Two things I've had very little experience with are sports games and Sega Genesis games, so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by giving NBA Jam a try. As you may already know, NBA Jam is a rather shallow game, but I enjoyed it a bit more than I thought I would. Unlike most basketball games, Jam does not attempt to be a realistic simulation. Teams consist of only two star players instead of the usual five. And the object isn't so much to win as to win in style by pulling off spectacularly exaggerated slam dunks.
I almost think that NBA Jam is a game made for people who want to play a basketball game, but find most basketball games too complicated (does such an audience exist?). The game is very easy to get into and it doesn't take very long to get the hang of it. Unfortuantely, Jam has the same problem that I had with Extra Innings: once you learn how to play it, it becomes far too easy to outsmart the AI. There is absolutely no reason this game needs the "easy" and "very easy" difficulty settings. I have played very few sports games before this one, and I did just fine on "normal". On my replay, I skipped "hard" and went straight to "very hard". While there's no doubt the AI is more aggressive and steals the ball more frequently on this setting, something still wasn't right. Not only did I win every game sans one, but I won most of them with a lead of 10-20 points! And if the Chicago Bulls were the "team to beat" around the era this game was made, then why are the San Antonio Spurs the team that consistently gave me the most trouble?
The problem with NBA Jam, and thus is the main reason I don't play sports games too often, is that there just isn't a whole lot of depth to it. You grab the ball, run to your basket, throw it in. As dumb as I feel for saying this, the game is mostly just running back and forth, throwing a ball around, which gets old rather quickly. But at least it controls well. I personally prefer to play with "tag mode" off, which, when turned on, switches your control to the team member who has the ball. That confuses me as to who I'm controlling on defense, and it's also nice to leave the 3-pointers up to the CPU, since I miss more often than not. While I wouldn't claim that Jam's super slam dunks could make or break a game, it's nice to have some kind of visual reward for scoring. You cannot play a tournament in NBA Jam (yes, I know a "Tournament Edition" exists, but I don't own that one), but if you enter your initials the game will keep track of what teams you've beaten. When you defeat all 27 teams, there is an end credits sequence. So, even though the game feels rather pointless, at least it does eventually end.
I'm not exactly an expert on the rules of basketball, but it seems that most of the penalties have been removed from this game with the exceptions of "Shot Clock Violation" and "Goal Tending". It's no wonder. With official rules like "no swinging of elbows" and "no using the basket ring or back-board to lift, hold or raise yourself to score", the point of NBA Jam would pretty much go out the window. Jam's between-quarter coaching tips actually encourage you to "knock the other players down and steal the ball from them". There is so much shoving and tripping of players, shattering of backboards, dangling from basket rings, and swan diving through the air that it's a wonder this game wasn't called "Carnage on the Court: Anything Goes". It's an even greater wonder why they bothered to keep the "Goal Tending" penalty.
The graphics are nice, considering this is a basketball game, and the players do kind of look like who they're supposed to be. I definitely can make out Vlade Divac and Charles Barkeley on the court. But some of the shorter players look like little kids compared to the taller guys. The player profile pictures look a bit grainy on a large TV screen. The super slam dunks, the trademark of the NBA Jam series, are ridiculous, yet fun to watch. Sometimes players leap and spin 10 feet into the air, complete with accompanying rotor noises. Other times, the ball catches on fire and blazes a trail as it burns up the net. And nothing is more satisfying than shattering the backboard. I just have to wonder what happened in the sound department? The music is akin to someone occasionally pressing a few keys on a Casio keyboard. Even the trademark NBA Jam title theme sounds a bit thin. Well, at least the announcer sounds much more enthusiastic than the one in NBA Hangtime. I wish someone would yell "Boom-shakalaka!" every time I accomplished something.
I'm probably not the most qualified person in the world to review sports games. But if you're someone like me who doesn't play them very much, you may want to know if NBA Jam has some value that would make it worth playing, even to someone who doesn't usually care for sports games. That's a legitimate question, especially when you consider the amount of hype Jam got and that Nintendo Power magazine named it the 28th best game of all time(!). My answer to this question, folks, is a resounding "no". If you really want to play a basketball game that's easy to get into and not burdened with complicated rules (again, I'm skeptical such an audience exists), then NBA Jam might be one to check out, especially since Genesis sports titles tend to go for $1 or less in used game shops. For me, NBA Jam is a game I'm glad I'll never have to play through again (that is, if I didn't also own the Sega CD and Super NES versions of it, too. *sigh*)
TO GENESIS REVIEWS
TO MAIN PAGE