Review by Retro
"Is it the shoes?!"
Most sports titles from the 16-bit generation up to the present days have always attempted to be as realistic as possible to force consumer eyes to widen, but the makers of NBA Jam decided to go against the odds and try something different. Instead of the boring, everyday 5-on-5, NBA Jam is fast-paced 2-on-2 basketball featuring many of the familiar faces of the NBA from the time (1993).
After deciding whether to play a one-player game with the computer as your opponent or a two-player match against a fellow humanoid, it's time to pick the team you want to use. Each team consists of its two best players, with some notable exceptions, such as Michael Jordan being on an extended vacation. With only two players, all you can do is check out the stats (3-pointers, speed, defense, etc.) for the players and then choose which one you want to manually control. But hey, for those of us who don't care to set up individual plays and read entire instruction manuals just to figure out the basics, this is GREAT!
Whether you're on your way to the NBA Finals, just playing for the heck of it, or feel like making your friend more mad than an erupting volcano, NBA Jam provides an overflowing amount of enjoyment with its almost complete lack of rules, out of the screen dunks, and fast-paced action that never loses any steam.
Instead of letting the coach curse you out for not robotically following the play he 'intelligently' drew up, how about just stepping on the court and doing what you want to do? Rather than having referees that call a foul just because a loose flap of your clothing happens to brush against an opposing player, why don't we throw out free throws, fouls, and referees altogether? Does it sound like something that's too good to be true? Well, welcome to the high-flying world of NBA Jam.
Of course, the basic events of a basketball game are still here to be seen. You can spring a bit higher than your opponent to grab a rebound or swat a shot away; steal the ball from them and score before they know what happened; pass the rock when you need to take a break, and so on. When it comes to rules, there are not many of them here to break. The only ones that hold any ground this time around are 24-second shot clock violations and goaltending. Feel free to knock your opponent into a coma as much as possible.
There is nothing quite like pushing your opponent across the court, stealing the ball from them like the thief that you are, running down the court with a huge, mischievous grin on your face, and then palming the ball in one hand while soaring high above the picture-taking crowd before completing a 2160º thundering dunk that shatters the backboard into several straight-edged fragments.
While dunks are the main showcase in this unique basketball title, you can also score by sinking normal jump shots. Of course, you can ring most of the shots you take from two-point range and right behind the 3-point arc with almost any character, but you just might be surprised when you see how many shots will go in after being thrown from the other side of the court (50% or more of them it seems).
Another innovation that NBA Jam had to offer during its heyday was the effect of literally being on fire! Anytime a player successfully rings three shots in a row without anybody else scoring (including his own teammate), the ball will go aflame like a miniature sun and the commentator will yell out, ''He's on fire!'' While the player is burning up, his shots will have a much better chance of going in, and he can also goaltend as much as he pleases without hearing that frustrating whistle. However, after he scores a few goals or when an opposing player puts the ball through their own hoop, the flame-filled fun will end.
As if just having two players on the court at one time isn't simplistic enough, NBA Jam makes it where you control one player and the other player on your team will be handled by the computer. The computer-controlled players run around as they choose, but you have the useful ability of making them pass or shoot at any given time. But that's not to say that they can't do either of those things on their own. This way of playing doesn't take long at all to get used to, and it'll take an even less amount of time to see that, while different, it's been well down. Your teammate doesn't try to hog the ball, and he won't even get pissed at you for taking all the shots. Give NBA Jam yet another positive point for its unrealistic ways! Seriously.
To make this title even more satisfying, you have the opportunity to use several codes and secrets to your advantage. Included are hidden power-ups such as unlimited turbo (hold down B anytime for an extra burst of speed), juice mode for running beyond the speed of light, and best of all, hidden characters. You can even get President Clinton as a hidden player. During troubled times, especially after the Monica Lewinski scandals, I found it humorous to select Clinton and then use an NBA giant to continuously push him all over the court until he was so beat up that pain medicine wouldn't even help his aching bones and fractured pride. I'm sure the audience thought at times that they were watching a boxing match rather than a basketball game.
At the end of the few minutes that comprise each quarter, you will not be able to change characters like you can in the later games of the series, which is about the only thing I don't like about this first title. The halftime report consists of a couple of grainy, yet impressive live-action dunks from the NBA Finals, courtesy of the then-world champion Chicago Bulls. At the end of the game, a screen comes up that shows the stats of each of the four players along with the final score.
NBA Jam's visuals for the Genesis aren't bad at all. The lively crowd in the background, the goals, the basketball (especially when it's on fire), and the court itself are all well drawn. The players are a sort of mixed bag of goodies and duds. With the pictures of the players (like on the team-select and match up screens), it's easy to recognize the real life NBA stars. However, while they're hooping it up and trash talking on the court, they're not so easy to distinguish from one another. Animation wise, the players and the crowd are pleasing, but they look a little stiff when compared to the SNES version of the same game.
The best aspect of NBA Jam other than its jamming good time and great replay value, is its sound. The sound effects are good enough (the sound of a swish is the best), the music is very catchy (I like staying at the team select screen for awhile to just listen to the music), and best of all, this game has a commentator who's full of enthusiasm. I've always liked slamming and hearing him say things such as ''He's on fire!'', ''Is it the shoes?'', ''Boom shakalaka'', and of course, the Tarzan yell.
I'll admit that the Sega Genesis version of NBA Jam doesn't control quite as well as the SNES version does, but it's far from bad. You have to use the directional pad to move (duh), B for turbo, C for stealing and passing, and A to jump, shoot, and block. If you don't like the control setup to begin with, you can always change it. Which of the several dunks your skywalker performs is based on what part of the floor you're on when executing the take off. It's a cinch to get to your favorite spot in order to watch your absolute favorite dunks, as is doing everything else.
For being the first basketball title to twist the boundaries by taking a break from the stagnant world of realism, NBA Jam found more fame than it could've hoped for. This Genesis version is a faithful rendition of the arcade blockbuster. If you're looking for an engaging sports game like no other, start jamming with NBA Jam today! This is a sports game for those of us who don't like sports games.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 05/05/01, Updated 06/12/04
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