NBA Jam Initial Impressions

Posted November 22nd, 2010 at 9:00 am

NBA Jam does many things well but still faces quite a bit of scrutiny. Arguably the biggest question centers on value given that EA Sports eroded the brand by advertising it as being “free” with NBA Elite 11. Value is always a subjective thing but I don’t see that being the problem with the game. Various gameplay frustrations and some issues with online play though have soured me on NBA Jam already which doesn’t bode well going forward.

What EA Sports has done with NBA Jam is update a classic while still retaining the nostalgia and charm and that accomplishment should be commended. There have been other remakes of franchises held in high regard that just haven’t succeeded in one or the other (or both). They have also added some unique modes with ‘Remix’ that turned out to add quite a lot to the package. There is a sufficient amount of content to warrant a full retail release.

The controls are well done and the gameplay is very smooth. The buttons are still there to be used but the right stick is also an option and one that has its advantages and drawbacks. I’ve actually found more success shooting with the right stick (up and then pushing down at the release point) than using the button. However using the stick makes it difficult to pass out of a shot. It also does not provide a way to pump fake. On defense I like using the stick to block shots as it just feels natural to push up to block, and using it for shoves and steals works well also. I’m baffled though that the RB and RT have been left absent of any function when at least turbo would’ve been appropriate to place there same as LB and LT.

The graphics are very clean and vibrant and the decision to use different player face photographs for different emotions pays off. I’ll say though when playing it is not something that is noticed much with all the action taking place. The best part of NBA Jam is definitely the audio. Tim Kitzrow doing all the lines for the game is just awesome and some of them are pretty amusing to hear. The commentary though does mix up the names now and then but that is a just a minor thing. There are also some home team specific sounds that play during games.

The two main offline modes are ‘Campaign’ and ‘Remix’. The classic ‘Campaign’ mode pushes the user through beating every team in the NBA. It is ‘Remix’ that ends up delivering the most in terms of content and replayability.

‘Remix Tour’ focuses on beating each team in three different challenges that vary from team to team. There are regular ‘Remix 2 on 2’ games which are similar to the standard NBA Jam game however they include powerups and may introduce legends or mascots as participants. Then there are the four ‘Remix Modes’ that are completely unique.

Those include ’21’ which can involve up to four participants, ‘Elimination’ which has a timer count down with the lowest scoring player being ousted, ‘Domination’ which is about owning certain spots on the court, and ‘Smash’ which tasks players which inflicting damage on the backboard through dunking. These games can be pretty fun and offer a nice change of pace. They can also be completely chaotic however which is fun in a way but can get tiring pretty quickly.

One thing that ticks me off about the ‘Remix 2 v 2’ games though relates to the powerups. I don’t find them terribly compelling to begin with but what really is bothersome is that the CPU grabs almost all of them. It’s not an exaggeration to say they seem to know they’re coming and where they will be before they’re even visible. They head right to them and snag them almost immediately. Half the time it seems like they’re practically given to them as they’re picking them up as I’m inbounding the ball. If there is one actually on the floor long enough for me to spot it and head for it either the CPU will get there first or I’ll have taken myself out of the play and given up points. The way they’re distributed just doesn’t work for this game.

Moving to the biggest problem with NBA Jam in general…the CPU controlled teammates can’t be relied upon to do much of anything. It is absolutely infuriating to see my AI teammate just stand there and let the opposition dunk, shoot, or weakly lay it in without even making an attempt to block it. On the offensive end they can’t handle the ball without turning it over, big men rarely go for alley-oops, and guards have trouble scoring. Basically it feels like playing one on two.

Getting on “Fire” can be really effective for dunkers but not as much for shooters. It almost seems as though I miss more three pointers when on “Fire” than normal shots. This isn’t the case in the different ‘Remix’ modes but in regular games that is how it feels. Also there is an issue with goaltending as that doesn’t break up streaks or cease players from being on “Fire”.

There is no “Online Pass” for NBA Jam which is a good thing. It is more likely that time considerations prevented EA from implementing the “Online Pass” with Jam than the decision having been made to leave it out.

I’ll be getting into online play with a full article of its own but in general it has been disappointing. First of all there aren’t that many people online which can make finding games difficult. The biggest issue though comes with what may be a quitting exploit. On numerous occasions when I’ve had a comfortable lead the game has suddenly frozen but it hasn’t been the console as the game can still be paused, Xbox guide can be pulled up, ect. The gameplay though is frozen in time forcing it to be quit out of and a loss being recorded.

I don’t know if this is being caused by opponents or if there is something else going on. It even stings more that regular quitters aren’t penalized with losses. On the plus side there has been absolutely no lag experienced online. There has still been no roster update for the game which is worth noting. EA has been quiet on the topic of roster updates lately which is worrisome.

NBA Jam still delivers a good deal of fun and that shouldn’t be discounted. However a number of frustrations have arisen that have unfortunately eroded the experience and that severely damages longevity. There is enough content to warrant being a full retail release but there is little doubt it would have been better accepted as a downloadable one. Look for more coverage with full online impressions and “Hits and Misses” in the coming days.