NBA Jam Review (PS2)

NBA Jam was the ultimate party game 10 years ago. The pioneer of “arcade sports”, it offered tight gameplay in a wacky package. High flying dunks, basketballs that were on fire, and the complete and total lack of fouls were major selling points for the game. It went from the arcades to the home market on the Super Nintendo and Genesis. It’s made several appearances as the years pass, and now makes another appearance on the latest batch of “Next Gen” consoles. How does it stand up to the now-elite NBA Street? Not very well, but it’s only partially trying to copy the arcade giant…but since all comparisons begin and end with EA’s juggernaut, that’s what I’ll choose to draw a comparison from.

Acclaim certainly wasn’t going for realism, and you can’t fault them for that. They knew what they wanted, and I presume that was “big headed cartoon people”. They look fittingly humorous, and seeing them jump 30 feet in the air for a spinning jam is still funny, a decade after I first saw it. The fire effects are expectedly good, and the courts are decently defined. If you go into this title looking for a graphical showpiece, however, you’ll be sorely disappointed. I just expected more, considering you only had 6 players on the court at once. You have other current titles that do the 5 on 5 with more detail, which is a disappointment.

Who can ever forget one of the most famous sentences in all of sports…”He’s on FIRE!!!!”. Of course NBA Jam didn’t create the catchphrase, but it sure brought it into the mainstream. You could apply it to anything, and it’s back (with the same announcer) this time. It still brings a little smile to my face to hear the same lines in a new game, if for no other reason than adolescent nostalgia. Other than that, what is there? Screech of shoes, bouncing of a ball…another area that screams “outdated”. The play by play frequently lags behind the on-screen action (almost expected since the action can reverse direction so quickly), and the overall announcing sounds like it could have been taken from the decade-old arcade cabinet.

Who doesn’t know how to play Jam? I probably invested close to $1,000 in quarters into the original arcade machine…that and Street Fighter 2 were probably the most money I’ve ever invested into a completely useless activity. If I need to explain how to play NBA Jam to you, you probably want to just skip the rest of the review and go do something constructive (like reading, going outside, what have you), because that’s probably what you’re used to doing anyway. You have two teams of 3 players in a no-holds-barred shootout. Knock them down, steal the ball, dunk it. Wash, rinse, repeat. You can do this in exhibition games, or the old Jam-style Tournament mode where you knock each team in the NBA off in a ladder-style tournament. There is also a Legends tournament where you can go up against the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Dr. J, but overall, the gameplay just doesn’t warrant enough single player time to actually complete it.

Multiplayer, however, still rocks the house. Grab a few friends, and you’ll instantly be transported to the early 1990’s, bashing the living snot out of each other and trash talking until the wee hours of the morning. Could the same group have as much fun with NBA Street? Absolutely. Take that for what it’s worth. In all reality, the older gamers will probably have more fun with Jam than the younger guys, simply because it takes them back to childhood or their immediate post-high school life. Kids nowadays expect more out of their games, and with good reason. They want to see players with eyelashes, and they care about the color of socks they wear, for crying out loud. I just don’t see Jam cutting the mustard with those guys.

It’s a short review, but NBA Jam is about as deep as a kiddie pool. It doesn’t try to be anything else, and if you’ve ever played Jam, you know what to expect; ages-old, tried-and-true gameplay, wrapped around a new name and title. It’s fun for a while, and certainly worth a rental, but unless you live in a dorm or have 3 room mates, you probably will end up playing it for a week, then shelving it.


NBA Jam Score
out of 10
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