Gamestyle Archive intro: its always a delight to bring you a debut writer into the archive and here’s another with Gopinath Chandran giving us his verdict on NBA Jam from September 2003.
Some of Gamestyle’s favourite childhood sayings were, “Is it the shoes?” and “BOOMSHAKALAKA!” And now the game that brought the world those sayings returns for its first incarnation on the Playstation 2. But does the veteran franchise still retain the magic on court? Originally an arcade game, <i>NBA Jam</i> hasn’t lost any of its arcade feel in the conversion to home console.
NBA Jam has done away with a lot of basketball’s rules – including back-passing, the three-second rule and even the number of players on each team. Reduced from five (on each team) to three-on-three games, NBA Jam doesn’t try to be a basketball simulator. Instead, it replaces them with huge, impossible dunks and super-quick gameplay. The game is easy to learn and electrifying to play. Within a few minutes, you’ll be performing awesome dunks and flashy passing moves. The rules are simple basketball ones (which just about everyone knows): two points for getting the ball in the net – from inside ‘the key’ – and three points from outside. Players can perform the normal moves and tricks, shots, fakes, spins and even alley-oops (where one player throws the ball towards the basket and another player dunks it in).
True to its arcade roots, there’s a turbo button – which gives players a minor power-up for a few seconds at a time. They can suddenly run faster and shoot better, and shove opposition players to the ground (which is legal in NBA Jam). Manage to get three consecutive shots in, and your player is now ‘on fire’; while in this state, his stats are maximised and he has unlimited turbo for sixty seconds. He can also perform even more outrageous dunks and shoot from just about anywhere. The only way to douse his ‘fire’ early is if the other team makes a basket. But these are all features that were in the older incarnations of the game. One of the new additions this time is the inclusion of ‘hot spots’. Each team has a Jam Meter that needs to be filled; Jam Points are awarded for scoring points, dunks, three-point shots, alley-oops (or basically, by just being great on court). Once the meter is full, you can press R3 to place a hot spot on the court. If you take a shot from the hot spot, your player makes a gravity-defying shot. With each hot spot, your score goes up in value – but so does the number of points needed to fill the Jam Meter; making it increasingly difficult to get a hot spot as the game progresses.
There are three modes of play on offer in NBA Jam: a standard Exhibition mode, where you can take on the computer (or a friend) in a one-off 3 on 3 match; Tournament, in which you take on each of the 29 modern NBA teams to become the “Jam Champion”; and finally (and perhaps uniquely), a Legend’s mode. In Legend’s mode, you take a modern team back in time to challenge the best NBA teams of the old-school generation. The graphics even change to reflect the era; adopting a grainy black-and-white TV style. The courts change to the old type of courts, and the (Legend) players can be seen wearing authentic ‘short’ shorts. Who likes short shorts? Legends do, apparently. Generally-speaking, the graphics are only bog-standard (and could even be described as outdated). The player models are good, although some people might find them a little too ‘cartoony’. The player movements and animations aren’t really up to much and are a little choppy.
The sounds are good; although the commentator is funny the first time around, he quickly becomes very, very repetitive over the course of even one match. The music is typically urban and entertaining, and creates that much-needed B-ball atmosphere. Extra features include a create-a-player mode, unlockable characters and a Jam Store. This allows you to spend points earned through playing the game on extras such as outfits and player’s accessories (and even outdoor courts). NBA Jam’s main selling-points are the easy-to-master controls and frenetic gameplay – but as well as it does these things, it also fails in many other areas. Major ones. While the graphics, player movement and animation are all quite functional, what really lets the side down is the AI. Your team-mates cope quite well offensively – independently creating alley-oop opportunities – but on defence they sometimes just stand around, allowing the opposition team to dribble right by them. And they also rarely try to grab the defensive rebound – leaving the opposition to pick up the ball after missed shots.
Although the controls are well thought out, trying to steal the ball away from an opponent is very difficult; reducing it to a combination of button-bashing and praying. Much of the game’s enjoyment comes from your first few goes, or from multiplayer. You have the option of playing with a friend (against the computer) or playing against each other. However, playing with a friend quickly gets old as two players can often destroy the computer-controlled team. With the return of NBA Jam comes the return of pick-up-and-play gameplay and quick, fast-paced (and exciting) basketball entertainment. However, it is also accompanied by lacklustre AI, repetitive commentary and a short lifespan. Casual basketball fans will probably find a great week’s worth of entertainment in this – and committed fans will love the Legend’s mode – but for a longer lasting challenge they’re better off looking elsewhere. “Is it the shoes?” No – it’s mostly the (unsatisfactory) AI.
Gamestyle Score: 7/10