NBA Jam HD Impressions and Videos

Posted September 5th, 2010 at 5:33 pm

A month ago EA Sports announced that NBA Jam would be coming to the 360 and PS3. The catch though is that it would be only available to download through a code that is being included in new copies of NBA Elite 11. The arcade market has been dry ever since EA and Midway ended Street and Ballers respectively, and here EA is bringing back a classic in what is better described as a “refresh” than a “reboot”.

The first opportunity for the media and public to play NBA Jam HD came with it out on the floor at PAX. After spending a good amount of time with the Xbox 360 version (played it vs CPU, H2H, and Co-Op) there is no question that it is worth the effort to get a hold of. There will likely be quite the secondary market for NBA Jam codes, as well as NBA Elite 11 copies that are tossed aside in favor of Jam.

In terms of gameplay it very similar to the NBA Jam of old, though with the updated control scheme and smoother movement. One thing I liked was with the shove attempts. When unsuccessful it takes a moment for the player to recover, so people won’t be able to just run around throwing shoves non-stop without paying the price. The right stick works well also for attempting steals, which I found to be the smarter thing to attempt unless I was squared up perfectly for a shove. Usually what I would do is try and shove the off-the-ball player and go for the steal if closing in on the ball handler.

One issue I noticed was with the way the CPU played. I know for many people NBA Jam is all about the head-to-head experience, but the single player modes are intended to add depth and a unique challenge. What I saw against the CPU was an obvious tentativeness, in the couple videos against the CPU you’ll probably notice that they take a lot of jump shots. That made them pretty easy to handle, with lots of blocked shots and numerous shot clock violations. Even a guy like Kobe Bryant was playing soft when controlled by the CPU.

The visuals are really crisp, and having the ability to glance back and forth between the 360 version and the Wii version it really sunk in how much better it looked. Even though the Wii version comes across well (it isn’t a game that needs HD graphics to be successful and the photo faces look great there too) I would have trouble playing that now that I’ve spent time on the 360 side.

The photo faces are a really cool touch, everyone has seen those through the screenshots. I think it really adds something though in how they change on the fly. When playing I wasn’t able to pay much attention to their faces, but at the moments when they’d change (going up for a big dunk, getting blocked or pushed) they really stood out. I also really enjoyed seeing the bench players reacting.

An environment such as this isn’t great to judge audio, but even in the videos some of it does come though and is certainly one of the highlights of the experience. Bringing back Tim Kitzrow pays off and I can’t imagine the game without him. The usual catch-phrases are back along with plenty of new ones, I even recognized some that had made it in from the submission contest a while back.

Overall everyone playing NBA Jam at PAX really seemed to be having a great time. I was initially concerned that, as we’ve seen with other games heavy on nostalgia that attempt to come back, the experience just wouldn’t translate to today. That is not the case with NBA Jam. It passes as a legitimate new release that carries that significant nostalgia and retains the addictively fun nature while providing an updated feel. EA went into developing this with a clear plan and they really hit the mark.

This could end up being the most talked about sports game of the year and unfortunately it has been tied to NBA Elite 11. I don’t know how it will ultimately end up affecting sales of Elite, though there has been word that it is having more influence on pre-sales than Elite on its own merits, but I now view the bundling as a potential mistake.

NBA Jam will likely overshadow Elite and it would have sold like crazy on its own as a downloadable game. I expect to see it available to download eventually (maybe over the holidays or early next year) but it may have lost steam by then. Regardless, for anyone who has been disappointed with what they’ve seen out of NBA Elite 11 or that never had interest in the first place, NBA Jam may be worth the effort to nab no matter what route is taken to do so.