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“NBA Jam” Review

by on Jan.16, 2012, under Xbox 360 Game Reviews

Game: NBA Jam
Developer: EA Sports

  Basketball in its most vapid form …

If you’re writing an article focusing on why video game developers shouldn’t create arcade or “lite” sports games, NBA Jam should be one of the first games you add to your research list. A rather harsh opening sentence perhaps, but this offering from Electronic Arts deftly demonstrates how minimalist game-play just isn’t worth the price of admission.

I assume the intended market for this game is focused at the wide range of gamers who aren’t interested in dealing with a meaty basketball Sim like NBA 2K12, and just want to get straight into some 2-on-2 court action. In this regard NBA Jam does deliver, with both online and local multi-player (although I’ve yet to find anyone on Xbox Live who wanted to play the game), as well as cooperative game-play and a single player campaign.  Initially this is all highly entertaining as your players perform astonishing aerial athletics, alley-oops and back-board shattering dunks. Unfortunately after a half-dozen games or so, you start to realise just how freaking repetitive the whole game is. Without a full team on court, your basic skills options are limited to: passing to your team-mate, out-maneuvering your direct opponent or taking a shot. There’s no player blocking, very little incentive to run the clock down, and virtually no tactical options available.

The AI is notoriously polarized as well. For example, at the lowest difficulty, you are guaranteed to strip the ball from an opponent on every attempt for most of the first quarter. If you get roughly 15-20 points in front, the opponent AI steps up its skill level markedly. This isn’t dynamic difficulty; it’s just simplistic variable comparison that becomes way too obvious after just a few games. On higher difficulty levels (even playing cooperatively against the AI) the game turns into a one-sided sadistic exercise that rapidly instils ennui in all concerned.

The campaign and various game mode offerings are all pretty much the same game-play experience although with minor tweaks like power-ups and a rather challenging remix mode where you have to complete specific goals in each match. There’s very little incentive to completing any of these offerings, and if you’re an achievement whore, you’ll loathe the fact that you’ll have to play through the turgid single player campaign six (6) times to grab 300 GS. A colleague and I managed to complete a single co-op campaign (all 37 games) over several months, with neither of us keen to play more than  2-3 matches at a single sitting. Playing multi-player against your friends is undoubtedly the best (and probably the intended) way to experience the game, however the ankle-deep shallowness of the gaming experience will have most players rapidly consigning the game disc to a permanent “pile of shame” in the dark confines of their closet.

As a full price game, NBA Jam is definitely worth passing by (and it was a year ago when it was first released). On the plus side, it appears that EA have finally released the game in the form it should have been, on Xbox Live. Billed primarily as an online multi-player game, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition appears to have vastly improved upon this initial release with better AI (if you insist on playing on your own or want some practice sessions), more tactical options and additional game-play modes. It also only costs a third of the price of this game. If you’ve resigned yourself to trying gaming fodder of this type, the Xbox Live demo would undoubtedly be a good starting point.

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