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With Authority- NBA Jam Review

If the contract allowing G4 to broadcast endless reruns of Cops ever expires, I’m hoping the channel would consider adding more original programming to their schedules. Surely with the growing recognition of the video games, a show drawing inspiration from VH1’s Behind the Music could chronicle the history of popular franchises. Sticking close to formula, there’s seems to be no shortage of once-popular series which have succumbed to a tragic drop in popularity.

One ideal candidate for the show could be NBA Jam– once the darling of arcades and home consoles, the title became lost among a field of imitators. Although titles like NBA Street, Street Hoops: King of the Court, NBA Ballers: Chosen One, and even Midway’s own NBA Hoopz tried to expand the original games mechanics, none were able to surpasses NBA Jam‘s cunning simplicity. With the concluding collapse of Midway Games last year, it appeared the landmark title would only live on in the memory of veteran players.

Fortunately, EA Canada’s recent reboot of the series may mean that a new generation of gamers can add the phrase “he’s on fire!” to their vocabulary. NBA Jam manages to hit the metaphorical buzzer-beating, game-winning three-point shot: it’s the rare remake that successfully captures the essence of its predecessor. Sadly, a few of the new additions within the title’s Remix Tour bounce errantly off the rim. Yet,  these gaffs are hardly strong enough to tarnish an otherwise marvelous comeback performance.

One of NBA Jam‘s greatest strengths was its accessibility. Without having to worry about the minutiae of player management or defensive formations, the title’s two-on-two matches boiled basketball down to its raw essentials. The game’s other forte was its blatant disregard for realism- watching a whirling player fly through the air while palming a flaming basketball was incessantly amusing (especially when the athlete happened to be Bill Clinton or his wife). Beyond an optional gesture-based control method and polygonal player models, NBA Jam masterfully recreates the charm of the 1993 classic. From initiating a high-flying dunk from the top of the key to stopping a jumper with a well-time defensive leap, the title’s physics feel mostly untouched. The one exception is that being ‘on fire’ doesn’t carry the same overwhelming supremacy it once did.

The game’s tutorial requests players learn the Wiimote and nunchuck-based input  method. As someone who has spend hours playing the original NBA Jam with a SNES pad, I was worried that control setup would be unwieldy. After a few minutes, the game’s downward slash to imitate a jump and upward swing to release the ball became instinctive. Alternatively, participants may use a horizontally held Wiimote or a Classic Controller, although these methods tend to take menu navigation a bit more cumbersome. Strangely, Gamecube controller support isn’t offered.

Beyond the  core campaign which task player’s with defeating every other NBA team (as well as a few supplementary powerhouses) , the game also offers a Remix Tour. This component offers a variety on new challenges- from dominating zones of a half court, to destroying your rivals backboard, and even playing one-on-one with hoop’s finest athletes. On paper, the game’s boss battles seem like a sensible addition- however, in execution they can be rather frustrating. One of the first challenges- a race to score twenty-one points, pits players against the three-point luminary Larry Bird. An errant shove to get possession of the ball will put the superstar on fire, allowing him to execute a nine-point player.

Although this new iteration of NBA Jam abandons the sprite-based visuals of its predecessor, the game still retains a charmingly quirky aesthetic. Player heads are crafted from digitized pictures of athletes (and a few famous people), highlighted with exaggerated expressions to expression emotion. Bringing NBA Jam‘s original announcer, Tim Kitzrow, back for this reinvigoration was a major coup. His excited delivery and been expanded, and remains one of the game’s signature elements. In keeping with the game’s arcade and dorm room roots, NBA Jam regretfully doesn’t offer any online matches. Hopefully, this omission will be rectified in the upcoming 360/PS3 versions.

Electronic Art’s revival of NBA Jam is a near-flawless reminder of why the game became a phenomenon in the mid 90’s. While a number of developers have tried to reverse-engineer Mark Turmell’s formula, none have been able to match the original game’s success.  With online multiplayer and a few tweaks to the game’s new content, the inevitable sequel might the ability to convey the true meaning of “Boom-shaka-laka!”

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.


  1. I really want to get this, but I realize I should hold out for the 360 version. Sharper graphics and MP.

  2. God, I sank so much money into the original NBA Jam it’s not even funny.

  3. So anyone have a key for unlocks?

  4. I heard Magic Johnson does actual Magic in this.

    This right there is awesome.

  5. LMOL at the cutout audience and players.

  6. Even VG Kobe’s got to be a prick? Wow, that’s realism.

  7. My big fear from the 360 is that EA starts charging for unlockable characters. That right there would kill it for me.

  8. Whats the price of this one?

  9. This one came out kind of quickly. I didn’t seem to be hearing a lot of hype about it.

  10. Wait till you see the heads. Look for a video.

  11. “cant buy a bucket” was my favorite phrase. At least when it was used for the other team.

  12. How about a list of unlockable characters?

  13. NBA Jam for Nintendo Wii

    Unlock the following Players and Teams by satisfying the conditions listed.

    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

    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

    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 player in
    one game.

    Scottie Pippen – Stringin’ Em Together // Go on a 5 game win streak in

  14. Stickman Team – Operation Stickman // Defeat the Stickman Team in
    Classic Campaign.

    Unlock the following extra game options by satisfying the conditions listed.

    1-Shot Fire Privilege – Western Conference Domination // Beat Classic
    Campaign with a team from each division in the Western Conference.

    Big Head Mode Privilege – Fundamentals // Complete Jam Camp.

    Camera Hog Privilege – Mad Skills // Perform 10 successful crossovers in
    one game.

    Cobalt Basketball – Wrecking Crew // Beat the CPU in Smash in 2 minutes
    or less.

    Ground Basketball – Big Brawlin’ // Beat the CPU in a game of Elimination.

    Happy Face Basketball – Persistent // Perform 10 successful putbacks.

    Lava Basketball – Firefighter // Put out your opponent’s fire 4 times in
    one game.

    Mini Men Privilege – Mini Ming // Shrink Yao Ming to his smallest size
    in the Yao Ming Boss Battle.

    NBA Jam Basketball – En Fuego! // Get on fire in a 1P or 2P game.

    Power UPS Privilege and the Globe Ball – Remix Champion // Complete
    Remix Tour.

    Unlimited Turbo Privilege – Easter Conference Domination // Beat Classic
    Campaign with a team from each division in the Eastern Conference.

    USA Basketball – Break the seal // Win a game vs. the CPU.

    Unlock the following “boss” battles by satisfying the conditions listed.

    Chris Paul Boss Battle – CP3 // Beat the New Orleans Hornets Gold
    Challenge in Remix Tour.

    Dr. J Boss Battle – Dr. J // Beat the Philadelphia 76ers Gold Challenge
    in Remix Tour.

    Dwayne Wade Boss Battle – Flash // Beat the Miami Heat Gold Challenge in
    Remix Tour.

    Karl Malone Boss Battle – Mailman // Beat the Utah Jazz Gold Challenge
    in Remix Tour.

    Kobe Bryant Boss Battle – Black Mamba // Beat the Los Angeles Lakers
    Silver Challenge in Remix Tour.

    Larry Bird Boss Battle – Bird // Beat the Boston Celtics Gold Challenge
    in Remix Tour.

    Lebron James Boss Battle – King James // Beat the Miami Heat Silver
    Challenge in Remix Tour.

    Magic Johnson Boss Battle – Magic // Beat the Los Angeles Lakers Gold
    Challenge in Remix Tour.

    Shaquille O’Neal Boss Battle – Diesel // Beat the Orlando Magic Gold
    Challenge in Remix Tour.

    Yao Ming Boss Battle – Yao // Beat the Houston Rockets Gold Challenge in
    Remix Tour.

  15. I was never crazy about the game. I guess NBA was alright I guess.

  16. Stretch Caddy Daddy

    Michelle Obama better be in the game. Thats big woman looks like she can ball.

  17. How do you get the 3/4 angle in the third screen?

  18. Which came first NBA Jam’s Tenacious D or the group?

  19. Are big heads always on for does the game just look like that?

  20. Yeah, the boss battles aren’t fun. They more like impossible.

  21. I’m sure they wouldn’t do that. There be a public outcry.

  22. Looks like they got the coaches in there too. Since EA has the rights to all that stuff, I’m glad they handles this.

  23. I love NBA Jam, but I have a hard time paying $50 for a remake, when I have the original (and College Jam) in my collection still.

  24. Wow, an A- that’s impressive. I might have to check this out.

  25. so I looking up NBA Jam on the wikipedia. They said the arcade version used to cost $1.00 to $2.00 a play. Is that true? I don’t remember paying that much?

    You guys know what the most expensive major arcade game ever released was?

  26. Much appreciated!

  27. Good review. Thanks Deagle.

  28. 12 reviews in 17 days?

    “You’re on feugo, brother!”

  29. no shit. I think Desert and Eagle are two different people.

  30. Are they really that hard or are there patterns to beat them?

  31. I’m sure I’ll get this one day. There’s just too much slightly better stuff coming out right now.

  32. THANK YOU!

  33. Just got this today. Pretty cool so far. But the menus are way weird with a CC.

  34. It sounds like a quality game with great potential if they use your ideas. Newer doesn’t always mean it is better than the old. Often the high quality of the old is better i.e. furniture and houses.

  35. I was so excited to see that they were going to make a new NBA Jam game. I remember playing that game on the Sega Genesis when I was growing up. That game was so much fun and I can’t wait until I can play the new game on my Wii.