EA Sports NBA JAM Review (Xbox 360)
Let me preface this review with the following: outside of updated HD graphics, the control schemes and online multiplayer, Jam Wii and Jam HD are identical games. Because of this I will be spending my time with this review discussing Jam HD's control scheme and online functionality. If you want a more in-depth look at the game, please read my Wii review.
A few weeks back I posted my review of NBA Jam for the Nintendo Wii. While the gameplay, motion controls, Career mode and Remix Tour were all outstanding additions to the franchise, there was one key feature holding the game back from true greatness: online multiplayer.
Since I first began playing Jam Wii, I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Jam HD. When I finally got my hands on my copy, you can only imagine my excitement: I felt like it was 1993 all over again and I was tearing down the street on my Huffy White Heat bike to the local arcade.
So is Jam HD all it's cracked up to be, or does it feel like a shameless cash grab?
Graphics Are En Fuego
There's really not a lot to be said about the HD graphics in Jam other than to say they make the game look amazing. The Wii version of the game looked great for a non-HD title, but taking the game into the realm of HD makes things look breathtaking. The colors pop, the crowd looks phenomenal, and even George Karl's suit/turtleneck combination is a sight to behold.
My only issue so far with the graphics in Jam HD is that certain tints of blue take on a green hue in a couple areas on the court. This means that when playing as a team like the Magic, you will notice certain parts of their jerseys will resemble more of an aqua marine blue than the standard electric royal blue coloring. I'm not sure if this has something to do with the lighting engine of the game, and it really is not that big of a deal, but it is definitely still worth mentioning.
Controls, That's the Final Nail in the Coffin
After spending months with Jam on Wii I fell in love with its motion-control integration. There was something so seamless about the Wii's Nunchuk and Wii remote setup that I almost forgot all about the days of playing Jam on a traditional controller...almost. For as much fun as I was having with the new control scheme, there was undoubtedly the nostalgia factor of playing with a controller that was missing.
Unlike the Wii version of Jam, I did not get to play Jam HD early at a preview event, so I was going in blind as far as the control scheme was concerned. Even with that being said, I thought I had a general idea of how the game would control on the 360/PS3 controller. How hard could it be I thought? If Jam played like a dream on the primitive Genesis/SNES controllers, there's no way the game's controls could be lousy on today's console controllers right? Right?
Wrong. In fact, I was dead wrong.
Now I know a lot of what I am about to say here is personal preference, but after multiple hours of gameplay, I am struggling mightily with Jam's control setup. For starters, EA decided to map the turbo button exclusively to the "L" trigger/L2 button. Apparently the EA developers completely forgot that they have been training us for years to spam the Right trigger/R2 button to initiate speed boosts in just about every sports game they've released. So why the sudden change now?
Not only does holding down the left trigger feel awkward during the course of a game of Jam, most infuriating to me is that it turns out the right trigger has no function within the game at all. Yet when we go all the way back to the original Jam on the SNES, which was a system that had a controller with two shoulder buttons, gamers were given a choice as to which shoulder button felt more comfortable to use to initiate turbo. Every Jam release on every system since then has included multiple turbo button options, so the omission here is puzzling. (You can also initiate turbo with the left bumper, but that does not feel any better to me.)
The amount of brain retraining needed to learn to press the left trigger instead of the right trigger has taken longer than expected, and there were several instances during heated online battles with Operation Sports' own Chase Becotte that I found myself botching a critical play because I found myself holding the right trigger and hitting a face button to perform a shove rather than the left trigger. EA has me so conditioned to use that right trigger for speed boosts that it is no easy task to reprogram my mind.
The EA developers could have completely redeemed themselves if they had included an alternate control scheme, or even a customizable control scheme. But when a feature that was included in the Game Gear version of a title can't be found 15-plus years later in a new release of the same franchise, that is quite quizzical in my book. There is no excuse to not allow for custom control schemes -- I gave Jam Wii a free pass with regards to this issue based on how well the motion controls worked, but in a situation where a controller is the only option, I can not overlook this.
Call of Duty Who?
What saves Jam HD from its trigger woes is what most everyone is buying this game for: online multiplayer. Within the first two or three games of Jam I played online, I had one of those mind-shattering moments where I fully realized that I was playing NBA Jam online. When you're an old-school gamer like myself who still remembers the first time you saw Jam at your local arcade, the ability to play Jam online is just stupefying. For the younger gamers out there, don't expect the same experience, but for the select group of hardcore Jam fans, this is everything you have ever hoped for and more.
Online allows you to play standard two-player versus games and two-player co-op games against other users. Game modes include the traditional Jam mode, in addition to all of the fun little modes found in Remix tour like having to shatter a backboard to defeat your opponent. If you have just three players, you can even play some of the modes on half a court from a camera view similar to the 2K cam in all the NBA 2K titles.
What's even better than the sheer amount of game modes available is that Jam included a "player card" very similar to the system found in the recent Call of Duty games. By playing online enough and earning XP, you gain access to new call signs and logos for your player card. It's actually a pretty deep system as well, with 40-plus pages of call signs/logos available to be unlocked.
While there have been some reports of online stability issues causing freezes, I have not experienced any in multiple games. The game runs smoothly, and I have not noticed any evidence of lag. The only issue worth noting is that during a co-op game with Chase Becotte, there was a strange occurrence where we both seemed to be playing in different games. I was seeing one thing on my screen, and he was seeing something completely different. We were both playing against the same teams as the same players, yet we were not playing with each other even though the game said we were. It was completely insane, and we tried multiple times to repeat this occurrence, but we had no luck.
NBA Jam HD is a great game, and if the turbo issue was ironed out, I would go as far as proclaiming this game to be one of the best sports games of 2010, even with its $50 price tag. Unfortunately, the lack of an intuitive control scheme and control customization will turn many old-school Jam fans off before they take the time to learn the new setup.
Jam HD is an exceptional blast from the past. If you don't already own this game on Wii, or are dying to take on the world online, go out and pick this game up now. While I can't say with a straight face that this game is worth the $50 retail tag -- you have to truly love NBA Jam to fork that money over and not think twice -- it is still an absolute joy to spend hours at a time with.
On the Court Classic Jam action that is as fast and furious as you remember it being in '93.
Visuals: Gorgeous player models and animations
Audio: Tim Kitzrow (the original voice of NBA Jam) is doing the commentary, so you know the audio is strong.
Learning Curve If you are a Jam vet, the controls are going to take some time to get used to.
Entertainment Value: Online play is the main draw here, but there is enough to unlock via the single player to keep you coming back for a bit.
Online It's Jam with a variety of different online modes, which means it's pure bliss.
Score: 8.5 (Excellent)