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Kimberley Ellis
24 Dec, 2010

NBA Jam Review

PS3 Review | Is this classic basketball franchise heating up?
If you had a fondness for video games in the 1990s, chances are you have some memories of duking it out with your mates in NBA Jam. Whether you pumped dollar coins into the coin-op iteration at your local arcade or crowded around a home console, you’ll fondly recall the bright colours, the bombastic announcer and the high-flying, rim-rocking dunks that defined the NBA Jam experience. While there have been many imitators, none of the new breed of arcade basketball titles has achieved an experience comparable to that of the original NBA Jam. EA Canada has attempted to reignite your passion for NBA Jam, but while this shiny, new version of this title looks and plays like the game we all knew and loved, the fact that the game itself hasn’t evolved leaves quite a shallow gameplay experience which will most likely keep many gamers at bay. But if you’re a long-time fan of the series and you prefer to play your games in short bursts rather than long sittings, you’ll find much to like about the game.

The 2010 iteration of NBA Jam resurrects the classic dunk-fest, and brings it into the HD realm of gaming. While we are finally getting a another dose of the classic basketball action, we don’t have to settle for the graphics of NBA Jam titles of yore and this edition packs in a fresh set of animations and effects and some seriously fluid HD graphical pretties. Fundamentally, it retains the look and feel of its originator but has been given a glossy coat of HD paint. The most notable difference is the look of the players themselves who now possess large heads which greatly resemble that of their real-life counterparts. After all those years of pixelated players, it’s an absolute blast to be able to watch the changing facial expressions of the players as get pushed over or soar through the air for a thunderous dunk. The crisp visuals also play up to the swagger and coolness that the game exudes. Only the best players of the real game of basketball are included here and like the superstars they are in real life, the game also gives them the same air of greatness as they pull off otherworldly moves while camera bulbs flash throughout the stadium. It’s also very cool to see the glass shatter after a rim-rattling dunk. While the visuals don’t change the gameplay experience, they definitely improve the presentation value of the title significantly.


Graphically slicker than the NBA Jam players of yore.

Graphically slicker than the NBA Jam players of yore.
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The sound has also been given an upgrade, with Tim Kitzrow back for another dose of his bombastic color commentary. From “Boomshakalaka!” to “He’s heating up!” Kitzrow has rerecorded all of his classic NBA Jam phrases and even added a number of new ones – though many of these new phases prove to be quite hit and miss. All up though, the music, sound effects and commentary tracks all mesh together to give gamers a vibrant, game world as it is abuzz with activity - making the basketball stadium setting seem almost alive.

While the presentation does a great job to draw us in, its ultimately the gameplay which decides whether the time that we spend with the title is worth our time. In our opinion, we think that the game is fun to play as it faithfully recreates the gameplay of the original title. Ironically, this faithful recreation is both NBA Jam's greatest feature and its greatest flaw. The problem is that NBA Jam is a simple affair - it always has been - and although this factor makes the title more accessible to gamers, it ultimately harms the single-player longevity of the title. Though ultimately, how bothered you are by this will depend on whether you prefer to go it alone or play NBA Jam with a buddy. Like its coin-op predecessors, NBA Jam is best suited to short bursts of play rather than long gaming sessions. Some of this problem is alleviated by co-operative play - a factor which also ran true with the original game. Online play is also included with the title, but the few times we attempted to get a match going yielded no results, giving us the impression that the multiplayer side of things isn't as robust as we'd like.

The title does attempt to shake up the single-player experience with a bit of modern flavour by offering up a number of game modes to play through, but not all of them are successful at keeping you with the game for longer. The best example of this is the 'Classic Campaign' which sets you with the task of beating every NBA team (plus a number of special teams featuring great basketballers of the past), although it equates to nothing more than being a string of Exhibition matches for you to complete.


He's on fire!

He's on fire!
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Remix Mode mixes it up a little by adding power-ups to games which provide players with super speed, , greater shot accuracy and more power to knock over your opponents with. But given that NBA Jam already presents us with action so over-the-top that it'd make the Harlem Globetrotters jealous, these power-ups don't add any real value to the gameplay. Remix Tour acts as a hybrid of both Remix Mode and the Classic Campaign - and as such it suffers from the same flaws of these game modes.

By far our favourite game modes were 'Smash' - which gives players the objective of consistantly slam dunking in order to shatter your opponents backboard to win the game - and 'Domination' which is a mode which incorporates elements of strategy in order to win. The aim of Domination is to score from hotspots positioned around the court. In order to win, you'll need to master a number of short and long-range shots so you can dominate all of the spots. This mode comes with an element of tension to it as it creates a to-and-fro between players until someone ultimately slips up and gifts their opponent the win.

The wealth of unlockable players, courts, and bonuses outstrips the depth of the core gameplay experience, but all but the most stalwart NBA Jam veterans likely won't be kept busy for long enough to access all of these goodies.

Despite the few new game modes (which add some variety to the mix), the HD graphics overhaul, and the analog stick control scheme, NBA Jam plays exactly the same as it always has. Elbow-throwing, pushes, spin-moves and high-flying acrobatic dunks all return. Like the original, the gameplay action itself moves very fast, and the AI opponents continue to employ cheap tactics to try and beat you. This can get very annoying, very quickly as you'll find yourself getting constantly elbowed and knocked to the ground by the AI as it tries to make up ground on the lead that you have. Though at the end of the day, if you can tolerate your friends using the same cheap move in a fighting game over and over, you'll learn to live with what the AI dishes out in NBA Jam.


Is it the shoes?

Is it the shoes?
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Another aspect of the title that we enjoyed was the opportunity to try out the analog control scheme, which allows all movement, shooting, blocking and stealing controls to be accessed via the dual analog sticks of the PlayStation 3. As we found the game to be quite easy at times, playing with this control scheme was a great way to ramp up the difficulty as it adds some extra skill into the mix. Though those looking to stick to the basics will be glad to know that the typical mashing of the face buttons is still applicable should you wish to play the title in this fashion.

NBA Jam does an excellent job of bringing the classic title up-to-date for the modern gaming audience, though its shallow gameplay mechanic may keep some gamers at bay until it sees a significant price reduction. Even with a plethora of unlockables, a handful of game modes and an accessible control scheme, it's hard to recommend a purchase of the game at full-price to those outside of the NBA Jam fan base. But if you're looking for some bonefide 90s gaming nostalgia, the bone-rattling, frenetic basketball action of NBA Jam is certainly worth a look.
The Score
NBA Jam does an excellent job of bringing the classic title up-to-date for the modern gaming audience, though its simplistic gameplay may ultimately detract those looking for a deeper basketball experience.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related NBA Jam Content

NBA Jam comes to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
04 Aug, 2010 Exclusive be gone.
NBA Jam details
20 May, 2010 Boom-shaka-laka!
NBA 2K11 Review
30 Oct, 2010 Simply the best.
9 Comments
3 years ago
Wasn't the whole point of this title to -not- change the gameplay? Seems a little cheap to rag on it for it's intention.
3 years ago
bought it 8 days ago fun game not the kinda thing u could spend hours and hours on but all in all great fun for you and a mate!!!
3 years ago
drinniol wrote
Wasn't the whole point of this title to -not- change the gameplay? Seems a little cheap to rag on it for it's intention
Completely disagree. If a development team makes a game design choice that detracts from the game, then it should be reflected in the review. It doesn't say the game is less fun from this flaw, but games deserve higher scores if they are both deeper and original.
3 years ago
I disagree greatly, they don't deserve higher scores if the depth and originality doesn't add to the gameplay. If it were done differently, many fans would comment that if they just kept the same fun gameplay it would be much better, and vice versa. A deep and original game is not any better a game than a game that is just fun as all hell.

The score's fine, but to suggest that a deeper experience deserves a higher score says that we're heading into dangerous territory here - where games being fun isn't good enough to make them good games in the eyes of the gaming community.
3 years ago
I think the price plays a part too...its fairly overpriced for what is glorified arcade title
3 years ago
No tag mode forces me to rank this a bit lower. Means you almost have to play on the same side if you're playing 2 player.

Still, it's good fun.
3 years ago
Surely originality has to factor in somehow. Otherwise couldn't a developer just update the graphics each year and make no change to gameplay and get the exact same or higher scores each year.

Wouldn't we be heading into dangerous territory if this were to occur?

On a side note I've heard this game is a lot of fun, but more for the nostalgia than gameplay.
3 years ago
Googol wrote
I disagree greatly, they don't deserve higher scores if the depth and originality doesn't add to the gameplay. If it were done differently, many fans would comment that if they just kept the same fun gameplay it would be much better, and vice versa. A deep and original game is not any better a game than a game that is just fun as all hell.

The score's fine, but to suggest that a deeper experience deserves a higher score says that we're heading into dangerous territory here - where games being fun isn't good enough to make them good games in the eyes of the gaming community.
Oh, don't get me wrong, fun is DEFINITELY the most important aspect of a game, but if I have two similar games which I find equally fun, I will give the one that has more depth a better score overall. Same goes for Originality. No point having incredible depth if the game is as exciting as an old boot.
3 years ago
Online on this game is horrible icon_sad.gif
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