PS2 Review: NBA Jam

People can discuss the merits and difficulties with sequels, but the real challenge is with a remake or update. The further the gap grows between hardware generations, the tougher it is to keep the core mechanics of the original while adding in expected features of the day. Without a new NBA Jam title since the N64 (and those were hardly NBA Jam titles as we expect them), this revision has quite a bit to live up to.

Adding in a third player was a move made in NBA Hoopz, one of the Jam spin-offs from the 32-bit era that most people have sadly forgotten. In fact, this NBA Jam borrows quite a bit from Hoopz. It’s similar in feel, definitely looser and more open than the series used to be.

One of the high points for the series was simplicity. That’s changed here, and most of what’s new is stripped right from the NBA Street series. All the spins, jukes, and meters are obvious rip-offs. The only thing that changes is their effect. Instead of performing a gamebreaker, you’ll get to perform a cross-court slam worth a higher point total.

While it was likely necessary to update the gameplay for a new, fresh audience, this was not the way to do it. In fact, you can feel the classic NBA Jam trapped inside this engine. Running down the court, pushing players, brutal blocks, and jump shooting feel the same as they did years ago. The third player on the court does make things crowded, and lower default camera angle makes things hard to see at times.

None of this helps make the series new again. Everything, from the moves to the gameplay style, is copied. Instead of injecting new life, they’ve injected something we all thought was dead years ago, only with a trick system tacked on that defeated the purpose of Jam in the first place.

One area where the developers did stick with the classic feel are the game modes. Single players have two options: NBA and Legends tournaments. That’s it. All the excellent create-a-team/player options don’t mean anything if you can put them somewhere to use long term. The Legends tour does offer some great entertainment, setting the game in the era which the Hall of Fame players competed. If this means licensed music and black-and-white graphics, so be it (and don’t forget the voice of NBA Jam Tim Kitzrow settling himself down with dialogue of each era too).

As you play in any of these modes, you’ll earn points to use in the "NBA Jam" store. The sheer variety of unlockables is staggering, and range from absurd cheats to new stadiums. The amount of playtime required to see all of this is a bit much too.

For simple, stylized basketball, this is hardly an awful choice. The problems are numerous, and the developers seemed to have missed the point of updating in many regards. If you like NBA Street, stay with NBA Street. If you’ve worn your copies down of the games in that series, this cheaper alternative is enough to pass time.

(*** out of *****)

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