The early 90s were full of sports based arcade games, all trying to be the most accurate representation of the sport ever. Then out of nowhere, Midway's NBA Jam came in and blew their serious simulation attempts away with its over-the-top brilliant nonsense.
Despite many versions trying to add more and more bizarre things to the game, none really came close to those first Midway versions, including the cameos from the Tournament Edition, but can the latest reboot on iPhone (itself a version of the new PS3 and 360 game) live up to the early glory days?
I’m pleased to say that it can. EA have taken the game back to its roots and that great 2 on 2 basketball action which made the original so great. Every player is digitised, just like in the original, but now in HD too. Every Boomshakalaka rings in your ears as you make that dunk and 3 in a row still sets your player on fire. It’s just like the old days, but all in crisp HD and in your pocket.
Controls are handled by a pretty responsive virtual analogue stick, alongside a set of turbo, shot and pass buttons on the right. Gesture controls are a nice alternative, though fiddly at best. A nice touch comes from the ability to swipe your finger across from the turbo to the pass to push players and to the shot button to do a turbo dunk.
The default setting for play is a single baller controlled by the player and everyone else, including your team-mate, controlled by CPU. Changing this is a must and once you’ve found the Tag Play option the game improves immensely. That said, if you would rather play with a computer controlled team-mate then the option is there.
Game modes on offer are ‘Play Now’, which gives you a very quick entry into the game, allowing you to choose teams and difficulty level before quickly getting started on a single match and ‘Classic Campaign’, which takes you through a whole season as a team. Various challenges (think Achievements) unlock extra players and options like the classic Big Head mode and playing as the team mascots. The best unlocks, however, are the ex-presidents, Democrat and Republicans. For those unwilling to play through the game to unlock these there are some in-app purchases, but many of the extra players can also be unlocked via the classic name entry screen by finding the three letter codes.
Graphically, NBA Jam is as shiny and crisp as you could hope for on a Retina screen. Floors sparkle, individual expressions are painfully clear and everything looks fantastic. Even on the 3rd Gen and lower devices the game looks great, though obviously not quite as impressive. Tim Kitzrow, the original announcer from the early games is back too, sounding a great as ever. Hearing “He’s On Fire!” again makes it feel like the series has never been away.
The only dent in this otherwise fantastic game is a lack of multiplayer, local or otherwise. Even a Bluetooth multiplayer option would have been a good start, but EA haven’t provided any option to play a game of hoops with a friend, which is disappointing.
If you’re a fan of the series or just fancy a great Basketball game with a sense of humour, then NBA Jam scores a 3 pointer. It’s Boomshakalakin’.
- Sound: 10
- Graphics: 9
- Gameplay: 9
- Longevity: 9
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