Sadly the underpinning play has dated over the years and there’s been no real effort to improve it
Playing the Wii’s recently released NBA Jam is like watching your dad dance at a wedding: Plenty entertaining 17 years ago, but now you’ve perhaps outgrown such simple, guilty pleasures.
Keeping gameplay more or less intact from the 1993 Midway arcade smash, the Wii’s updated NBA Jam is familiar and immediately accessible: Two on Two. Lakers versus Bulls. Over-excitable commentator. Players who can nullify Earth’s gravitational pull. We’ve been here before…
Complimenting this familiarity, NBA Jam offers distinct control schemes. The standard wiimote allows for simplified control, should a nunchuck deficit arise. Meanwhile the classic controller mirrors the old SNES input exactly. If nostalgic gaming is your pastime of choice, you should be right at home here.
To its credit, NBA Jam delivers more than a simple spit-polish over the original. The nunchuck assisted control layout cleverly utilizes enough motion control to make this a legitimate Wii title. Shots, dunks, fakes and blocks are all executed by hoisting the wiimote upwards, then slamming it home. This mechanic enjoys satisfyingly high success rates, and successfully netting three pointers “From Downtown” should prompt a shameless bout of showboating.
We wouldn’t be surprised if Xzibit had his way with the game, as it’s been decidedly pimped: remixed campaign, big head mode, smash challenges, elimination mode, power-ups, custom balls, a four person multiplayer and, naturally, boss fights. This is basketball after all… At first glance, NBA Jam seems exactly the right kind of reboot.
Sadly the underpinning play has dated over the years and there’s been no real effort to improve it. The maddening inability to thwart enemy dunks is a game breaking flaw. We should know, our games were broke! Also, stealing and intercepting is inconsistent, and as for why and when the ball spontaneously bursts into flames, or your avatar spins like a top before slamming the ball through the hoop appear to be randomized events. And don’t even bother looking for answers in the new ‘Jam Camp’ training mode, as it’s about as useful as blocking shots with your face;
which is not useful, in case you’re new to the game.
That said, the unbridled joy of administering backboard shattering dunks or gravity defying lay-ups (which seem to include instantaneous teleportation of the basketball) almost makes up for the former shortcomings. Almost.
There is plenty of room for tactical play, unusual in a game with only four participants. Your two man squad can pump-fake, spin while dribbling, slip the ball betwixt their legs and elbow opponents in the chest. These techniques enable you to unfairly steamroll struggling defenders. You’ll believe yourself the next Kobe Bryant, until you sink your first ball, the opposition gets given possession, and they do the exact same to you.
There are plenty of advocates for basketball who truly think it’s a game which depends on skill and strategy, not simply teams taking turns scoring and equalizing. Sadly, for all its “Razzle Dazzle”, you won’t register this fact playing NBA Jam.
It’s not a poor game by any stretch, and the work that has gone into presentation, style and a persisting sense of fun is clearly evident, and generally appreciated. Couple this with its reduced price-tag and you may have a potential buy for multiplayer mayhem on your hands. However faulty design, and the recent release of NBA 2K11, might give you pause for thought. “Intercepted!”