NBA Jam Review
"Boomshakalaka!" If you're under the age of 18, these words might have little meaning to you. However, if you're older, that phrase will bring back memories of outrageous dunks, big heads, and a lot of lost quarters in the arcade, because that phrase means NBA Jam. Once a big name in sports games, the Jam series took a few years off to retool what had become a tired, mismanaged franchise. NBA Jam 2004 is a rebirth of sorts, and while it doesn't do a whole lot new with the tried and true formula of dunks, dunks, and more dunks, it's a solid, albeit shallow game.
Jam 2004 packs all of its gameplay into the Jam Tournament and the Legends Tournament. The Jam Tourney has you taking a team up against each of the real NBA franchises from worst to first, while the Legends Tournament has you taking on old-school players from all eras. Beat the teams and throw down enough dunks and you can unlock all sorts of stuff in the Jam Store. The old Forum, Garden, and Chicago Stadium are unlockable here, which is pretty cool.
The gameplay is a combination of some elements of NBA Street and the old NBA Jam games. Teams are now composed of three players, there's a turbo button, a basic juke, and a hotspot meter that fills up based on the scoring moves you're flashing on the floor. Score three buckets in a row with the same player, and you guess it, he'll be on fire. This is a temporary boost in attributes that last 60 seconds, 5 baskets, or until the other team scores. With another player on the team and a complete lack of D in the games, it's hard to stay on fire for long, so you won't see it as much as you did back in the day. After filling up the hotspot meter (easily done with alley-oops) you can press the R3 button and a spot will appear on the floor. If you jump from this spot, you will perform the visual equivalent of a gamebreaker dunk, and get three points the first time you do it, four the next, and so on. It's a nice touch, but not enough to make the game exciting.
While Jam borrows some things from NBA Street, it doesn't have anywhere near as deep a trick system, and it's almost impossible to play effective defense. You'll find yourself throwing the ball in, hitting turbo as you run down the side of the court, and then running up the baseline for a dunk, over and over again. This makes the game's three minute quarters almost unbearable, and it's difficult to play through more than two games in one sitting. You constantly find yourself wishing for more moves, a reliable way to block a shot, or any way to slow down the computer who tends to miss very few shots. This game is more shallow than the money-grubbing women on Joe Millionaire.
NBA Jam 2004 isn't a very pretty looking game, but there's nothing really offensive about it either. The players have the traditional big heads, which is ok, but it really just shows off the hideous models that Midway used for the players' faces. These things look like they came from a Nintendo 64 game. They look a little like their real life counterparts, but they're blocky and not very detailed.
There are lots of cool animations for dunks, but other than that, there isn't much else going on. There are two fakes, and some different types of passes, but nothing else eye catching. When you perform a hotspot dunk, there are some cool effects, not gamebreaker cool, but the rest of the game is so plain they look a little better than they are. The game's default camera isn't great, but the sideline camera is very solid. It doesn't make the game look as flashy, but it's much more conducive to the gameplay.
Probably the most creative part of the game comes when you play the older teams in Legends Mode. The game will be in black and white, save for some splashes of color when you dunk. The announcer even goes retro, and period specific music plays after a dunk. "I feel good" and "Johnny B. Good" are just a few of the songs you'll hear - it's really a nice touch.
Tim Kitzrow, the voice of the old games reprises his role and does a really nice job. He's over the top but not obnoxious, and his old school commentary is great. He does fall a little bit behind at times, but for a solo announcer in a repetitive game, he does a fine job.
NBA Jam 2004 shows that the series does still have some life left in it, but major refinements need to be made to keep it going. It still has the same basic flaws as the old game, the primary being that it's lacking depth. Better stat-tracking, more moves, more play modes like a dunk contest or a three-point shootout would all be welcome. It's fun to reminisce about the past with a few friends the first couple of games, but after that, you'll be looking for your copy of NBA Street 2.
10/21/2003 Aaron Thomas