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Slamming it home with NBA Jam

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NBA Elite 11” was supposed to include a scaled-down, but HD version of the Nintendo Wii's “NBA Jam” when it was released. When “NBA Elite 11” was canceled, however, EA Sports decided to make “NBA Jam” a standalone title that included all the bells and whistles that was in the Wii version. And what did that mean for the final product?

It meant that “NBA Jam” became the action-packed, crisp and sharp arcade basketball title that has been missing from this generation of consoles.

The standard “NBA Jam” elements and gameplay mechanics are the same. There's a turbo button, a shoot button and a pass button. Adding to the insanity is a juke button to help fend off bloodthirsty (I don't mean that literally) opponents. While this control scheme seems very simple, its simplicity makes the game fun. While most modern sports games are almost as complex as flying a Boeing 747 (I said almost.), “Jam” uses its easy-to-learn gameplay to transform sports game and non-sports game fans into addictive junkies who crave nothing more than slamming a flaming basketball through a hoop.

It's slightly harder to make a shot in the newer game than it was in the original game because players are now more aggressive. The AI, including your computer teammate, is smart and learns your tendencies. It is practically one step away from being self aware like Skynet in the “Terminator” films. When a player goes “On Fire” for making three shots in a row, dunks become so outrageous that the camera has to pan out to keep everybody in frame. In older “Jam” games, it was advantageous to just shoot three-pointers with an “On Fire” player. Now that the “On Fire” dunks are larger in scale and are harder to block, there is actually a reason to go for “On Fire” dunks.

If I said the game was 3D, I wouldn't be wrong, but I wouldn't be right. While the characters are 3D, the player's heads and the surrounding crowd, benchwarmers and fans are 2D pictures. This mix of old-school and new-school is the perfect fit. It possesses the right amount of visuals from the 16-bit and modern era to appeal to gamers of all ages. The real 2D photos of player's faces and precise body sculptures, including accurate uniforms for the classic players, allows every player to be unique and special.

“Jam's” controls cannot be changed, but there are two ways to perform off all moves. Most players will flock to the face buttons, but the right analog stick will also control all ball control movements and defensive skills. The only buttons that they will still have to use are the Left analog stick for movement and one of the “L” buttons for turbo. Sadly, the “R” buttons go unused. They should have been extra turbo buttons. There does seem to be a slight delay when using the right stick to block shots.

Beyond the standard two-on-two matches played in exhibition or the Campaign mode, users can play different games in the Remix Tour. The Remix Tour allows players to play in games such as “21,” “Elimination” and “Domination.” “Domination” is by far the best game available. The game consists of two teams of two battling over hot spots placed across half the court. Teams control these spots by making shots from them. Points accumulate every few seconds. The more spots you control, the more points you receive. It is addictive and energetic, perfect for “NBA Jam.”

Inside of Remix Tour, there is also a two-on-two remix mode. This mode plays similar to “NBA Jam T.E.,” the second game in the “NBA Jam” series, as power-ups can be picked up during gameplay. Some power-ups are harmful, such as the “Mini” power-up which shrinks your player to the size of an infant. There are no full-court dunk or on fire power-ups from “T.E.” either. It is also hard to remember what power-up you have because the only difference between most power-ups is the aura that surrounds your character. In “T.E.,” power-ups were distinguished by a letter over the player's head. It was easy to read, allowing you to change your strategy on-the-fly accordingly.

By defeating teams in Remix Tour, Campaign Mode and by performing actions such as not allowing your computer teammate to score a single point in a game, you can unlock classic players. For example, defeating the computer in “Backyard Smash,” a game where the first team to break the backboard wins, unlocks Shaq as a playable character for his first NBA team, the Orlando Magic.

If you played “NBA Jam” in your younger days, you will fall in love with this updated version. If you are new to the “NBA Jam” world, you will not feel like you are playing a game played 15 years ago. At $49.99, the game is cheaper than “NBA 2K11.” To me, “NBA Jam” is a lot like the “Street Fighter IV” games. It is an excellent throwback to gaming's younger days, but with a modernized twist.

Score: 9/10

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