Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
There are some things in life that were just made to go together. Salt and pepper. Baileys and ice cream. Princesses and kidnappings. And now we can add NBA Jam and the Wii to that list. Those of you who checked out my Nintendo preview months back will know two things already: Firstly, that NBA Jam gave me some of the greatest moments of my gaming childhood. It's unique blend of arcade-stylings, absurdly large heads and excitable commentators produced a very fine fine reason to be sad that Midway are currently no more. Secondly, it looked like EA Sports were well on the way to delivering not just a great arcade sporting experience, but one that remained absolutely true to the spirit of the original.
I'm delighted to say that now, the finished article a recent permanent installation in my Wii, that promise has been realised fantastically.
Let me just say that you don't really have to be a fan of basketball to appreciate NBA Jam. If you were a fan of Space Jam, then that might help to a certain extent, because you see this title is far less about serious basketball simulation and far more to do with crazy dunks, cartoonish stylings, commentators going mental, things bursting into flames and hilariously aggressive defending.
But it's the immediacy of the gameplay that makes NBA Jam's return so suited for our ADHD generation, a real pick up and play initiative that proves startlingly addictive and hugely satisfying whether playing for five minutes or five hours. Part of this is down to the fact that, particularly on the Wii, you don't need to really learn anything. The button inputs are few and simplistic, the hand gestures feel like the game was born to played on a motion control device and. more importantly, there are no fiddly rules to deal with bar one: no goaltending.
Simple offence, it would seem, is the order of the day and this means that everything else - ball swiping, body slamming, smashing into players off of the ball, leaping 20 feet into the air and smashing the backboard - is fair game. EA Canada have really made sure that the defensive aspects of the game are up to scratch and it's helped by the control system.
You can play the Wii version of the game essentially using any controller combination you like, but you'll want that Wiimote in your hands. Flicking it upwards to try and block, swishing it from side to side to body check players, it's all incredibly satisfying indeed. In fact they've beefed up the defensive side of things so much that rather than being a case of high scoring attack-minded affairs where singular defensive slip ups can decide games, now it's all about taking your chances. Whereas games before tended to be a back and forth from basket to basket, quite often you'll find yourself embroiled in tense, comically-violent rallies, forced to seek alternative routes to the points payload.
When you do reach that basket though, having leapt from the halfway line, your player's 2D head gurning maniacally, the Wii's control system allows for maximum payoff. Flicking your arm up will cause the player to jump and there's something sweetly emphatic about slamming your arm down and watching your NBA star do the same with the ball. It's pure frat-house arcade simplicity...and it really doesn't get old. Purists will opt, no doubt, for the Classic Controller; but I'd advise giving the Wiimote and nunchuk a spin. It allows for some serious showboating offscreen.
Pulling off some incredible feats means you'll get to hear some of those trademark phrases again. Hearing 'BOOMSHAKALAKA!' ring out for the first time is guaranteed to etch a wide grin into any fan's face as Tim Kitzrow returns as the game's announcer. Score three dunks with the same player in a row and 'He's on fire!' will boom out just like old times, the ball characteristically bursting into flames. It's impossible to erase the grin after that.
In terms of game modes, there are two you really need to be aware of. First up? Classic Mode. This is basically just your authentic NBA Jam experience. No new additions, just the good old-fashioned arcade fun that will bring a nostalgic tear to many a retro fan's eyes. Head on over to the new Remix Mode and suddenly everything gets a little bit fresh and funky...in the best possible way.
There are a wealth of new game types to kick things off. Backboard Smash forces players to go for those rim-busting alley-oops rather than pick up points at a distance, giving the backboard a health bar and charging players with smashing it to pieces. Things get a little Super Mario Strikers in other game types with power-ups sprinkled over the court, giving players a limited boost in offensive capabilities or super speed.
Then there are the boss battles, one on one contests against NBA Legends like Magic Johnson (who can teleport around the court and essentially pass to himself) and Larry Bird (who turns the ball into a 3 point bomb), where the court view flips around and you have to really battle it out to unlock these superstars for regular play. Speaking of unlockables, there's the usual slew of in-game incentives to keep you pushing forward, with several high profile politicians, numerous NBA superstars and, of course, the Beastie Boys getting in on the action.
There's an impressive amount of content to try and justify the full price tag and keep the lone player entertained. but let's be honest - NBA Jam was always all about taking on the person stood right next to you. With that in mind, the lack of online multiplayer really isn't an issue for the Wii provided that you have a local counterpart. The experience over PSN or XBL is pretty soulless to be honest and just doesn't sit well at all, even with microphones turned up for maximum smack talking.
The HD versions obviously look slightly better than the Wii's effort, the photorealistic settings, mo-capped 3D bodies and 2D heads really standing out in all their arcade glory, but for me it's the Wii that's the ultimate winner here, particularly for the newcomer. The party atmosphere is totally heightened when you're putting your whole body into the game, as with most party titles on the Wii. It's simple, fabulously fun gaming executed incredibly well at its core - and that'll please newbies as well as diehard fans.
- Easy to pick up and play - for five minutes or five hours
- Wealth of unlockables
- Will delight newcomers as well as Jam fans
- No online play for the Wii version
- Arcade styling might put some off at full price
- You really need local friends to get the most out of it
The Short Version: NBA Jam is a superlative multiplayer arcade experience, just as much fun as we remember it, with even more additions. EA Canada have really managed to capture the essence of Midway's classic whilst bolstering up the single player with the Remix Tour. But in spite of the latter, and the addition of online play to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, this game undoubtedly shines as a local multiplayer classic and is difficult to fully recommend unless you can take advantage of that. If you can, it's a game you'll be coming back to time and time again.