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Igniting the Net- NBA Jam Review

Mirroring the frenzied, back-and-forth matches that the series is known for, the fate of the high-definition version of NBA Jam has been especially turbulent. First announced as a scaled-down, downloadable pack-in obtained with new copies of NBA Elite 11, the title later became a standalone product when EA’s signature basketball title was canceled. Last month, we reviewed the Wii iteration of the game, finding the disk to be a proficient and enjoyable update to the venerable arcade classic. The 360 and PS3 adaptations of NBA Jam offer the same game modes, with a handful of notable supplements.

Whereas Wii owners could take it to the hole with an optional fling of the Wiimote, the now-gen versions shun the physicality of Playstation Move and Kinect. Instead, NBA Jam offers players the ability to snap the right thumbstick up and down to simulate the jump and release of the ball. While players accustomed to the dual-stick control schemes of many contemporary sports title may enjoy this input method, I found myself reverting to the face buttons which more closely emulate NBA Jam’s traditional play style. Beyond the ability to initiate ankle-breaking crossovers, all the beloved steals, shoves, and blocks are back and should be instantly recognizable to anyone who stepped into an arcade during the early 90’s.

The Wii version traded in the arcade version’s the antiquated spite-based graphics for a lively polygonal presentation; the 360 and PS3 iterations offer the same aesthetic with a higher resolution.  As such, seeing Kobe Bryant focused concentration or Dwight Howard’s beaming smile is both consistently enjoyable and amusing, as each player’s face cycles through comical animations. Although the blurriness of coaches and the audience has been removed, NBA Jam doesn’t come close to the standard set by most modern sports games. Franchise vet Tim Kitzrow’s commentary is dependably spirited and quotable- expect a few chuckles during your first few games.

One of the biggest omissions with the Wii version of NBA Jam was the exclusion of online competitions- fortunately, that’s been rectified with this edition. While the game’s ‘net-based contests are reliably lag-free, playing against an Xbox/PS3 friend or stranger isn’t as gratifying as beating sinking a buzzer-beating dunk against a couch-mate. Without the benefit of a proper lobby or even reprimanding quitters for dropping out a match, NBA Jam’s online component can feel a bit rushed. As solace, the title does offer a Jam Card, which lets you crow about your accomplishments with earned icons and titles- there’s even a leveling system similar to Modern Warfare 2.

Beyond the game’s exhibition and online matches, there’s a quintet of modes to maintain player’s interests. Smash tasks teams with being the first to break their opponent’s backboard, while Domination challenges players to take possession of point-producing spots on the court. The game’s Boss Battles invite players to beat a succession of truly imposing champions- from a truly mystical Magic Johnson who teleports around the screen to Karl Malone’s shoves which have the power to push any of the Mailman’s opponents into another zip code. Learning each weakness requires a bit of trial and error, making the mode feel like Punch-Out recontextualized to a half-court.

No longer do gamers have to consider purchasing Elite 11 just for a crack of NBA Jam’s renewed rim-rocking antics. By offering the title as a standalone disk, EA is giving now-gen console owners a gratifying and all-inclusive experience which warrants the admission price. Now, if the developers can patch the game’s matchmaking blemishes, they’ll have a diversion which sets the net ablaze.

About Robert Allen

With over 35 years of gaming experience, Robert 'DesertEagle' Allen is Tech-Gaming's resident worrier/warrior who spends his days teaching at three colleges and his nights devoted to JRPGs.

30 comments

  1. Cool review, Deagle.

  2. Are they’re multiple difficulty levels?

  3. So is this really better than the Wii version.

  4. $50 seems like a bit much for this.

  5. how much more did they add to this version that the NBA Elite one?

  6. I remember blowing my allowance on NBA Jam back in the day. I’m trying to figure our why the game wasn’t brought back sooner.

  7. Should have been a XBLA game, like IGN said.

  8. College Jam can’t be far now.

  9. What was EA things with NBA Elite? That game was a mess. They should have stuck with this game from the getgo.

  10. I agree this really needs a lobby.

  11. I don’t think anyone know besides EA.

  12. So much for the Wii exclusive.

  13. I can wait until this drops down to $20 or so.

    BTW- what extra characters are in the game?

  14. I always liked NBA Jam, but after playing all the new hoops games, I don’t know if I can go back to a simple game.

  15. The guys who brought the $800 prototype disks know!

  16. It’s about time for a deal on this. Cyber Mondays has blown cybermonkeys so far this year.

  17. Yeah, but knocking a game not because of a fault with the controls or graphics but because of it’s form seems petty.

  18. Keyboard Cat Lives

    Good review. Sounds like this is fun to play. Can you play 2 local players with 2 players over the internet?

  19. The Remix Mode doesn’t do much for me, but being able to play a high-def Jam is worth $50. Remember that’s the price of the old cartridges.

  20. How many NBA players are in the game? 4 from every team?

  21. Great review- just as good if not better than the big sites.

  22. I love the way the Celtics mascot is photobombing the last picture.

  23. Allen Iverson – Elusive // Perform 10 successful shove counters.

    Beastie Boys Team – 3 The Hard Way // Defeat the Beastie Boys team in
    Remix Tour.

    Brad Daugherty – Double Up // Beat the CPU in a 2V2 game by doubling
    their score or better.

    Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas – Central Division Represent // Beat the
    Central Division Legend Team in Classic Campaign.

    Bryant Reeves – 100 Club // Win 100 games.

    Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway – Pacific Division Represent // Beat the
    Pacific Division Legend Team in Classic Campaign.

    Chuck Person – Fired Up // Get On Fire 4 times in a single game.

    Clyde Drexler – NBA Domination // Beat Classic Campaign with a team from
    each division in the NBA.

    Dan Majerle – Century Scorer // Score 100 points in one game.

    Danny Manning – Grand Scorer // Score 1,000 points.

    David Robinson – Glass Cleaner // Grab 10 rebounds in one game.

    Dennis Rodman – How Rude // Perform 10 successful shoves in one game.

    Detlef Schrempf – No “I” in Team // Win a 2P game vs. the CPU.

    Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb – Southeast Division Represent // Beat the
    Southeast Division Legend Team in Classic Campaign.

    Drazen Petrovic – The Spirit of Competition // Complete a game of 21
    against a friend.

    Dr. J – High Flyer // Perform 10 successful alley-oops.

    George Gervin – Buzzer Beater // Hit a Buzzer Beater shot to win a 2 V 2
    game.

    Glen Rice – Triple up // Beat the CPU in a 2V2 game by tripling their
    score or better.

    Hakeem Olajuwon, Kenny Smith – Southwest Division Represent // Beat the
    Southwest Division Legend Team in Classic Campaign.

    James Worthy – You Must be Butter // Go on a 10 game win streak in
    Classic Campaign.

    John Starks, Patrick Ewing – Atlantic Division Represent // Beat the
    Atlantic Division Legend Team in Classic Campaign.

    John Stockton, Karl Malone – Northwest Division Represent // Beat the
    Northwest Division Legend Team in Classic Campaign.

    Kenny Anderson – Sticky Fingers // Steal the ball 10 times in one game.

    Kevin Johnson – Ultimate Teammate // Beat the CPU in a 2V2 game with
    your drone teammate scoring all of the points.

    Kevin McHale – Feelin’ It // Perform 10 successful jump shots.

    Larry Bird, Magic Johnson – Bird / Magic Superteam // Beat the
    Bird/Magic Superteam in Classic Campaign.

    Larry Johnson – Ball Hog // Win a game without allowing your teammate to
    score.

    Manute Bol – Block Party // Perform 10 successful blocks.

    Mark Price – Gentleman // Beat the CPU in a 2V2 game without shoving.

    Mitch Richmond – 10K Scorer // Score 10,000 points

    Nick Anderson – First Game Jitters // Complete a Play Now Game.

    Orlando Magic Shaq – Smash It // Beat the CPU in Backboard Smash.

    Rony Seikaly – Throw It Down, Big Man // Dunk the ball 10 times in one game.

    Scott Skiles – Dominant Distributor // Get 30 Assists with one play

  24. Good review. I already have the Wii version, tho.

  25. that pretty much how all the Jam games have worked.

  26. 5 on 5 for $60 or 2 on 2 for $50. Hmmm.

  27. Yep, I never really like the NBA Jam series. It would frustrate the hell out of me when I had a breakaway and someone would strip the ball from me while I was dunking.

  28. Well, it did say the graphics were a bit better and there online play…

  29. I hope it’s crazy haired Rodman.

  30. I’m glad the right stick controls arent required.