NBA Jam is one of my fondest memories of childhood. I sunk so many quarters into that machine that I swear I could've used that money to buy my own arcade cabinet. Of course when it finally was made for a home console I wasted no time buying it and playing the living hell out of my Sega Genesis. The flaming hoops, Tim Kitzrow shouting "Boomshakalaka!" when you dunk it, Big Head Mode, playing as then-President Clinton, it was -- at the time -- the best sports video game title at the time. Seventeen years and a few mediocre knockoffs later EA brought NBA Jam back to its glorious roots, revamping everything that made the original a classic; so why doesn't it impress me as it once did?
NBA Jam features the original 2-on-2 baller with the current NBA Roster, along with hidden legends like Kevin McHale, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson to pass, push and slam through the quarters, with the original Jam commentator Kitzrow spouting his trademark phrases. Along with the classic mode players have the ability to battle it out in Remix Tour mode, where the hoop masters can face off in games of 21, Power-Up mode and (my personal favorite) Smash, where the first team to break their backboard wins. The more Jam Challenges you complete throughout the game the more items you unlock, which can range from special basketballs to secret characters like Dr. J, President Obama and the Democrats and the Beastie Boys.
Players have the option to control the game using the Wiimote, the Wiimote/Nunchuk combo and the Classic Controller. When playing with just the Wiimote or the Classic Controller the original feel of NBA Jam is right at your fingertips, and is still as easy as ever. The Wiimote/Nunchuk combo adds an extra challenge to the Jam experience, where you will have to flick the Wiimote at the precise moment to get the ball in, unlike the Classic Controller mode where you have to simply press a button at the right time. While adding a sort of realism to the game using the Wiimote/Nunchuk combination can be a tad frustrating, with the chances of missing or having the ball snatched away rising up more often than not. Having said that the realistic free throw movement makes the combo peripherals the must-play version of the controls.
The graphics in NBA Jam are far smoother than its original counterpart, thanks to its Flash-like appearance. While lacking in the realism department (which is the point) the graphics showcase the true cartoonish aspects of the game. These aspects showoff best in Power-Up modes, with players grabbing these abilities becoming either super strong, very elastic or quite tiny. Watching the ball and rim catch on fire after three consecutive baskets is also a thrill to watch. They also put in some nice details in the background, including the specific coaches to each team. (Shame we can't unlock them and have 'em battle it out on the court.) The hip hop soundtrack also adds to the nostalgia of the game, not to mention the commentary from Kitzrow. Granted some of the lines in the game fall flat, but other quotes are very classic. After all it wouldn't be NBA Jam without a few "It must be the shoes!" or "He's on fire!" phrases.
The Wii version of NBA Jam is nothing short of completing what it was meant to do: reinvent the classic game for a brand-new generation. Everything that made the original NBA Jam a classic is still intact in this redo, and that, my friends, is one of the big problems of this game. Because of the evolution of games since the first NBA Jam was released the moves and fiery hoops aren't as impressive as they once were. If they evolved the Jam experience the same way that, say, the world of Madden NFL Football had been we would've had a true successor to the NBA Jam name. Unfortunately what we were given was just the original game with updated rosters and a gloss of better graphics, not to mention no online mode for battling it out with people across the country.
- Classic Jam modes, cool unlockables
- Remix Tour has some fun moments
- Kitzrow's commentary is as refreshing as ever
- Doesn't add anything stellar to the franchise
- 21 mode can be a bit frustrating
- Online mode would've been nice
The new NBA Jam restores everything that made the classic game good again, but unfortunately leaves little for surprises. The game still is as fun as I can remember, but it's not as fantastic as it once was. It's definitely a great title to play with friends, but as a solo game it doesn't leave a whole lot to jump for joy for. In short: NBA Jam is one "ka" short of a true "Boomshakalaka!"
FINAL GRADE: 7.2 (out of ten)