NBA Jam Review for Nintendo Wii

NBA Jam Review for Nintendo Wii

With fond memories of over-the-top-basketball silliness, many folks have undoubtedly long been awaiting Electronic Arts’ (EA) reboot of NBA Jam. Does this latest Wii entry offer players the dose of fun nostalgia they’ve been yearning for, or is it merely a hapless cash-in?

NBA Jam screenshot

NBA Jam for Wii is pretty much what you remember from the 㣾s arcade cabinet by Midway: two-on-two basketball that throws most of the traditional rules (and laws of gravity) out the window in exchange for a crazy gameplay style that’s as entertaining today as it was over fifteen years ago. EA’s version of NBA Jam isn’t without its flaws, but it’s a throwback that should, for the most part, satisfy fans.

There are a decent variety of modes to choose from, but the gameplay premise is always pretty much the same. NBA Jam isn’t a complex game in theory, but finesse and timing certainly do play a large role in your ability to own the court. You can choose to play with the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, just the Wii Remote, or the Classic Controller. Personally, I found using the Wii Remote by itself to be terribly clumsy and unfulfilling, and I quickly settled on the Wii Remote and Nunchuk set-up as my default for play. Analog control works well, and though the motion controls are a tad too sensitive for my liking, there’s potential for satisfaction when taking a shot.

Whether you’re new to series or a longtime fan, you’ll likely want to run through Jam Camp, the game’s tutorial. Jam Camp is a very competent, hands-on start-up that will get you up to speed on the basics. Using the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, you’ll move your player with the analog stick and pass with the A button. You can also elbow players off, as well as fake a shot. There’s enough going on mechanically to give players ample room to dig in deep without ever feeling overwhelmed by the controls. Blocking and shooting are both executed by swinging up and then down with the Wii Remote, and both the timing and power of your motions factor into the respective actions.

NBA Jam screenshot

Play Now is the game’s quick-play option, but you can also take on Classic Campaign or Remix Tour for a lengthy Jam experience. In Classic Campaign, you’ll pick a favorite team, along with the player you want to play as, and then push your way through a series of engagements, unlocking additional opponents as you progress through the campaign. The gameplay in Remix Tour is basically the same, though power-ups appear randomly on the court, adding an additional element of intensity to an already chaotic game of basketball. Unfortunately, the rapid pace of a typical game of two-on-two makes it difficult to concentrate or care about power-ups, and their effects are seemingly marginal at best.

Remix Modes and Boss Battles round out the roster, and when it comes to content, NBA Jam for Wii offers decent bang for your buck. My personal favorite from the Remix Modes is Smash, another two-vs-two game in which the object is to weaken the opponent team’s backboard until it…well, smashes. Alley-oops and slam dunks do extra damage, and when you’re “on fire,” it’s a pretty good feeling pounding the remote downward in order to sink a ball.

NBA Jam screenshot

Other modes include Domination, Elimination, 21, and Remix 2v2. All of these modes (except for Remix 2v2) are half-court games with special rules; however, I didn’t find any of these extra modes to be particularly interesting or exhibit nearly the same frenetic appeal as the classic two-on-two-style games.

For my money, NBA Jam on Wii performs best when it sticks to the original formula, but even then the game is not above reproach. The controls function fine, and once you get into a groove, gameplay can be quite rewarding. It’s the little things, though, that I miss here in this version. Bigger isn’t always better, but up against the experience of today’s AAA titles, much of the gameplay in NBA Jam on Wii feels a bit hollow. The players move without any feeling of weight, and the only time the controller offers feedback is when the ball is either taken away or you’re shoved by another player. When you run toward the basket to take that slam dunk or lay-up, there’s no vibration or sound emanating from the Wii Remote – just the empty swiping of your own arm. Scoring, therefore, feels disconnected and not nearly as satisfying as it could or should be.

Additionally, NBA Jam comes to Wii sans any online features. There are some cool achievements to unlock via local play, but if you’re hoping to hook up with players around the world for some competitive two-on-two, you’ll want to hold out for the game’s release on one of the HD consoles. Considering EA has both their own online service and the Nintendo WiFi Connection to choose from, it’s a baffling omission that cuts the package off at the knees.

NBA Jam screenshot

On the plus side, the presentation in NBA Jam is not only a great tribute to one of gaming’s favorite franchises, it’s also a splendid fit for the modest-powered Wii. The digitized representations of the players is still a great look that fits perfectly alongside the lampooning nature of the gameplay, and the stands are full of detailed spectators that each have their own unique animations. The courts look fantastic, and the framerate is butter.

I was surprised at the lack of music during most matches, though. There is the occasional cadence here and there, but the gameplay could definitely benefit from a few rockin’ tunes. The announcer, however, is pretty hilarious – “No hoop for you!” – adding tons of great chatter in the background during play. For the most part, the sights and sounds of the court are a feast for the senses.

NBA Jam on Wii is a solid, fun reboot that should please many fans. Considering its roots, the game aims to deliver the goods, but it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. The controls work fine, but the gameplay feels a bit hollow. As natural as motioning to dunk a ball is, I just never got that feeling of satisfaction I was hoping for. Played together with a group of friends, NBA Jam promises a good time. However, the lack of any online options means the game has limited appeal when weighed against its HD counterparts due out later this year. NBA Jam on Wii borders on the value of a downloadable title, but it’s still a fun package worth checking out.

It’s a fun look that works especially well on Wii. Audiences are made up of more than merely background stills, though the animations are a bit archaic-looking. 3.5 Control
The concepts behind the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls are inspired. The lack of subtle feedback, as well as the lightness with which the characters move, make gameplay feel a bit more like a novelty than something you can truly sink your teeth into. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
NBA Jam could stand to have a bit more music happening during actual gameplay, but the commentary and sound effects are still stellar components that add tons of personality to the experience. 3.7

Play Value
There are ample modes to choose from, loads of fun achievements to mine, as well as some really charming Easter eggs, and the two-on-two basketball is good fun in short stints with friends. The lack of online play, however, makes this a wait-and-see title for folks who also own an HD console.

3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • With two distinct game modes: Classic Campaign and Remix Tour, EA Sports NBA Jam offers something for everyone.
  • From boss battles against some of the NBA’s greatest legends, to half-court game modes with distinct challenges and winning conditions, players will be taken through an NBA Jam experience that, while completely unique to the basketball videogame genre, is classic arcade hoops at its best.
  • In Classic Campaign, players can take a trip down memory lane, individually or cooperatively with a friend, as they play through all the teams in the NBA in a worst to first ladder tournament. In Remix Tour, players will be faced with a new twist on the traditional NBA JAM experience.

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