NBA Jam is one of my favorite games from my youth. Playing its brand of fast and fiery arcade basketball on my Super Nintendo and in the arcade was tough to beat back in the day, so it's with open arms that I welcome NBA Jam on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It brings with it a few new modes (dubbed Remix modes) and the same classic art style, gameplay and announcer that we all know and love. Still, I can't help but shake the feeling that this game missed its calling as a stellar release on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
For those that don't know, NBA Jam was originally going to be packaged with NBA Elite 11 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 until EA Sports' new basketball series had this year's version cancelled. Now we've got a $50 version of NBA Jam that's admittedly meatier than the pack-in version. It includes the Remix Modes that were enjoyed by Wii fans and it comes complete with online support for up to four players in any of the game's modes.
Still, despite all the new fangled game modes and prettier visuals thanks to the switch to HD systems, NBA Jam is still about outrageous dunks and the hilarious commentary. The development team at EA Sports Canada did a good job of adding a few wrinkles to the gameplay with a couple new moves, but for the most part they've left the original article untouched, which means you're still going to find fast, frenetic gameplay that defies just about every law of physics known to man.
Of course, NBA Jam is not without new game modes. There are five in total and each puts a new spin on the classic 2-on-2 formula. My favorites are Smash and Domination; likely the two new modes that bring the most originality. Smash forces you to bring down the opposition's backboard with furious dunks and alley-oops, and Domination asks players to make shots from different spots on the court to "own" them to accumulate points. The other few modes, especially the power-up-fueled Remix 2-vs-2 mode, are lackluster. There's a Remix Tour that allows you to travel around the country and match up against every NBA team out there with cool Boss Battles to complete a section, but the mode doesn't differentiate itself thoroughly enough from the standard Classic Campaign ladder matches.
Most will likely stick to the classic 2-on-2 multiplayer, which still provides for some great moments of competition. EA Sports should've made sure to include online gameplay on the retail disc, but their current plan to offer a free title update by December will have to suffice. Smash and Domination are fun, but in the end most won't want to worry about anything besides scoring the ball as quickly as possible.
Despite the fun-filled nature of competing online (something I got to do on pre-release code), the single-player should've been stronger. The AI of your CPU-controlled teammate is dimwitted at best and don't take advantage of alley-oop opportunities properly and have poor recognition of opportunities that you create. The developers clearly knew this as they give players the ability to control the actions of the AI at least somewhat, but there are still moments of frustration that bubble up.
The aesthetics of NBA Jam are very similar to the Wii version, thankfully that's not such a bad thing. There's no doubt an extra layer of sharpness is present in this rendition thanks to the jump to HD, but player faces are still hilarious in the right instance. I also noticed that coach faces and cheerleaders on the sideline look a bit better than they did on Nintendo's system. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Tim Kitzrow is back in the commentary booth and is just as awesome as you remember with plenty of old and new one-liners to deliver.