NBA Jam (2010)

Here is a game that time forgot: the 2010 pseudo sequel (and update) to NBA Jam.

Someone, somewhere is probably wondering why I gave this a review on the Wii. Well, for starters, I was thinking the same thing! Why did I have this on the Wii and nowhere else?

It appears EA botched another NBA title they were working on, in which this new version of NBA Jam was a pack-in perk for buying – so the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions eventually released at retail, and with better graphics and online play, but were also lacking compared with the Wii version.

Another cool aspect at the time was most of us with a Wii had multiple controllers handy in order to play with a room packed full of friends. We all got older by this point, but the fun was still there from the originals, including the announcer from the first games.

Unlike some of the follow-ups to the series following Tournament Edition, including the branching off of Jam and it’s sibling NBA Showtime, the 2010 Wii title feels like a direct successor of the original two NBA Jam games which took arcades by storm over a decade earlier.

The 2-vs-2 gameplay returns, with the silly dunks and “He’s on fire” we all come to love.

I think the simplicity of the Wii Remote really helped put this game over the top – complete with motion controls – as updated rosters finally saw fans of the series and pro basketball alike rejoice over the updates.

A sticking point for me, however, is LeBron James and his post-Decision roster choice of joining the Miami Heat: a damn near unbeatable team. Use them if you want to act like the “King” himself and cheat your way through the game!!

(Note: I’m a Cleveland Cavaliers fan so this sits worse with me, as my team is handicapped with probably the worst roster in the game, utilizing Antawn Jamison and Mo Williams!)

Like TE and unlike the OG, the 2010 update features the ability to swap your two stars, usually from a selection of 4 players on that team. In this way, the “Big Three” of James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh can all be alternated through with the Heat. (Ahem, the cHeat.)

The graphics are updated, even though the Wii isn’t HD it’s noticeable these are 3-D models this time around and not the usual sprites.

Gameplay, as noted, is as simple as before – pass/shoot or block/steal with two buttons, as the third gives you the infamous “turbo” necessary to make rim-shaking dunks or send an opponent to the floor.

Other extras, such as spin moves, crossovers, and alley-oops were added to the 2010 edition too – and feel more at home than changes made between TE and 2010’s Jam/Showtime spinoffs.

The animations, right off the bat, give you a sense of “Jam” goosebumps when you see (in this case) Kobe Bryant execute a behind-the-back pass on the very first change of possession. The courts and crowds are far more detailed, with attention paid to paint and markings giving each home venue a more personalized feel – ditto for jerseys – than the originals palette-swapping (which was understandable at the time).

The camera adds to the game, with new panning that takes you up with the dunks and “shakes” the screen when slamming it down. The presentation of the original always felt like watching the old “NBA on NBC” broadcasts – also updated to 2010 standards here but retaining the TV-like feel.

Notably, the game still cheats like a mother.

If you ever played the originals, you know your winning streak is in trouble no matter what. Even one of my screen grabs here shows a cheap blocked shot by Pau Gasol, where the computer opponent doesn’t even touch the ball! (In the arcade original the goal was to beat all 27 teams – which by the time you got on a small win streak, the computer would NEVER allow you to have a lead!)

Seriously, this game cheats worse than Mario Kart… but it adds to the authenticity of being a Jam game too. There’s also a plethora of hidden legends in the game, including Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, essentially the cherry on top of what was a great update to a great game, that most people didn’t even know was remade!

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

You’re not seeing double, I swear!

Following the review of the Sega 32X version of this very title, I had forgotten that it was also ported to the original PlayStation in 1995 for its launch as well.

Like other CD-based games of its time, NBA Jam T.E. was an arcade-accurate translation of its source material.

Unlike other CD-based games, this one doesn’t suffer from long load times, something highlighted in the book Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room by David L. Craddock with an interview with game developer Chris Kirby:

PlayStation’s CD-based storage medium forced Kirby to carefully consider how to read and write data. As the game ran, data was unpacked from the disc and sent to VRAM. To minimize load times, a natural consequence of disc-based media, he arranged the data linearly so the PlayStation’s laser eye that read contents from the disc wouldn’t need to jump around to gather assets and code.

I had also noted many of the updates and changes from the original NBA Jam to Tournament Edition in my 32X review, and still consider the 32X version the definitive one among consoles despite the strong PlayStation showing. That’s due to the many notes in the article above, which any hardcore NBA Jam player would notice between the two versions.

However, the PSX port is so strong of a title on its own, it deserved a separate entry due to the technical achievements of the hardware it ran on and the way the development team handled the translation to the home screen. Unlike its Mortal Kombat cousins on the same system, NBA Jam T.E. is almost always a pleasure to play and really sold how strong the PlayStation hardware was upon its arrival.

Check it out and let me know what you think of the various console ports and their differences! (Note: don’t forget NBA Jam T.E. also released for the Atari Jaguar – I may cover that as well, since its one of the most mainstream titles in a limited library of an obscure console!)

NBA Jam: Tournament Edition

One of my favorite all-time arcade games is NBA Jam. When it first released, it gave you the thrill of a rookie Shaquille O’Neal breaking glass backboards along with actual NBA players in a fantasy 2-on-2 setting.

The series jumped to the forefront with an announcer who parodied the NBA’s popular play-by-play guy at the time Marv Albert, using one-liners such as “He’s on fire!”, “Is it the shoes?”, and “Boom-shaka-laka” all becoming commonplace in pop culture.

Getting the game on a home console was like Christmas every day, where you no longer had to pump quarters into the arcade to play each, um, quarter. Like Mortal Kombat, which was also developed by Midway, the translation to home was produced by Acclaim – and it came nearly complete with the same digitized faces/actors that made both series memorable mainstays in the 90’s.

Unfortunately, the home versions (and later arcade revisions) snubbed some of the more popular players from NBA Jam’s rosters. Due to licensing with other game titles, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and the aforementioned Shaq were absent.

While I wanted to review the plain jane NBA Jam, I learned my lesson from the Mortal Kombat series to just jump right into the best of the bunch – that also happens to be the successor to the first title, NBA Jam “Tournament Edition” or “T.E.” for short.

T.E. brought new innovations to the series, including expanded rosters (you could switch your two players between a mix of three total per team – and could “sub” between quarters too). A tournament mode kept things at a competitive balance for the most hardcore players while “hot spots” and other additions made T.E. the pinnacle of the original NBA Jam games, much in the same way Mortal Kombat peaked with MK2.

The best of the 16-bit era games was actually a 32-bit port, to the mostly unsupported and largely abandoned Sega 32X. The top-heavy add-on was still cartridge based, but had built upon the superior Super Nintendo translation in every way to make the most arcade-worthy port of the T.E. games (until Sony’s PlayStation landed, that is).

Yet, the 32X is worth mentioning here as there are few games that were released for it and T.E. could’ve been a killer app if not for overwhelming their own market by flooding it with Jam available for nearly every console imaginable (including the Game Boy and Atari’s Jaguar!)

But without the CD loading waits (read: long waits) of the PSX, T.E. best lives on with Sega’s 32X as the definitive cartridge console version of its era. It’s well worth revisiting if you have the time, if only to walk down memory lane and play with some of the game’s many hidden characters!