The story of the recently released NBA Jam for the PS3 is an interesting one. Originally planned as a bonus with the ill-fated NBA Elite 11, NBA Jam was released as a standalone game on the Wii then made the jump to the HD consoles. Instead of being a bonus, it is now a full priced retail game and unfortunately is not quite worth the price of admission.
Let me back up, NBA Jam is not a bad game necessarily; it is simply a shallow game that falls into a repetitive (and often annoying) pattern all too quickly. The game on the PS3 is a more robust version then the Wii release from earlier in the year. There are a number of modes such as Campaign, Remix Tour, and of course the local and online multiplayer modes.
The Campaign mode is what you expect; you choose a team, select your two players and play through each of the teams in the NBA. The game is classic NBA Jam for good or ill. There is no re-work of the mechanics, no further over the top antics, this is a prettier version of the NBA Jam you remember that plays and sounds the same. This is where my problems start — this is 2010, and we are unable to improve or bring forward a game? Look at Pac Man Championship Edition or Space Invaders Extreme for inspiration. If this was a 10-15 dollar downloadable title I could accept a relatively simple HD upgrade treatment as valid, this is a full retail product and the lack of innovation is inexcusable in my opinion.
Another issue with the Campaign mode is how rigid and unforgiving it is. This is no longer a coin gobbling arcade box; it is a home based game that should be at least a bit friendly to the console gamer. Instead we have some of the cheapest A.I. when they are losing I have seen since, well, since the arcades, and a campaign that becomes painful to play. Instead of a true campaign, a la any other sports game, where you can lose and continue on if you choose or replay the match, NBA Jam forces you to replay any match you lose. This means that if the cheap A.I. bounces back in the last few seconds and you lose you have to replay that game to just advance to the next team.
The other major mode is Remix Tour which has you moving from conference to conference completing a number of different challenges. Again, the game hamstrings itself by making the matches too long or having you playing the modes a certain number of times before you can move to the next region. The challenges are Backboard Smash, a battle against each other’s backboards in a race to shatter them; 21, the classic one-on-one game to 21 points; and Domination, where you only get points when you shoot from colored circles that move around. These challenges are fun, for a time, but as mentioned above, the game forces you to play them over and over and over in order to progress and that simply is not fun.
Multiplayer is offered in local and online variations and is the true star of the show in this title. NBA Jam is frustrating and after a time just not fun in single player, but get a few friends in a room and you will have a blast. Playing the various modes against real people eliminates the cheating A.I. and very quickly becomes a local competition of who can win the most games. Online multiplayer does not fare as well, I had issues with dropped games, lag, and of course the rampant idiotry that is often associated with the online community. Playing this with friends truly brought out memories from arcades and many a marathon session fueled by a roll of quarters. The only issue is getting those groups together, which can be hard to do and does not happen enough to make up for the lackluster single player experience.
This would not be an NBA Jam game without a host of unlocks ranging from boss battles and big head modes to extra courts and special characters. Some of the characters include politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton as well as stars like the Beastie Boys. It is certainly fun to play as these different characters, but in many cases, NBA Jam makes you jump through far too many hoops (pardon the pun) to unlock these features.
Graphically, NBA Jam looks as good as you could hope. It is not realistic like a major ‘true’ NBA game, but it shouldn’t be. The bodies are polygonal but the faces are the semi-static digitized ones that are the NBA Jam hallmark. Dunks are suitably flashy, and when you score three baskets in a row and get ‘on fire’ the flame effects are quite nicely handled and look great when dunks or shots are made. The stadiums and crowds are very basic but giving a shinier look to the classic look from the original Jam games.
The game sounds impressive mostly because of the return of the original NBA Jam commentator, Tim Kitzrow. Kitzrow re-voices all of the classic lines plus a host of new ones including some fan supplied lines. The commentary is universally appealing and while it does loop at times it is still great to hear Kitzrow through down ridiculous statements such as “Like my wife’s top drawer, nothing but nylon!” and “How ’bout a little fire, Scarecrow?”
NBA Jam on the PS3 (and the other platforms) is a game that decided to play it a little too safe. It is still built like it is designed to gobble quarters, with little to no enhancements made to the product. A proper tournament mode, potentially some dunk modifiers and a better game enhancing shell (Campaign being an actual campaign) could have made this a much better game. As it is, NBA Jam is only truly fun in local multiplayer once you quickly get tired and frustrated of the single player modes and that is a true shame.
NBA Jam is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Wii and Xbox 360.