|NBA Jam | for Nintendo Wii | Rated E for Everyone | Developed by EA Canada | Published by EA Sports|
Maybe NBA Jam
wasn't the best game of all time, but when it appeared in arcades back in 1993, it acquired a pop-culture cachet that most games couldn't dream of. Say one of its catchphrases today, like "He's on fire!", or "Boomshakalaka," and you'll likely get an approving nod. So it's no surprise that the newest NBA Jam
, for the Nintendo Wii, doesn't attempt to update the game beyond the visuals. Like a lot of arcade remakes, this is a faithful re-creation of a classic, perfectly suited to the bargain-priced downloadable market —
No, wait a minute. I'm receiving some late-breaking news. It turns out that NBA Jam is a full retail product. EA is charging $50 for this. Hmmm.
Okay, it's still a lot of fun. It pits real players from real NBA teams in games of two-on-two hoops. Not exactly street ball — the games all take place on a pro court, with thousands of fans — but nonetheless a cartoon version of the sport. Strategy? No sir. Foul shots? Forget about it. (You can, however, be whistled for goaltending. And you will be. A lot.) Instead, it's all about racing from one end of the court to another and trying to throw down earth-shattering dunks.
Because this is a Wii game, mandatory motion controls have been included — with mixed results. To shoot, you wave the Wii Remote up in the air to start your shot and then back down to release the ball. To block, you use the same motion, bringing the Remote down to swat at the ball. These work well enough, but they lack the precision you get from a button press. Fortunately, the game supports the Wii's Classic Controller, which solves the problem.
Otherwise, it's almost eerie in its fidelity to the original. I haven't touched an NBA Jam game since the Sega Genesis was my console of choice, but if not for the updated graphics, I might not have been able to tell the difference. Player movement is quick and responsive, the timing on shot blocking is intuitive without being easy, and cutting toward the basket for a monster jam still requires the right touch. The game also continues the proud tradition of computer-controlled opponents who are pushovers till the last quarter, when they suddenly become all-stars. You wanted NBA Jam, you got NBA Jam.
Only the visuals are a little strange. EA went with photorealistic representations of the players' faces. And "big head" mode is just frightening.
So, bottom line: is it worth the money? Another terrific arcade remake, Hydro Thunder Hurricane, came out for Xbox Live Arcade this summer for about $15. A new Crazy Taxi is coming for XBLA and PlayStation Network next month, for only $10. The market has spoken.
Sure, you can point to NBA Jam's unlockable players — who include classic NBA stars and such hilarious guests as President Obama — and different game modes (boss battles against NBA legends!), but ultimately this one feels no deeper than the arcade game that used to lure players in one quarter at a time. And it lacks online multi-player! No, wait till the price is right.