The simple phrase of “he’s on fire” instantly conjures up images of giant headed basketball players defying the laws of gravity to slam a ball into a flaming hoop. The classic arcade game NBA Jam is back and fans of the original have a lot to look forward to. The series hasn’t seen the light of day since 1996’s NBA Jam Extreme, but EA felt it was good time to bring back the boom-shaka-laka.
If you’ve never played NBA Jam, the concept is simple. It’s a two on two basketball game where players choose from real NBA Teams, real players, and sometimes real celebrities, to dunk, shoot, block, and bring the funk. While the core of the game is a quick, arcade like experience, there’s a lot more here than just something you’d be pumping quarters into. The modes of play include the arcade like single game, campaign, boss battle, and remix career. The campaign will have you playing through as one NBA team conquering all 29 other teams, while the boss battles have you facing off against NBA Legends that can use special abilities like teleport and other type of power-ups. Remix adds new game types like power-ups, 21, Domination, Backboard Smash, and others with a challenges in every division to complete.
One of the new mini-games, 21
So while the core game of NBA Jam is still here, the heart of what you’ll be doing is unlocking content while playing through the various modes. Teams start out with 3 or 4 available players, but you can quickly unlock classic characters like Denis Rodman, or political figures like President Obama, as well as many other characters from the NBA Jam games of the past.
There’s a pretty robust online mode for full 2 vs 2 action and from what we’ve played, it works really well and is surprisingly smooth for a fast paced game. Most of the game modes are available to play as well - and like most EA Sports games - you’ll earn a rating so you can see how well you are doing compared to your competitors.
The heart of the NBA Jam experience though is playing the game in co-op. For the most part the game delivers here, allowing you play any of the modes that are 2 vs 2 in co-op fashion. It should be noted that if you started a solo campaign, you can’t have a friend join in that at any time, instead you’ll have to start a co-op campaign separately. We should also note there’s no co-op campaign online, only individual games available to play, but if versus is your thing, you can play same screen team play against other players from around the world.
For us, we really liked how the game forces players to communicate and work together. Like any sporting game, teamwork is only natural, but timing is so critical in NBA Jam you absolutely will not win unless you pass the ball to a teammate for an alley-oop, hit him at the 3-point arc when you draw coverage, or shove a defender out of the way so he has a clear shot to the rim. On the normal difficulty NBA Jam is a tough game - at times - almost cheap. But perseverance by any team will get you through the challenge.
There’s a lot to like in NBA Jam - from the crisp graphics to the excellent soundtrack, to the tight control options, as well as the smooth online play. The only gripe we have with the game is the pricing, despite all the modes of play, it still doesn’t feel like a $50 package at times.
For us, if you have a solid local co-op partner the new NBA Jam experience might just be worth it. Fans of the original are going to be right at home here, while new comers will find the new experience memorable. Perhaps the best reason to keep NBA Jam on your shelves is it’ll serve as a great party game to play with friends, as it contains a formula that never seems to get old. Plus everyone loves listening to the one liners...
”Its time for a peanut butter and JAM sandwich...”