I have to make a confession before you read my impressions on EA’s reboot to the NBA Jam
franchise. I am a HUGE NBA Jam
fan... always have been, always will be. My love for the franchise dates back to the original arcade version(s) which I played religiously throughout my childhood. What you are about to read, if you choose to continue on after the jump, is a grown man gushing about a Wii game like a young fanboy... be warned: I love this game.
I warned you, I love NBA Jam. When I was younger, me and my friends used to frequent a Putt-Putt Golf and Games on the West Side of Columbus each and every Saturday morning. Putt-Putt ran a promotion called Super Saturday which ran on the weekend and gave you 60 tokens, a round of mini-golf, along with a hot dog and a drink for $5. Yeah, I still remember it like it was yesterday. We went each and every Saturday over the course of about 3-4 years. One of the games that got a lot of out tokens was the various NBA Jam versions that filtered through the arcade. NBA Jam, Tournament Edition, Hangtime... we played them all endlessly. If you ever played the arcade versions of the game and wondered who the people were who showed up on the top scores of the machine with 100+ wins, wondered if they were real players, I can assure that they / we were.
The Nintendo Wii version of the game is as faithful a conversion of the game as possible. When EA and the development staff express in their various interviews and videos that one of their main goals of the project was to deliver an experience extremely reminiscent of the original, they are not lying. NBA Jam for the Wii feels and plays just like the NBA Jam that many gamers know and love from years ago. I played against Sean in an exhibition match, pitting the Miami Heat with Lebron and Dwayne (my selection) against his Chicago Bulls (Boozer and Rose). Grpahically speaking, its a modern NBA Jam... you have seen the screenshots, you know what it looks like. You should also know by now that EA has retained the services of Tim Kitzrow to provide the hilarious commentary of the game. It sounds amazing and truly brought back a ton of memories from my childhood. The new phrases add a lot to the experience as well, particularly hearing “no hoop for you” on a particularly ruthless block on an amazing dunk.
While the game will support two different means of control: Wiimote / Nunchuck and Classic Controller, we played our game using the standard Wiimote and Nunchuck control scheme. I was extremely hesitant going into the game as I stated my preference to play the game using a standard, classic setup. The Nintendo rep encouraged me to at least give the standard (including motion) controls a try before passing judgment, so I did. The motion controls utilized in NBA Jam are absolutely fantastic. I wanted to hate them and I couldn’t have imagined liking them prior to my experience, but I absolutely love them. Pretty much every action in the game is mapped to a button, the A button passes, the B button steals, and the Z button is used to trigger Turbo. Shooting on the other hand is completely motion oriented. The launch a shot, you simply move the Wiimote in an upward motion and flick it forward in order to release the shot. The success of the process is based on the animation of your character and your timing, not your own personal finesse. Just like with any other basketball game in existence, the key to the process is timing your character’s release of the ball correctly. As awkward as it sounds, it feels completely natural during the game. Dunks are initiated in the exact same manner, though you will, by nature, find your self using a much more dramatic motion in order to launch yourself toward the rim.
Just like you are doing now, I have read many previews about the game over the past few months, especially in terms of the motion controls of the game, and I always walked away not buying into their effectiveness. Now that I have experienced it myself, I can assure you that they are just as effective and great as many people are making them out to be. You don’t have to believe me, you will find out for yourself when the game launches next week, on October 5. If there is one concern that I have with the controls, it lies in the length of the chord that attaches the Nunchuck to the Wiimote. True Jam fans will get into their game and their physical actions will be quite exaggerated during heated events. I found myself stretching the Wiimote and Nunchuck to the max distance allowed between the two, and would have loved to have been able to move them further. Especially when you go up for a huge dunk, your natural motion often takes the Wiimote as high as you can reach and you slam it downwards with force to complete the move. Unfortunately, the Nunchuck hand gets pulled along for the ride and I found myself growing concerned with pulling the cord out of the bottom of the Wiimote. While their our third party alternatives to a wired Nunchuck, there is no officially supported accessory that will eliminate this tethering. Perhaps Nintendo has something coming down the line; I hope so because trust me, if you get into your game, I guarantee that this will become a nuisance.
I could go on for hours gushing over NBA Jam for the Nintendo Wii. I truly feel that EA has knocked it out of the park with this one. This game wasn’t even on our list of games to be viewed at the event and when the representative mentioned that she had it, I got extremely excited. Trust me when I tell you this, you won’t want to pass up on NBA Jam when it launches for the Wii next week...