Gaming & Technology

Little is new on resurrected 'NBA Jam,' and that's good for now

Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks is among the star players in NBA Jam.
Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks is among the star players in NBA Jam. Courtesy Games Press

In 1993, Midway released NBA Jam, the greatest 2-on-2 arcade basketball game known to man.

It was fun for a number of reasons, but mostly because, well, it did not follow the rules. It was completely ridiculous and over-the-top basketball. There were no fouls, a hilarious commentator, a flurry of highly unrealistic acrobatic dunks, shots from half court (or full court), and it was extremely fast-paced. It was the NBA on steroids.

The game was so brilliant that EA Sports decided to resurrect it. And that is truly what EA did.

It's almost as if the company took the old game — or at least its blueprint — and updated the roster to make a sequel.

EA managed to preserve the ingredients that worked best for the original version of NBA Jam: its arcade-style gameplay, the outrageous dunks, the fast-paced play and the over-enthused commentator who shouts "he's heating up!" and "he's on fire!"

EA's greatest improvements came with the presentation of NBA Jam. The game certainly looks and plays better than it did 15 years ago.

The players, built with motion- capture enhanced 3D models with actual photos, are crisp, and they fall, flop and swing on the rim the way you would expect. Facial details are amazing in "Big Head" mode.

The ballers also play true to form, even within the ridiculousness that makes NBA Jam such a solid game. The Miami Heat's LeBron James, for example, is a superior dunker in real life, and as ridiculous as it is to think that James can jump from beyond the free-throw line, soar 20 feet above the rim, do a 180-degree turn and throw down a rim-bending dunk, he does it better than most players in this game. Just as Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns can make obscene behind-the-back passes and former Boston Celtics star Larry Bird is absolutely deadly behind the three-point line if you give him an inch.

The game has a very small learning curve, and it's easy to pick up the control and hop right in. There are times, however, when you're trying to cross over your opponent (wiggling the stick left and right) and you accidently move it up, firing off a full-court shot. It's not a routine occurrence, but it happened enough to frustrate me.

Here's the biggest complaint with this incarnation of NBA Jam: In this day, players come to expect more from every game because good games have raised the bar.

Perhaps EA was trying to balance a tenuous line by embracing the past in making this new title. Maybe it's a lose-lose situation.

Adding to the game is the remix mode — a new feature that offers a series of unlockable content through a handful of games, including 21 and 2-on-2 with various power ups that give your players super powers — but the campaign mode is what made this franchise.

And it's in the campaign mode where EA should have rolled up its sleeves to build onto something great.

It didn't.

Nobody played NBA Jam to play a season that would rival simulation basketball games like NBA Live or NBA 2K, because you can get that experience from those games. But there is nothing wrong with providing gamers with more options to play a longer campaign — or make it a little different. It would be nice to have more players to choose from on the bench. For example, why can't I play with Daniel "Boobie" Gibson on the Cleveland Cavaliers? It's bad enough that LeBron left, but I don't want to play with Mo Williams. And in this day, having the option to create your own player is pretty much a staple in any game. Not the case here. Speaking of staples in games, would it be too much to get instant replay so you can play back one of those 180-degree dunks or save a memorable moment?

Don't get me wrong; this is a good game. But that's largely because it was such a darn good game in the 1990s that there was no way EA was going to fail even if all it did was update an old franchise. I loved that game so much then that I can live with this version. I will expect more next time.