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!”