If you’re 30-ish and had even a base-level interest in basketball in the early 90’s, you probably, like me, spent a lot of time screaming at the top of your lungs 1 inch from your friend’s face after dunking on him in NBA Jam Tournament Edition. Good news for you and your sports aggression – NBA Jam is back, and although you’ve grown up, the game hasn’t…and that’s a good thing.

A great thing, actually, as NBA Jam on the Wii serves as a great game for you and your budding basketball fan to play together. It’s a – dare I say – “charming” mix of the old school Jam you loved, with a couple new things to keep your youngin engaged when you’re not there screaming “BOOMSHAKALAKA” 1 inch from his face.

One of the problems with cross-platform games is that they’re an afterthought on the Wii. Generally, a game is made for the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, and then dumbed-down for the Wii with lower-res graphics and a cobbled-together motion control scheme (that they then pass off with marketing words like “precise” or “true” motion). Not that this isn’t true for NBA Jam as well, but the old school aspect makes for a decent translation on the Wii, allowing for innovation in just the right places, while limiting unnecessary innovation in others.


The Wii is not capable of the highest level of HD graphics like the PS3 and Xbox 360, but that means nothing in a game that’s paying homage to the 90’s. The graphics are “perfectly flawed” in low-res; stadiums are still populated with a cardboard-cutout crowd, bench and cheerleaders. But in this venue, it looks charming. All of the NBA coaches are even represented, so along with your on-court team, you’ll see your favorite coach digitized on the sidelines. Home teams also have their mascot tucked into the corner of the court, and he celebrates whenever the home team scores.

Your actual players are big and bright – an awesome upgrade from NBA Jam:TE‘s smaller, muddier models. The players are immediately recognizable, not only from their faces, but from the accurately-created character models – no more standard bodies that applied to everyone. Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard aren’t just palette-swapped versions of each other, as they would have been years ago. Characters’ heads have been photographed from only a couple of angles, which turns out to be more humorous than it is groaningly low-tech. All players seem to have no more than 3 facial expressions – a standard, one they make when they’re dunking (usually mouth open like they’re yelling), and one while they’re shoving someone. Again, it’s a pleasant simplicity.

Check out some screenshots:

The sound is all average – save for the fact that EA scored Tim Kitzrow , who voiced the old NBA Jam game – so you’ll be at home with call-outs like “jams it home,” “wild shot,” and of course, “boomshakalaka!”

Also – all teams come with four(ish) current-roster players, and you can unlock “legends” as you complete challenges and play through the campaign mode. The legends give you another taste of the NBA Jam you remember – remember using players like Scottie Pippen, John Starks, Nick Anderson…and Brad Daugherty? Okay, no one ever used the Cavs back then. Heh heh.

NBA Jam‘s choice of controller is one of the things that make it perfect for both you and your child. While you might be more apt to use traditional control schemes on either the classic controller or remote (held sideways), your kid can be a kid and use the remote/nunchuk combo in a more physical way (read: “Precise! True motion!”). Using the Wii remote/nunchuk combo, dunks, for example, are executed by flicking your wrist up to jump and then down to slam. Being in the 30+ demographic, I found the remote-sideways and classic controller to be my preferred scheme.

Gameplay is just as you remember it – two players per team, pulling off spectacular dunking feats, while occasionally making three-pointers and layups. The real excitement is in the frenetic, back-and-forth action. You get to choose which player on your team to control (no “tag” play where you control whoever’s got the ball), but you can easily focus on playing defense or offense and have no problem winning. I spent a whole game dishing the rock to my CPU-controlled teammate, and focused on defense and assists (to unlock legend players). We still won by a large margin – on Easy, that is. The AI is (still) cheap and will “rubberband” if they fall back by too many points. You will, though, get plenty of opportunities to wipe the floor with the other team, shoving them right as they’re receiving a pass, or taking off from the free-throw line for a monster dunk right into their eyeholes. You’ll also find it easy to catch “fire” – making three shots in a row – and while you’re “on fire”, your dunks become even more spectacular.

Besides your standard four-quarter game, there are other modes for you to fool around with, including a Remix mode that uses power-ups and power-downs, and a Boss-Battle mode where you get to play unfairly agile legends one-on-one. But of all the other modes in the Wii version, you won’t see online multiplayer, which is a bummer, since EA was able to employ online servers for its other Wii games. You’d think with a game that, let’s be honest, is not going to pull in as many online players as a game like Madden 10, they could partition out a little corner of their server for NBA Jam fans.

BTW, the 360 and PS3 versions will be out next month, and do include online play. The stat-tracking is still a little woeful, so don’t expect to get an NBA Live-like depth of statistical analysis out of your gameplay.

The thing about NBA Jam this time around is that we haven’t seen it rehashed over and over every year. We’re not tired of it, and we’re not just getting the same old thing with new rosters. It’s a perfectly-nostalgic game for the people that played NBA Jam in junior high and high school in the 90’s, and now have kids. Younger kids might grasp the simplicity of NBA Jam better than a realistic-simulation like NBA2K11, so it’s an awesome way to transition your budding basketball fan into a zombified video game addict.

Just kidding.

Let’s face it – NBA Jam is fun, and the high-flying, colorful excess of it still holds up today, even against more “next-gen” style simulation games, so it’s a lot more fun to play with other people around, kids and friends alike. If the lack of online play is a deal-breaker, hold out a couple more days for the 360 and PS3 versions, which will also include higer-res graphics. However, for Wii-owners, this is a must-buy if you were a fan of the original game(s) in the 90’s, or have a kid that’s interested in basketball.