It’s hard to believe NBA Jam debuted in arcades 17 years ago. The series launched arcade sports games to new heights with fast paced action and high flying, backboard breaking dunks that made Darryl Dawkins green with envy. However, Jam and its offshoots fizzled out by the turn of the century as sim basketball games gained ground. Somehow EA managed to bring the series back into relevance with NBA Jam (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) serving as a throwback amidst the droves of super serious sports titles. Does it put up a brick or catch fire? Read on and see if this retread lives up to its name or stomps all over your childhood memories of the iconic arcade game.
It’s evident NBA Jam uses ample doses of nostalgia to its advantage. It’ll take a game or two to come to grip with the game’s feel. But once you “get it” you’ll realize the experience is NBA Jam to a T. You still have to shoot, dunk, steal, push and block your way to wins with lightning quick possessions. That’s not to say there’s no need to play defense. Good D gives you the upper hand and the last thing you want is for your opponent to get on fire with three consecutive baskets. The game actually makes defending a bit easier as blocks and steals occur more frequently that the old Jam games.
Speaking of controls, they’re very easy to pick up. You have your standard shoot/block, pass and steal buttons along with turbo. Pushes and clear outs are intact as well as spins, crossovers, alley oops and double dunks introduced in the NBA Hangtime and NBA Showtime. The right stick can be utilized to shoot, spin, crossover and push if you please as well although the buttons feel slightly more responsive. My only gripe is the fact that you can’t map the turbo to the right trigger/R2. Nevertheless, being forced to use the left trigger/L2 isn’t a game breaker.
The game tries to flesh itself out by including a combination of one player modes. Thing is, they’re not much fun to play after awhile. Classic campaign pits your squad against all 30 NBA teams but it’s nothing exemplary. The Remix Tour calls you to take over each NBA division via a variety of challenges like backboard smash, a standoff between teams to break each other’s backboard and boss battles with NBA legends. It’s cool to mess around with until NBA Jam‘s notorious AI enters the fray. Winning the gold level challenges becomes an exercise in frustration since the computer pulls out all stops to make the game “competitive.” It’s not as obvious as the old games where you’d be up ten and suddenly air ball wide open lay ups. But it can get unrelenting at times on hard: the game’s default difficulty.