NBA Jam Retro Review: From The Hoopsters That Brought You Mortal Kombat
It could have been one of the most interesting ad campaigns in the history of video games; NBA greats like Larry Johnson, Patrick Ewing, or Dee Brown simply discussing just how fun of “NBA Jam” is. Use your imagination… I’ll give you a minute. The pinnacle of arcade basketball games was released by Midway and published by Acclaim in 1993 for most of the major consoles and handhelds at the time, with ports for both sides of the Nintendo/Sega console war. The game was so popular in arcades that it spawned a handful of “sequels,” which were basically just updates to the system, and expanded on the “NBA Jam” brand with “Tournament Edition” and “NBA Jam Extreme” until they removed all the fun, and called the game “NBA Primetime on NBC.” Through it all, “NBA Jam” carried a little extra clout due to the fact that the arcade version of basketball was more interesting then normal basketball.
In many ways, this Sports game played more like a fighting game, even outside the fact that you could use codes to play have Mortal Kombat characters play some 2-on-2 (in addition to one of the most expansive collection of codes and easter eggs, mind you). “NBA Jam” boiled the basketball formula down to four people on the court, instead of ten with each team using two characters, either with a friend or a computer-controlled ally, against the other two players. Set to the not-so dulcet tones of Marv Albert, the player is to score the most points within a three-minute time limit halves. What made this game so different was its action-packed fast nature that couldn’t be found in normal basketball video games with their well-defied physics, and more realistic gameplay. Want to make a three-pointer from all the way down the court? Take the shot, more off than not, it’ll likely work! Want to slam the ball into the net from halfcourt AND break the glass? Go for it! It was the most awesome version of basketball seen in a video game, and to guarantee it a spot in the Basketball Video Game Hall of Fame; after sinking three shots in a row, the scoring player’s team was “on fire,” and literally caused the net to burst into flames and power-up the player. The icing on the cake was the ability to break out the multitap and have two more friends play for a true two-on-two competition. The game goes quite quickly, and the powerups, like enhanced Turbo, places to stand for extra points over the normal amount, and the ability to dunk from ANYWHERE-are so crazy that you’ll come back for more with quite the cheer. Oh, and be sure to draw blood when you get the ball back from your opponent, just because you can, since there are no penalties.
For an SNES game, the likenesses of the players were pretty good compared to the portraits used, but when the players hit the court, it looks like everyone is built like a twig, and you really don’t notice that much of a difference. Sure, there are slightly less twiggy ball-players like Charles Barkley and former President Clinton (yes, you can play the leader of the free world, too…and his wife… suck on that, Ms. Anti-gaming Secretary of State), but the character models are all basically compromised by pallet-swaps of the same sprite design, with the detailed faces glued right on. The court always looks polished enough too; sure it wasn’t awe-inspiring, but it was passable by the graphical standards of the nineties, and you could tell what was going on. The same held true for the music. Nowadays, you’d have multiple licensed songs in the background while you knocked chumps on the floor. Back then, you had one song with an upbeat tempo made with synthesizers, and that was enough for a sports game…if any music existed at all.
It’s a good game as far as sports games go, really. The realism-defying sports titles aren’t seen much anymore…and if they are, they became boring quite fast. (I’m looking at you, “NFL Blitz Pro”…sigh, pro-football with wrestling moves will never be the same again.) The genre really died in the nineties unfortunately, alongside hockey, football, and BMX titles which used to be good, but never received the attention that “NBA Jam” did. It’s a pity-if this genre was still around, I’d actually play sports games more than I do now, which is currently nil.
“NBA Jam” was developed and published by Midway Games in 1993. This review is based on the SNES version.