I know what you’re thinking. Did I fire 5 shots or 6? And also, why am I writing about a basketball game instead of dudes turning left for 5364 hours? Well, to answer that, I was all prepared to make my glorious and long-awaited return, when I took a gander at my esteemed colleague Stevie Grant’s latest review. And what I saw shocked and disturbed me.
That’s right folks, not only have I reviewed this pathetic racing game, but I have also reviewed all racing games!
In one fell swoop, Mr. Grant has stolen my thunder. So, since I’m out of a job pretty much as your favorite racing game writer EVER, I believe it’s about time I changed some things up around here, and started talking about other vidyagames of an athletic nature. (And I’ll do the occasional racing title still as well, because I love to torture you that much.) And what better way to kick this puppy off than with one of the most beloved sports games of the 16-bit era?
So, if there’s one thing Midway was always pretty damn stellar with in their existence (or at least in the 90s/early 00s), it was the over-the-top arcade game, especially with sports licenses. And while they’d been at it for awhile, with titles like Super High Impact Football and Arch Rivals, NBA Jam was the first one to break out and be a huge hit for the company.
The idea was simple. Take the 2v2 gameplay of Arch Rivals, take out most all of the rules (aside from the shot clock and, weirdly enough, goal tending), acquire the permission of the NBA to use their licenses, throw in a ton of easter eggs and insane visuals like impossible dunks and full court shots, blend, and serve. And as mentioned above, it worked damn well, getting rave reviews and Midway a nice chunk o’ change (to the tune of one billion dollars just in arcades alone). Of course, being a sports game, by the time the new NBA season rolled around, everybody wanted updated rosters and such. And thus, we got the version I’m writing about today.
Let me just go ahead and get it out of the way: This game is awesome. Simply awesome.
Graphically, the Genesis version isn’t anything to write home about, but it IS pretty decent looking for its time. And while sprites and such aren’t the greatest, other visuals, such as the classic “On Fire!” mode, and of course, the superdunks (complete with flashbulbs and the like from the crowd) are a sight to see, and definitely satisfying to watch after pulling em off successfully.
The sound is one of the most iconic things about the entire game. The music has been compared to George Clinton’s on more than a few occasions, which led to him being a hidden character in Tournament Edition, and is so beloved by fans of the game that it even has remixes on OCRemix.org, where mixes of licensed sports games aren’t exactly common. The other reason the sound is so beloved is because of the announcer, who would spout off some brilliant catchphrases, some of which have been a part of the professional sports commentator’s cliché handbook ever since.
And the game was, and still is, a blast to play. It takes physics and throws em out the front door, into the road, where they’re promptly ran over by steamrollers, which means you can pretty much shoot from anywhere on the court and have the same chance of it going in as if you were shooting from the paint, which can make for some pretty epic stuff. Games usually stay pretty close as well, leading to some pretty awesome down-to-the-wire stuff. Well, unless you play the Celtics, in which point they’ll get called for goal tending every shot you take, putting you up by like, 30 points by the end of the first half. But I digress. The fast and loose arcade gameplay is so much fun, even today, and I actually prefer it to pretty much any basketball game I’ve played in the last 5-10 years. Especially since you don’t have to worry about Andrew Bynum turning into Jesus! Mainly because he was still a kid when this came out, but again, digressing.
And special mention has to go to all the little easter eggs and such hidden throughout the game. From “hotspots” that could give you up to 9 point shots, to including an insane roster of hidden characters, which featured not only Midway characters and staffers, but even celebrities like Will Smith and even the president at the time, Bill Clinton. Which, how the hell could they get Bill Clinton to sign off on being a part of the game, but not someone like, say, Shaq or Michael Jordan? Curiouser and curiouser.
So, the game definitely left its mark on not just gaming, but sports culture in general. But after T.E., things started to head downhill fast. After Midway and Acclaim split in the mid-90s, Acclaim won the rights to the NBA Jam trademark, and used it for the first 3D version of the game, NBA Jam Extreme. And compared to not only its namesakes, but also Midway’s spiritual successor to the series released that year, NBA Hangtime, it was a complete and utter flop. Acclaim attempted to reboot the series in 2003 on the Xbox and PS2, but it was average at best, and never even approached the popularity of the original NBA Jams, or the arcade basketball darling at the time, EA’s NBA Street series.
And now, funnily enough, the rights to the series now belong to EA, with their updated version being released on the Wii last month, and PS360 versions coming in a couple weeks from now. I haven’t played the new version yet, but I’ve heard it’s very good, and stays true to the original in terms of secrets and hidden characters (including Bill Clinton, which is probably the only player to make a return from Tournament Edition), so make no mistake, I’ll definitely be giving the demo a shot, at least.
Here’s hoping it’s half as good as its predecessor was.
So, yeah. There ya go. Was it better than MegaDriving? Was I any better as a writer? Worse on either? Got any thoughts on the game, or any requests for future games? Leave any and all comments and the like here, or in this brand spankin’ new forum thread (where, also, I’m trying to figure out an actual name for this column, so any help you can give would be delicious). See you beautiful people next week.