E3 Hands-On: NBA Jam - Preview

By Daniel Share-Strom, June 18, 2010
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It’s triple overtime.  The score is tied, and the clock is running out.  The Lakers are approaching the basket at lightning speeds.  All eyes on the players, one of them jumps ten feet in the air and flipping around as he goes for the dunk... before being knocked to the ground by the Toronto Raptors’ mascot, who then sinks a shot from half-court to win the game by three points.

So you can see why, at E3 this year, I went to NBA Jam four separate times.

Now, let me back that up by saying that I have extremely fond memories of the classic SNES title of the same name.  The over-the-top arcade gameplay has held up remarkably well, and when matched up with an opponent of equal skill, it is quite exhilarating.

For those who don’t know, NBA Jam is to basketball as Phoenix Wright is to law—it takes extreme liberties with its subject matter in the name of fun.  All fouls have been removed, save for goaltending and shot clock violations.  Want to shove your opponent to the ground to steal the ball?  Go ahead.  Run around the course without half-court violations?  Sure, why not?  Seriously, anything goes.

As you may have surmised, NBA Jam is absolute chaos.  The game is built to be fast-paced and ridiculous, as evidenced by the turbo-run button and the massively-oversized player heads.  Adding to the energy is the commentator, who is constantly shouting things like “KABOOM!” and “HE’S HEATING UP... HE’S ON FIRE!!”

If that last line went over your head, in the Jam series, if a single player scores three goals in a row, they will be ‘on fire’ until their opponent scores.  While in this mode, they run very fast, have incredible accuracy with shots, and burn up the net when they sink the ball.

Speaking of shooting the ball, that is one of the subtle additions to the game that really makes the Wii version a lot of fun.  Simply flick the remote upward to have your player jump, then flick it forward at the point in the jump you want to take the shot.  It adds a lot to the rhythm of the game, and timing your shots to get around your opponent’s defence tests your timing and maneuvering skills.  By holding the Z trigger, you can use Turbo to run very fast, and if you shoot while standing beside the net while in this mode, you will perform one of the aforementioned very flashy dunks.

All of these aspects combine to make a game that feels like NBA on crack.  Few rules, very fast pace, ridiculous facial expressions and animations on the characters, and the ability to play as characters like team mascots—it’s every bit as exciting as it sounds.  Is it any wonder that everyone in line behind us was shouting, gasping, and screaming at every twist in the game?

I am usually not a sports game fan, period.  However, as with previous games in the series, NBA Jam for the Wii is a shining exception.  It is no surprise that EA brought on original developer Mark Turmell, because this new entry takes everything that worked before and gives it a huge dose of extra flash. 

All in all, this is looking to be an excellent party game.  Look for NBA Jam to heat up retail this holiday.

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