It's rather telling that of the four hours I spent getting to grips with Nintendo's new and upcoming wares last week, a quarter of that time was spent playing around with one game alone. Having done the rounds I looked up and noticed that the one game I'd managed to let pass me by that morning was finally free and so, smiling gently, I rocked up to the NBA Jam stand and held out my hands in eager anticipation.
'Do you want to check out the game by myself or do you fancy taking me on in some multiplayer?' asked the PR guy standing beside it. There was no contest. These things are made to be played with others and so a challenge was issued and duly accepted.
Four 15 minute-long matches later I managed to snap myself back out of it and rejoined reality.
My gaming childhood was largely predicated on the Midway diet of two games that remain firm favourites of mine to this day: Mortal Kombat II and NBA Jam. Fast paced two on two action with no ref? Check. Obscenely awesome half-court slam dunks? Oh yes. Ball bursting into flames after three baskets in a row? You bet. A crazed commentator who would yell out 'Boom-shaka-laka!' every so often just for the hell of it? Now we're talking. We'd crowd into my mate's tiny room and whip out the SEGA Mega Drive for marathon multiplayer matches with copious amounts of fizzy drinks and pizza. It was amazing and frequently matches resulted in food fights.
I can that happening again.
Although Midway have gone under, EA Sports have done a phenomenal job of not only resurrecting a well-loved classic, but also restoring everything that made it great in the first play and, on the Wii, it's found itself a true home. Let me clarify that, making use of the Motion Controls, you shimmy around the court with the nunchuk and pass, shove and sprint with the A, B and Z buttons respectively. So far, so 1993.
Scoring, however, is a case of getting that arm moving, swinging the Wiimote up and then either flicking it over for a shot or, if you've leapt into the air and are headed for glory, whipping it down through the air again for a dunk. I was sceptical to see how they were going to try and shoehorn motion control into the game but I've got to say, it feels utterly natural. There's something immensely satisfying about bringing that anticipatory lift up before slamming it home with your right arm. It feels emphatic, it feels powerful and, as the announcer screams 'He's on FIRE!' as you smash the backboard, it feels right.
The same can be said about every aspect of the game; from the ill-proportioned character models to the 2D models in the arenas, there's a wonderful retro feel to this game. Although it's a completely different team behind this reboot, the game feels authentic and steadfastly true to the spirit of its progenitor. You flick the Wiimote up to try and block too and button mash to execute the well-loved shove. On a number of occasions I found the odd quarter would simply dissolve into a frantic shove-fest in the centre of the court, with everyone scrambling to steal the ball, especially if the points difference was truly marginal. Needless to say, as the matches progressed so too did our competitive spirit.
The first match was a particularly tense affair that came right down to the wire, with me narrowly beating my opponent by a single point in the end courtesy of some choice three pointers early on and a last gasp dunk at the end in the final three seconds of the match. I won the second match comfortably but was sitting far behind by ten points or so halfway through the third. However, learning that occasionally one has to defend, making use of the darting runs and anticipatory jumps my AI partner was making ,and aided by the distracting quality of the attractive blonde who was demonstrating Just Dance at the next booth, I managed to come back and win by two. Our final game, however, was a see-sawing affair filled with aggressive play and escalating tension, until my opponent scored a massive three point shot from well inside his own half and my jaw hit the floor.
There will be an abundance of game modes to choose from come October, the team behind this update are certainly no slouches, with Backboard Smash changing things up a bit by giving each backboard a health bar that wanes a little, cracking and splintering with each dunk, before eventually shattering completely. Although offensively the tactics remain pretty similar, the matter of defence becomes that much more aggressive. If your adversary goes airborne, so must you or hazard being showered in glass shards of shame.
I walked away buzzing from my lengthy test of getting into the Jam. It's a game that will greatly please both newcomers and old hands alike, with the nostalgia value perfectly balanced out by gameplay that never seeks to patronise at all. We've been waiting a long time for a reboot like this and, to all intents and purposes, it looks like EA Sports might be onto a real winner here.