NBA Jam Review: Slightly New Look, Same Classic Game

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Did you love NBA Jam as a kid? You’ll love this one, plain and simple. The team at EA has done a great job of rebottling the original formula. Aside from some slightly updated graphics and a few new games modes, the physics-defying basketball brouhaha plays just like you remember it.

New game modes include online multiplayer, Boss Battles against NBA legends, Backboard Smash, Domination, and a few more. Each gives the game a bit of extra depth, but you’ll likely head straight for the campaign mode that made the original what it was—start out playing the lowliest teams in the league and work your way up until you’ve beaten them all.

The graphics have gotten a slight bump (I tested the PS3 version), but don’t expect a complete overhaul by any means. The look and feel retains the same kitsch factor from the arcade versions, with looping courtside animations, goofy player heads and frenetic animations being the order of the day. If you were to show the game to a 10-year old who’d never heard of NBA Jam you’d probably hear something like, “This looks weird,” but anyone who grew up around the game will instantly recognize it in its modern form.

Play-by-play is handled by the same announcer from the original games, and all the classic lines are here along with a smattering of new ones. I can’t stress enough how playing the game makes you feel like you’re back in the early 90’s at your buddy’s house eating pizza rolls after a long day of middle school. Nothing’s really changed—perhaps for the better.

But therein lies the rub. With nothing truly consequential over the original version, it’s hard to fathom why NBA Jam wasn’t simply released straight to Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network and priced at $10 to $20. The $50 asking price seems a bit steep for what’s basically a slight graphical update to an old classic with a few new game modes thrown in.

If you’re a diehard NBA Jam fan, you’ve already bought the game and you love it. If you’re a fan of realistic basketball games, you’d be offended at where your $50 has gone. If you’re somewhere in the middle, you have a more difficult decision. I’d probably wait until it hits the discount bin at $20.

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