15 years ago, I was a poor college student that managed to spend all my laundry quarters into an addictive arcade game called NBA Jam. I could spend an hour or two a day playing the two-on-two basketball game that featured NBA stars performing exaggerated moves and dunks with colorful commentary. I’ll never forget hearing “Boomshakalaka!” as I jammed the ball into the hoop with…John Stockton. (Hey, it’s an arcade game.)
I’m once again enjoying NBA Jam, except now I’m playing at home on the Wii. While NBA Jam had been previously released on other consoles, it never held the same thrill and excitement as the arcade version. Until now.
Graphics. The Wii version of NBA Jam manages to keep all the thrills of the original while adding a few more modern touches. The graphics still have the arcade atmosphere, while making good use of motion capture technology to give the dunks a more fluid and realistic (if you can use that word with NBA Jam) feel. Even the facial expressions on the more prominent dunkers change in mid-flight. The fan section and bench are nearly inanimate, but they are serving as a background to the highlight reel on the floor rather than trying to capture a true NBA atmosphere. My only caveat is the graphics presentation during other game modes, which I’ll get into later.
Controls. While you can play with a standard controller, using the Wii mote-and-nunchuk combo enhances the experience. You shoot by raising the want up and flicking it downward to simulate ball release. Use the nunchuk controller to move forward while you shoot and you’ll make a fantastic dunk if your path is unobstructed. The same motion is used for a block. Other moves like a cross-over and a pump fake may require learning a few other button combinations, but the NBA Jam Camp tutorial works you through those controls and moves. The learning curve for the casual Wii player may take a few games.
Gameplay. You can play two-on-two with up to four players on the Wii’s NBA Jam. You pick an NBA team and select two players. The players you select will depend on how many legends and alternates you’ve unlocked through codes or completing various tasks. For example, if you shove someone to the ground five times in a game, you unlock Dennis Rodman for the Bulls, complete with spray painted hair.
Fortunately there are other game variants besides two-on-two. In Classic Campaign, you can pick a team and try to defeat 37 other teams in a special challenge mode. Or you can play other games in the Remix Mode, such as 21, where you compete as a single player to score 21 or more points before your opponents do. While the gameplay in 21 is exciting, the court graphics are lacking by NBA Jam’s standards. Going for a layup or dunk isn’t as exciting because you are now looking from the half court perspective, with no zoom-in for the dunks.
Other modes include Remix 2v2, a game with power-ups. The power-ups give players temporary boosts in attributes such as speed, power, or size. They appear randomly throughout the game and last about 30 seconds. In Smash, the winner is declared by who breaks the backboard first. The shot clock is off and all you have is a health meter for each backboard. NBA Jam, again, uses the little details to build up excitement. As the backboards get closer and closer to destruction, smaller pieces of glass fall by the wayside. The shot clock begins to short circuit and the game lets you know when there’s one last dunk for the win.
The biggest drawback to NBA Jam on the Wii is no live gameplay. I’d love to call up some of my ol’ college buddies and challenge them in a cross-country dunkfest, but that’s not possible. Maybe future editions or other console versions can make this a possibility. Yet NBA Jam is still as fun and as exciting as you would want it to be. There’s just something so satisfying about blocking a dunk and hearing the announcer say “no hoop for you!”, even though it’s now my 9 year-old falling victim and not my college roommate.