Reviews from the Clearance Bin: NBA Jam (Xbox 360, PS3)

Like many others my age, I wasted plenty of time and quarters on the classic NBA Jam back in the days of Super Nintendo and local arcades.  As a result, I was excited to hear that EA Sports intended to bring the game to the modern console era.  The classic gameplay was, simply put, a total blast and I figured that EA Sports could do no wrong in reviving the series.  It certainly didn’t hurt that many aspects of the original appeared to be returning, such as: over the top slam-dunks, an announcer saying “Boom shakalaka!” frequently and of course, flaming basketballs.  Despite these throwbacks though, NBA Jam simply doesn’t posses the same level of enjoyment of the original.

Originally meant to be included as a bonus for the eventually cancelled NBA Elite 11, NBA Jam was bumped up to a full retail release instead.  The upgrade in packaging meant some additions being made to the title, mostly catching it up to the Wii version in terms of game modes.  That said, despite the game’s various modes and fairly sharp visual look, it really feels like an Xbox Live Arcade game.  There isn’t much depth to the game, which to be fair is expected and not necessarily a bad thing, but combined with the repetitive nature of the game significantly limits the amount of enjoyment one can get out of NBA Jam.

The word “tedious” feels very appropriate.  Playing through a mode, such as classic campaign, I was constantly sighing to myself at the sight of how many more teams I had to beat.  Each game more or less felt identical to the last; some teams were easier to dunk on, some easier to block, but for the most part there felt like little to no variance between the teams you face.  Overall result of this blandness was that it just felt like replaying the same game over and over.  Get the ball, rush down to the other end of the court, slam dunk (or maybe a three point shot), try and block the other team’s attempt, repeat till buzzer.  While there is some fun in the basic gameplay, long durations of play get very old very quickly.

It certainly doesn’t help the fact that the game really feels cheap at times.  Opponent’s dunks are nearly impossible to block without being in just the right spot and blocking at just the right moment (even then, blocks are exceptionally rare), while on the flip side your opponent will frequently block your dunks (even on a break-away).  The game also seems to just pick times to become incredibly difficult, basically if your opponents decide they want the ball they will shove you and steal the ball from you with almost 100% accuracy.  While you are basically unable to shove a player from behind (you simply slow down too much while trying to shove them), the computer pushed me from behind on numerous occasions, having no issue keeping up to me even while using turbo.  Admittedly the game would have been even more boring without this cheapness; it would of just been too easy.  I managed to win nearly every game I played, some closer than others, but wasn’t winning them by enough of a margin to warrant upping the difficulty. It didn’t help that the thought of having to constantly re-play teams that I lost to sounded horrible.

The game does nail it visually.  In many ways it harkens back to the original game in terms of art style, and overall looks great.  Players have 3D bodies and 2D heads made with high resolution photos of the actual players; an odd look for sure but one that is quite funny to watch at times.  Most players have their own look and the various team’s courts, while mostly identical, all look very sharp.  Tim Kitzrow returns as the announcer, reciting many of the game’s classic lines as well as some new ones for good measure, and there is a solid albeit repetitive soundtrack.  The aesthetics is the one area where NBA Jam really pulls it together.

To put it simply, NBA Jam has enjoyable elements, and the core gameplay is very similar to that of the classic but it fails to have lasting appeal.  NBA Jam would certainly work best as a downloadable arcade title because it’s strongest appeal would be to have easy access for the sake of a quick match here or there.  Playing through any campaign mode would be best done one or two matches at a time, long play sessions will wear down your interest very quickly.  The few enjoyable moments of NBA Jam hardly warrant a full priced purchase, but fans of the original may get some enjoyment out of it as a clearance title (or you could just wait for the upcoming “On Fire” edition coming out soon as a XBLA title).  NBA Jam brought the boom, but not a lot of shaka.

Final Rating: 6/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360
Gamer Score Earned: 190/1000
Price Bought at: $5
Current Price: $20.00 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: Under $10

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