder Wii owners are more than a little irate over the entire NBA Jam debacle. First we get screwed over by learning that PS3 and 360 owners were getting a huge chunk of this game for free. Then we learn those versions will also support online play. Meanwhile Wii owners are stuck paying $49.99 for a “free” game and without online play. Then after EA pushed back Elite, we learned that now 360 and PS3 owners will in fact be paying for the game, but they will get the entire thing plus online play and there retail version will be in stores before December. Well if EA could do a rush job of putting the entire game on disc and ship it to stores in only a few weeks, why didn’t they just delay the Wii version and add online play to that as well? Not cool EA, not cool at all. Because of this, there is no reason for anyone with a PS3 and 360 to purchase the Wii version. Why pay full price when a cheaper version with even more bells and whistles along with HD graphics is coming out in a few weeks. The entire handling of NBA JAM has been disastrous and stupid from beginning to end and Wii owners have every right to be upset with how EA has treated them. Boo-urns.

Miscellaneous Rating: Worthless

The Scores
Modes: Enjoyable
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Great
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Good
Balance: Enjoyable
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Worthless
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
NBA Jam may not be as good as the original arcade classic, but it’s still a fun game. However, I can’t recommend it if you own a 360 or PS3 as you should instead wait a few weeks for the hastily put together version for those consoles since it has online play – a feature the Wii version is sorely missing. If you are a Wii-only owner however, you’ll find a game that is a worthy successor the 1993 original, complete with announcing done by Tim Kitzrow and a solid over the top b-ball experience.



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Alex Lucard

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  • Pudro

    The above is a bit misleading in that in the original NBA jam you had a setting that allowed you to take control of both characters, it was not the default. I agree it is extremly frustrating not being able to take control of your other player once you have been beaten and knocked to the ground, but it does not take away from the overall gameplay enough to discourage people who loved the original. Definitely a better game with the online modes of PS3 and Xbox 360.

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