No offense to the Madden and FIFA fans out there, but Sports games have always bored me straight to sleep. The lack of physical activity seems to rob the genre of its purpose—while video games let me be Mario, Doom Guy and Luke Skywalker, I can play sports in real life, and moving around is kind of the point.
As a result I never played the original NBA Jam
. Oh sure, I’d heard about Bill Clinton as an unlockable character, but in a basketball game? I’d rather go shoot some hoops at the park and then play Duke it Out in DC to get the same effect. It’s for this reason that the new NBA Jam was such a shocker for me. After only a couple minutes of playing, I realized something: this wasn’t a sports game, it was an arcade game! Now that I can get behind.
I really enjoyed the 2 on 2 gameplay, mostly because it is more focused than the typical player pile-up you seen in more realistic sports titles. It was just me and my AI partner against Jeremy and his, which made it very easy to pick up the smooth, intuitive controls and pay attention to the action. NBA Jam is refreshingly simple to get into because it strips so much of the convoluted rules, rosters and franchise noise out of the equation, and boils basketball down to its pure concentrated essence. Of course, it throws in plenty of humor to boot.
As a hockey fan I could appreciate that at any time I could charge an opponent, knock him to the ground and steal the ball without anyone calling foul. Right after that I could stylishly make my way down court and execute a completely unrealistic slam dunk, with the announcer appropriately shouting “boom-shaka-laka!” The exaggerated art style, with enlarged frame-by-frame animated photos acting as each player’s head, helps reinforce that the game isn’t taking itself too seriously.
To really highlight the game’s brilliant arcade simplicity, let me announce that I actually beat Jeremy by one point. Jeremy is a seasoned veteran of the arcade version, having spent dozens of hours with the machine during his high school and college days. In any other sports game I would’ve been woefully outmatched, but by learning the controls and staying on my toes I was able to best the master on my first try. Anyone can pick up NBA Jam and have a good time, and not in the boneheaded minigame sort of way.