If you grew up during the 1990’s, there’s a good chance you’re more than familiar with Midway’s, ridiculously over-the-top, arcade-style of basketball –”NBA Jam”. Now, Electronic Arts has taken the old-school classic and given it a modern twist for its reemergence on the Nintendo Wii. “NBA Jam” sports upgraded visuals, updated rosters and a slew of new modes to enjoy, but the old-school gameplay that made it such a hit on the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and arcades almost two decades ago remains entirely intact.
Unlike practically any other sports game, “NBA Jam” makes absolutely no pretense of attempting to authentically recreating its chosen sport. Instead, it takes pride in throwing the normal conventions of basketball out the window and emphasizing fast-paced, 2v2 fun over realism. That means pushing and shoving is allowed, ridiculously long range three point shots are the norm, and players will periodically leap all the way across the court for a gravity defying slam dunk. On top of that, score enough points in a row and you’ll catch “on fire”, engulfing your basketball in flames and endowing you with even more supernatural accuracy and precision.
“NBA Jam” veterans will be able to pick up the remake and be able to start tearing things up once they become acquainted with the fairly well crafted motion controls (or you can always use traditional controls as well), and newcomers will instantly become enamored with “NBA Jam’s” penchant for the crazy and absurd.
There’s a variety of modes to keep you occupied. Campaign allows you to battle your way through the NBA’s roster of teams and engage in boss battles with basketball superstars, and Remix Tour, which features power ups scattered around the court, has the variety to make it a fun alternative to normal matches. In addition to that, there’s also HORSE, Domination, Backboard Smash, Elimination, and games of 21 to compete in.
As you play “NBA Jam”, you’ll be awarded achievements (or Challenge badges) for successfully completing objectives, like making ten rebounds or repeatedly stuffing your opponent’s shot. This in turn unlocks hidden content, like secret basketball players and teams, big head mode, and much, much more. Some of the achievements are actually pretty difficult to earn, so you’ll definitely have your work cut out for you if you’re shooting for 100% completion.
The real joy of playing “NBA Jam” is being able to play with and against other friends. Sitting down, selecting your team and your players (which vary from real NBA stars to a whacky array of politicians, team mascots and more) and then proceeding to shatter backboards, drain three’s from downtown, and stuff shot after shot is a ton of fun. Unfortunately, the Nintendo Wii version of “NBA Jam” lacks online multiplayer, and playing against the AI really doesn’t offer the same experience that gaming with your friends does. It’s a puzzling oversight that drastically tarnishes “NBA Jam”’s appeal. Online multiplayer is standard for most games these days, and for a remake of one of the best multiplayer games ever, it’s inexcusable not to include it.
“NBA Jam”’s presentation is one of the game’s strongest assets. Character models, which are comprised of a digitally crafted body with a photograph of the player’s connected to it, are appropriately bizarre, and the animations are surprisingly detailed. Tim Kitzrow, the announcer from the original “NBA Jam”, returns, bringing with him a plethora of new (but equally memorable and hilarious) quips that you’ll find yourself randomly shouting, even when you’re not playing the game.
“NBA Jam” is every bit as fun as it was when it was first released in 1993. The modern touches, like upgraded visuals, new modes, and motion controls, successfully bring the franchise into the 21st century for the first time, and its awesomely insane gameplay will satisfy old fans and win itself new ones.
However, as fun as “NBA Jam” is when you’re playing with friends, having three other players on hand whenever you want to play is probably a luxury few are privy to. AI controlled opponents are broken, and there’s no online multiplayer. You can slog your way through “NBA Jam’s” modes solo to unlock new content, but it’s nowhere as enjoyable as it should be.
Final Grade: B