EA Sports NBA JAM Review (Wii)
I will never forget the first time I was able to experience NBA Jam Wii at an EA press event last April in NYC. As lead designer Trey Smith explained the game's motion-control scheme, my eyes were glued to the screen. Throughout that developer walkthrough I was having flashbacks to the early '90s when I would spend hours at a local arcade (and later with my Genesis) playing NBA Jam and NBA Jam TE.
However, I did not go into the event last April without trepidation. Much like many other people, I had become disillusioned with the franchise over the years while it tried to figure out what it wanted to be. And being the disillusioned soul that I was, I was also more than a bit skeptical when EA decided to reboot the franchise on the Wii.
Either way, once I was finally turned loose on the game at the press event none of that mattered anymore. Within minutes I was completely hooked on the visual style, classic gameplay and intuitive motion-control scheme. Everything I loved about Jam was back -- the frantic pace, the ridiculous moves, Tim Kitzrow and even the ridiculous rubber-band AI -- along with some cool new twists like alley-oops, spin moves and crossovers. The moment I left NYC I was dying to get more hands-on time with the game on the Wii.
However, after I heard about the announcement of NBA Jam being packaged with NBA Elite on the 360/PS3, my anticipation for the game on Wii began to dwindle -- even after hearing about how the Wii version would contain the Remix Tour and boss battles against classic NBA superstars. But with the recent news of NBA Elite's cancellation, and Jam HD now being released later this year as a standalone product with online support -- and possibly with some previously Wii-exclusive modes packed in -- is Jam Wii worth picking up, or should you just wait a couple months for the HD version on the 360/PS3?
Graphics and Presentation
Jam looks great. The South Park-like player photo faces lend an endearing quality to your favorite NBA superstar, and the game is bright and colorful. While running the game with a 420p connection on a 37-inch LCD screen, there are some jaggies present, but this is not unusual for Wii games running on an HD set. To be quite honest, Jam Wii is one of the better looking Wii sports titles, and is up there in the visuals department with Punch-Out and Mario Kart.
Tim Kitzrow returns to lend his voice to Jam, and he does not disappoint. He has a ton of humorous one-liners so don't expect to get bored of him anytime soon. Kitzrow adds a lot to the audio presentation of the game, which is good because the menu and in-game music is composed of the same bland '90s arcade music that was found in the original.
Motion Control Shaka Laka!
Jam Wii allows you to play the game utilizing a motion-control scheme, the Wii remote alone on its side or via the classic controller. As someone who typically prefers standard controls rather than motion controls in my sports games, I actually found myself preferring the motion controls in Jam because of how good they felt. Using the Nunchuk for movement, a subtle upwards flick of the Wii remote initiates a shot attempt on offense or a block attempt on defense. To release the ball on a shot, you simply flick your wrist down, which can also be used in unison with turbo to throw home some nasty dunks. The motion-control scheme in Jam feels awesome, and I can't even imagine going back to a controller-based scheme now that I have mastered the motion controls.
As mentioned earlier, you are now able to initiate a spin move and juke move to help gain separation from opponents. It is definitely nice to see these moves added, as chaining a crossover into a spin into a 360 tomahawk with LBJ is visually pleasing. However, I can't shake the feeling that these moves are overpowered against a CPU defense that is oftentimes inept to begin with. As a result, exhibition games and many of the Campaign games against the CPU lose a lot of their challenge.
How About the Remix?
Where Jam's ruthless CPU AI really shines, however, is in its brilliant Remix Tour mode. In this game mode you are tasked with completing a series of mini-games against CPU teams in order to advance to the next challenge. The mini-games include breaking a backboard via monstrous dunks before your opponent does, games of 21, "Hotspot" games and standard two-on-two games with power-ups scattered on the court (very similar to a mode featured in Jam Tournament Edition for you old-school players out there). The Remix Tour offers a nice distraction from the traditional Jam ladder matches and challenges gamers to change up their play style to succeed. Just when you think you have discovered a money strategy for beating the CPU in 21, you are forced to mix your game up to win a backboard-breaking dunk-off. It's all a ton of fun.
But the best part about Remix mode has to be the boss battles against classic NBA superstars like Magic, Bird, Orlando-era Shaq and Dr. J. The bosses in Jam Wii cheat like the dickens, but I have loved every second of it. Why you ask? Well, as an accomplished gamer of the late '80s/early '90s, this is the way games used to be. CPU bosses are supposed to be cheap, and there is no greater feeling than figuring out a strategy to beat them that is equally as cheap.
Take Magic Johnson, for example. Magic is able to "magically" teleport around the court like the Great Tiger in Punch-Out and pass himself the ball. It took me three hours to finally defeat the pride of Michigan State, but when I finally did, I was talking so much trash to virtual Magic on the television screen that my wife thought I was in a fight with someone on the phone. Jam's Remix Tour and boss battles embody everything that was great about classic arcade sports gaming.
Multiplayer...That's the Nail in the Coffin
Multiplayer has always been a staple of the NBA Jam series, so it is extremely disappointing to say that Jam Wii has absolutely no online multiplayer component. There really is no excuse in my eyes as to why a game franchise built on head-to-head gameplay would leave out such a staple of multiplayer gaming in 2010. When I questioned Trey Smith on this back in April, his response was that Jam was meant to be experienced in the same room with others, much like how it was originally experienced in arcades and on the SNES/Genesis before the online-gaming revolution.
While I understand Trey's point, the Jam team has to realize that those who grew up with the game, and many who are most likely to purchase it early on, are probably late-20s gamers or older. This demographic does not necessarily have a group of friends that all live in the same neighborhood who can come over, drink some Kool-Aid, and spend endless hours playing NBA Jam together until their wives call them to come home for supper. It's a complete shame that those looking to play Jam Wii online are out of luck, and it really hurts the overall value of this title, especially when it is being sold at full retail price for a Wii game ($49.99). To me, online multiplayer was a must for this title to have any hope of having any staying power in today's dog-eat-dog sports-gaming market.
Is It on Fire?
As a reviewer here at Operation Sports, it is our professional doctrine to judge a game by what's there rather than what we wish was there. In the case of NBA Jam, it is very difficult to follow this credo.
On the one hand, Jam Wii provides a terrific old-school arcade experience, complete with great graphics, outstanding gameplay/motion controls, a deep Remix Tour mode and challenging boss battles. On the other hand, the lack of online multiplayer in this title is devastating, especially when the HD version that will release in a couple months for the 360/PS3 will have online play as a feature.
NBA Jam Wii will give gamers hours upon hours of enjoyment against the CPU, and even more if you have a group of friends that lives nearby or a family that enjoys playing Jam. If you are like me, with no friends, a wife who does not play Jam, and the lack of time to teach the family pet how to game, you might be better off waiting for Jam to release on the HD consoles so you can play online.
Do I still love NBA Jam Wii? Absolutely. The game integrates everything I have ever loved about the series, and it has added some slick refinements like the motion controls, which I really enjoy. But even with everything that the game does well, I just can't help but wonder what could have been had the game included a basic online-multiplayer component.
Simply put, it is impossible for me to not take into account the lack of online multiplayer when reviewing a game where multiplayer plays such a huge role. Jam Wii is a phenomenal arcade sports title that could have been legendary with the implementation of online multiplayer.
Score: 8.0 (Very Good)
On the Court: NBA Jam is king of the arcade sports title, and Jam Wii is worthy of the title. The action is fast, furious and fun.
Graphics: Some of the best graphics for a sports title on the Wii. Player faces are hilarious and animations are outstanding.
Audio: Tim Kitzrow is so good he needs to be integrated into other games -- perhaps the next Halo multiplayer announcer? The music is a bit weak, but Kirzrow more than makes up for it.
Learning Curve: The motion controls take a few games to grasp, but once you become familiar with them, it is difficult to go back to a standard controller. Also, many of the boss battles in Remix Tour take a good deal of time to defeat.
Entertainment Value: If you have friends to play with in your house, this is one of the best party games available. If you rely on online to satisfy your multiplayer needs, the game can become a bit of a drag versus only the CPU.
Online: None to speak of, which will be a bummer for many.
Christian McLeod is a senior staff writer here at Operation Sports. One of the site's resident Wii experts, he is also a connoisseur of classic sports gaming on the NES, SNES, Turbo Graphix16 and Genesis. Follow him on Twitter @Bumble14_OS, talk to him on the forums via Bumble14, or challenge him on XBL/PSN via the handle Bumble14.