A dose of nostalgia
I had been playing NBA 2K11, amongst other games recently when another basketball game turned up on my doorstep. But this wasn’t the next incarnation in that series or another basketball simulation of a similar ilk. Instead, it was an update of a game I had played many years ago in the arcades and then later on the PC (which wasn’t quite the same). It was the fun, action-packed, overly exaggerated game starring basketballers with big heads. It was NBA Jam. And now, here it was for the Wii.
For the younger crowd in the audience, NBA Jam is primarily a 2-on-2 full court basketball game. Players control one of the two players in your team, but can still call for the ball when a teammate has control. The difference (apart from the number of players) to other basketball games on the market is that, in NBA Jam there are basically no rules. Indeed, shoving your opponent so that the ball dislodges from their grasp – reminiscent of the tackling in Speedball 2 - is highly advantageous. I did say that there are no rules, but that’s not entirely true. There is no goal tending allowed, and teams have the regulation 24 second shot clock. But those two aside, anything goes.
And indeed, anything does go. The game, like the original, is way over the top. Players can pull off amazing dunks, and perform huge rejections when defending. And with the lack of rules and a free flowing game (the ball never goes out of bounds), NBA Jam is all about the fun aspect of basketball. Charging your player at the hoop to perform any one of the various dunks is extremely satisfying. And furthermore, once your player completes three shots in a row, the exaggerated antics go into overdrive.
Scoring three in a row puts that player in fire mode. Once in fire mode, the outrageous dunks begin. Players leap like Superman towards the roof of the stadium before descending like an Olympic diver performing a triple somersault in the pike position, slamming the ball through the flaming hoop. Three point attempts also seem to go down a little easier, making scoring simpler. But, of course, the CPU controlled AI will do all in their power to either prevent you from gaining fire mode or to quickly douse the fire once it has been lit.
Of course, having all these moves will be for naught, if it is impossible to actually pull them off. But the developers have worked well in designing a control system for everyone. The players can be controlled with a variety of controllers – with a Nunchuck and Wiimote combination, with the Wiimote by itself, or even with the old-school Classic controller. The Nunchuck and Wiimote combo does have some nice touches and some of the movements do seem intuitive. Movement with the Nunchuck combo is controlled with the thumbstick, whilst passing and shooting are controlled with the A and B buttons and turbo with the Z button. Other movements such as shoving and stealing are completed using a combination of buttons.
The main game mode is the Campaign mode. After selecting your team of choice, you then compete against each of the other teams in the league, requiring a win to progress on to the next team. Upon completing a series of teams, gamers are then pitted up against a classic team, featuring players from the original NBA Jam such as Knicks players Patrick Ewing and John Starks. Continuing to the end of the campaign mode unlocks the games’ great player combination of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
Fun, fun, fun...with no rules. And players have big heads.
No online multiplayer. Game can get monotonous in single player mode.