One of the sports that I do not really find the appeal for is basketball. I see it on TNT or ESPN, realize there's no St. Louis team, and go back to watching House or Cowboy Bebop. Nonetheless, video game basketball does appeal to me. Now I don't know the teams nor do I know the players. Sure, I know the Carmelos and the Lebrons, but beyond those fresh faces, I'm perplexed by these new-fangled names. I'm using NBA Jam, a blast from the past perfect for the new millennium, as a teaching tool to get to learn some new talent in the NBA. Back in the early nineties, the NBA Jam games were highly popular. There was, of course, the excellent arcade game that mooched many quarters from young wannabe athletes as they played as the dream team of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Then came home versions for the SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo.
A bit of history toward the development of the game for you folks unaware. NBA Jam was originally announced exclusively for the Wii. There was a promise of online play. Then it turned out you could get NBA Jam free with a copy of the ill-fated, bug-ridden NBA Elite for the PS3 and 360. It did not feature all the modes that the Wii version had, but it did have online which the Wii build did not. Essentially word spread that only two programmers were actually working on the online aspect of the Wii version showing EA's continued care and charisma regarding their loyal Wii fanbase. Nonetheless, what every console wound up with was a full-retail version of their own with all modes included, motion controls for the Wii, and online play for the PS3 and 360.
The Wii version's single-player modes is divided up of two components. The one is the main campaign where you choose a team from the twenty-something (I'm talking from my ass here, sorry) teams. You than play six rows of six teams. Every sixth game is a legends battle where you take on two old-school players. Unfortunately, Michael Jordan would not lend his name to this game, or I'd be dunking like MJ with tongue waggling out of his mouth as he does it all day. Nonetheless, there's legends like Bill Laimbeer (of the great SNES Bill Laimbeer Combat Basketball fame... sarcasm implied), Magic Johnson, Dennis Rodman (the stuff of nightmares), and Larry Bird, for starters. Each game is played in four quarters of three minutes each. Obviously, the team of two with the highest score win. If you lose the game, you simply restart it. No harm, no foul. Well, since this is NBA Jam, there definitely aren't any fouls, but there is goal-tending. WAH-WAH-WAH.
The other mode is the Remix Campaign. This is divided up between divisions. As you earn enough points by completing various mini-games, you unlock new divisions to play in, boss battles to partake in, and league domination in the process. The various mini-games include Domination where the goal is to shoot the ball from spots on a half-court. Shots made means your team owns possession of that spot and accordingly earns points for that spot. The first team to reach 100 points is the victor. There's Smash where you're simply trying to destroy the opposing team's backboard via slam dunks and alley-oops. It's riveting to see your opponent's backboard shatter in a million shards on the final dunk. There's simple games like 21 where the premise is to be the first player to 21 points. Simple enough, right? Then there's Elimination where the player with the least amount of points by clock's end winds ups exterminated. Not literally, mind you, though that would make things much more interesting! Finally, there's the special remix mode. Unlike the other modes of remix, this mode is played on a full court. It's like normal NBA Jam except with power-ups like a quickening power-up, strength power-up, shrinking power-up, among others. There's three difficulty levels to each team you face in Remix Tour mode-- bronze, silver, and gold. The harder the difficulty, the harder the challenge.
Regular NBA Jam games are played on a full court with a horizontal perspective of the court. An opening tip-off decides who gains possession of the ball first. Three-pointers are fair game, but the big show here are the dunks. When a player scores three shots in a row, they grow hot. That means when they get possession of the ball, the basketball gets engulfed in flames as does their opponent's net. This makes shooting shots from further distances much easier. The slam dunks are much more impressive as well with your star athlete leaping up into the rafters, flipping 360 degrees, and slamming the ball through the net in an awesome display of pure... well, awesome! When the opposing team scores, however, it's bye-bye, firepower.
In NBA Jam, you control one player. In other games you'd pass it to your teammate, and you'd gain control of them. Not so in NBA Jam. Instead you can call for a pass (or pass the ball to your teammate yourself) with the push of the A button. The computer AI is smart enough to know when they're in trouble, when they can make a shot, and when to charge into the fire, guns blazing. Like the good song said, everyone needs someone to shove. Or was it love? Regardless, you can opt to steal or push down your opponents to take the ball away from them. Shooting feels natural and highly intuitive. What you do is flick the Wii remote up to initiate the shot, jumping up, and then flicking the remote downward to either shoot or slam dunk. As stated, it just feels incredible, and it's something a button press can't duplicate. You also raise the Wii remote to block shots. Just be careful not to goal-tend. That buzzer gets annoying anyway.
There's a host of unlockables to attain in NBA Jam. Fan-favorite, Big Head mode, is easily unlocked by playing through the training mode which shows off the entirety of the controls from using the Z button while running to use a turbo boost to passing and shooting. There's an achievement system where attaining certain goals unlocks new players, b-ball colors, teams (such as the Dems, Republicans, and the Beastie Boys), and cheats. If you don't get bored by the tedium of playing through multiple campaigns just to unlock the final goodies, there's dozens of hours of gameplay here to hold you steady.
The visuals of NBA Jam take a unrealistic approach. The players look like cut-out characters, photographed, and then pasted into the game. There's a wide amount of animations and expressions to keep the visual front from getting stale. The court glistens with lighting from the rafters and scoreboard, and the in-game menus are about as much as you'd expect from an EA effort on Wii. Sound-wise, the musical selection is as varied as characters in a Tyler Perry movie which is to say there hardly isn't any. There's usually the same two or three tunes throughout the entire game from actual basketball contests to the in-game menus. The commentary is oftentimes outrageous with lines like "Knock-knock. Who's there? Boomshakalaka," and "Like the top drawer of my wife's dresser, all nylon." The lines are delivered with great intensity and feel like the commentator actually cared about his job which is a pleasant sight to see... rather, hear.
Overall, NBA Jam isn't the best effort at reviving a classic franchise. There's some tedium in realizing that there's no online play and local multi-player will have to do. The catch-up AI when down by twenty points or more gets frustrating as well, plus most games boil down to slam dunks, alley-oops, and little else. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a b-ball experience on the eclectic side of the court, you can't really do any better than NBA Jam 2010.
[SuperPhillip Says: 7.5/10]