Sunday, March 27, 2011

Review: NBA Jam (2010)

Review based off PS3 version.

NBA Jam is one of those titles that if you are like me hold many fond memories. When NBA Jam came out in 1993 it was an revelation of a game. There were some arcade sports games around but as far as I can remember none had real players and real teams featured. NBA Jam did and revolutionized arcade-style sports games and created a new sub-genre that would last through the mid-90s. And while the console ports at the time weren't able to replicate the experience they still brought the same fast-paced style that made the game so fun to play.

Unfortunately as the franchise went on, in an attempt stay relevant, Acclaim would over complicate the formula that worked so well until 2003 when we all thought that NBA Jam was dead and buried. But along came EA after buying assets of the now defunct Acclaim and they decided to bring back NBA Jam and bring back what made the franchise so great: Simple, fast and satisfying.

The reboot of NBA Jam feels very close to what the arcade original did. We are back to 2 on 2 no holds barred basketball with massive slam dunks, lots of pushing and shoving, going on fire and a very fast pace. If you've played a classic NBA Jam you'll feel right at home with this game and it shouldn't take you more than a few quarters to get a feel for it. Of course there are some new wrinkles thrown in, like the cross overs and spins but when you break it down it is purely classic NBA Jam. There is a remix mode but as of this review I haven't really delved to deeply into it, preferring the classic style gameplay over the new stuff but the game has a lot of modes, a remix campaign mode, remix mode with more mini-game type rules, a boss battle mode and of course online mode (in the 360 and PS3 versions).

It isn't perfect though. For one, much like the old games, the computer AI tends to be really cheap, especially in the 2nd half. Even on easy the CPU will be all over you hitting shots and make defensive plays that seem unfair. You better have a fairly sizable lead or be very good on the higher difficulties or the CPU will come back and beat you if you get sloppy. You partner AI can be a bit up and down to, since the game doesn't allow you to turn off CPU assist, you have to hope your AI can hold up its part of the bargain because if it doesn't you'll hurt. It is overall capable and will be helpful to you if you want to win but in the 2nd half sometimes he will just go on vacation it seems, especially on defense.

Another thing the game really covers is the franchise's penchant for secret players and teams. You get a typical assortment of NBA legends (Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird), mascot players and special teams, including the Beastie Boys, Democrats, Republicans and the announce team. The variety is rather cool though some of the secret players seem a little forced just because they had to give all the teams a "legend". I mean really, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves for the Memphis Grizzlies? Also I as a Bulls fan love the addition of Scottie and Dennis Rodman to the Bulls team but I must once again ask, where is Michael Jordan? Seriously, is there any franchise that wasn't almost made in the image of Jordan's early career exploits?

Graphically the game retains the fairly simple clean look of the old games. Instead of overcomplicated player models there are only two or three models that all move very well but are otherwise generic sans skin colors and uniform design. What really makes the models cool are their heads. Instead of 3D model they use actual photos of the players making various facial expressions. It both hilarious and awesome and does a great job of drawing you into the game. The arenas while nothing special look good for the most part. Unfortunately though the care put into the player models is not used in the spectators. Most of them are 2D with a few frames of animation and is really kind of boring to look at, which shouldn't matter too much since you shouldn't be focusing on them anyways.

The music in this game isn't as classic as the stuff from the original. A little too hip-hop for my tastes but overall not to bad. The little extra music that plays when you are on fire was a nice touch. What they did get really right is bringing back the original play-by-play announcer, Tom Kitzrow. His addition really adds to the game's classic atmosphere and while his calls can get repetitive and tiresome at times, there are few lines as awesome as hearing Tim call out "BOOM SHAKALAKA" on a massive dunk or saying "HE'S ON FIRE" when you are on fire. The on court sound effects have some oomph to them but you don't feel nearly as big as they should be but maybe it just me.

In the end though, NBA Jam is a faithful update to the classic original game. If sims aren't your thing but you still love yourself a little basketball you can't go wrong with this game.

+ Great revival of the arcade classic with a lot extra modes if you are also looking for something new
+ Nice clean graphics with heads being really fun
+ Lots of secrets to unlock
+ Tim Kitzrow's classic announcing
- Some of the hidden players leave a bit to be desired
- AI can be cheap and unbalanced even on easiest setting
- Really wish Michael Jordan could have been in it

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