Tuesday, 7 October 2008

NBA Jam [Mega Drive, 1994] review

Strangely, despite growing up in the United Kingdom, where football is king, and miles away from the nearest basketball court, I was something of a basketball fan.

Not that I ever went to watch any games; my closest local team, the Manchester Giants, played 25 miles away and I much preferred a day at the football. But, I did class myself as something of a follower of the sport, mostly because of NBA Jam.

I must have first heard about the game on Head to Head, a British video game show on now defunct Sky channel The Children's Channel (video above) and subsequently rented the game from my local newsagent. Let me just say that I actually finished up renting it enough times to cover the cost of actually purchasing the game.

What is presented here is a caricature of basketball: cartoony big headed players performing unimaginably huge dunks and length-of-the-court three pointers, with the standard five-a-side format overlooked in favour of a two-on-two jamfest.

But what Jam lacks in realism it more than makes up for in arcade brilliance. I never played the original - I read that the console versions are decent ports, but unfortunately I don't think I would have been able to persuade one of the arcades at Blackpool to buy the game in, seeing as I was about nine at the time.

This bending of the boundaries allows for such concepts as the hot streak. If a single player scores three baskets in a row, he is 'on fire'. Until someone else scores, the player is granted unlimited sprint, increased accuracy and a range of 'superdunks', the ball glowing bright orange all the time the player is in possession of it. This, along with sinking an at-the-buzzer downtown Hail Mary to scrape a contest, must rank as one of the most fun parts of the game.

Or maybe not, for multiple player games bring two, three and four times the fun respectively. There's nothing better than taking the mick out of your opponent by passing to your partner whilst twenty feet in the air midway through an ultra dunk and seeing him shoot a flawless uncontested three-pointer. This, you can guarantee, will lead to much verbal taunting, high-fives and the other team sulking into their Reeboks.

And then there's the sonics. There is no option to turn them off, but I doubt you'd want to; superb digital sampling provides the commentary which can, at times, be impressively fluent. Slightly clearer on the SNES, no doubt, but still mightily good and a decent range of catchphrases for a game released in 1994. You'll find yourself repeating "grabs the rebound!" and "is it the shoes?" as you shoot some hoops down at the local recreation ground.

It was only years later that I actually bought the game for the Mega Drive and fully realised what fun it was: having played other similar games such as Barkley's Shut Up and Jam [MD] and such five a side conversions of the sport as NBA Live '98 [PS], none could live up to the frantic dunk-a-minute orgies of Jam (though I have to admit Live 98 was fun).


Recommended sequels: NBA Jam T.E. [SNES, MD]

Get if: You're a fan of arcade style sports games. If you like basketball, you most likely have it already ;) It's very easy to while away whole afternoons attempting to beat all the NBA teams, and when you've done that you can do it all again in the uber-hectic 'juice mode'.

Avoid if: You prefer realism in your sports games, if you detest basketball, or if a wide variety of tunes is a top factor in your ideal game.

Game info

NBA Jam [Mega Drive] - also available for Arcade, Super NES, Game Gear, Sega CD, Game Boy
Buy this game
  • Rarity rating [10=extremely rare]: 2
  • Buy @ Ebay - costs approximately £2-3
  • This was a very popular game, check your local Cash Converters or retro video games store. You could also get it cheaper from a boot sale, perhaps haggling as low as 50p if the seller knows nothing of video games :)

Dunks video:
(more info)

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