"The Jam is back, but has anything really changed?"
NBA Jam (formerly known as NBA Jam 2004) is basically an update of the original game with a few bells and whistles added. As you'd expect it features over the top arcade basketball, insane slam dunks and violence that if the NBA saw in a real game, would earn the player a hefty suspension. It was these elements that came together to create the magic of the original title, has it been continued? Yes and no.
NBA Jam features three main game modes; Exhibition, Jam Tournament and Legends Tournament. Exhibition is fairly self explanatory but this is the only mode in which two or more players can participate. Unlike the original games, the tournaments can't be played co-operatively which really is inexcusable given how fun it was in NBA Jam a decade ago. Jam Tournament is a replication of the main game mode from the original titles. You pick your favourite NBA team and then must beat various teams from the NBA in succession until you have defeated them all. It works really well, but if you own the original already, it's not a major reason to update to the next-gen version.
One of the major new additions (and possibly the best addition) is the Legends Tournament. You choose one of the teams from the NBA of today and must progressively defeat superstars from eras such as the 70's and 80's. Legends mode features famous players such as Dr J and Michael Jordan. Each game features era specific enhancements. For instance the players wear old style clothes (so do the 3D crowd), the courts are in a gymnasium, and the commentator presents it in a radio format as opposed to TV (for instance instead of saying "Houston we have lift off" he will say "Somebody call air traffic control"). As you progress through the tournament, the clothes and other enhancements change. This is definitely the most enjoyable mode in the game and it will give you a laugh or two.
The one major problem with Legends mode is that its incredibly tough. To compete on the same level, you really have to complete the Jam Tournament first. Unfortunately there is no difficulty setting available, so you will have to stick it out time after time trying to beat the teams. Whilst the Jam Tournament also features some tough AI, it is no where near the level of the Legends tournament. It is to be expected however, given that you are playing the top three superstars from each era.
There has been two major changes to the game mechanics for the next gen game. Instead of two-on-two the game is now played in a three-on-three format which has changed the game dramatically. More strategy needs to be employed and it is significantly harder to "heat up" your player. It would have been nice if the developers had allowed you to change it to two-on-two as per the older games.
The other significant change is the dunking system. The insane dunks are still around but hotspots are a new addition. Each time you perform a dunk, deck someone, or reject someone, a small amount of the Jam meter is filled. When full it enables a hotspot. This is where the super dunks are performed. Depending on where the hotspot is randomly placed, will determine whether the dunk is worth three, four or five points. These can completely change the face of the game in an instant, so use them wisely.
Jam points are also accumulated to spend in the Jam store. In the store you can unlock, new clothes, new arenas (including some outdoor ones) and some cheats. The cheats include unlimited hotspot, era specific commentary plus much more. To unlock everything you will have to play this game for quite some time and this is where most of the replay value comes from. One nice touch is to enter the cheats, the original picture system of old has been used. Other then that the dunks are the same and the super dunks include a helicopter (with a helicopter sound), spinning forward three or four times and many others. They look spectacular and no doubt many of them have been inspired from the classic originals. You can now also perform alley oops between two players, but it is much easier to do then it should be.
Each team has a unique stadium but from what I could tell all that changes is the logos and naming around the court. The crowd appears to be the same as does the rest of the arena. After a while you will be able to unlock new courts for use such as near the beach and on a rooftop which mixes it up a little, but for the most of the game you will play in the same, re-skinned arena. As mentioned before in Legends mode, the arenas are era specific. For instance for the pre-70's era, the arena is a gymnasium without a three point line (in fact three points can't be scored on this arena).
NBA Jam is presented in a cartoon style which works really well. It is easy to pick out each player (for instance with the Lakers, Shaq is a huge character whilst Bryant and Peyton are small) and the animations are fantastic. Especially for the dunk sequences. The movement is fluent, however it is much harder in this new title to deck players and goal tend, making it tougher to run away with a lead. Overall though, the graphics are definitely one of the strong points of NBA Jam.
On the sound front, the game impresses quite well. Tim Kitzrow has returned but has not made the significant impact of nostalgia I expected him to. Whilst he does say many classic commentaries such as "Boom-shaka-laka" most of the material is new. The era specific commentary is fantastic however and a credit to both Tim and the developers. Using licensed music has enhanced the Legends mode ten fold. During the pre-70's era you will hear tracks such as "Johnny be good" and other classics. Other era's include smash hits from that decade right up until today's music.
Overall NBA Jam is a worthy addition to any basketball fans collection. It has played it safe by keeping some of the original game modes, but has also innovated by adding an extra player per team (substitutions can be made) as well as the Legends game mode and licensed music. Lets just hope it isn't as long between drinks for the franchise if another game is developed.