Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NBA Jam (Mega-Drive, 1993)

Hey retro maniacs. Sorry for the lack of activity. I've been a bit busy with.. stuff. Sure I love retro gaming, but there's only so many things you can do in your spare time. Anyway, so let's talk about
NBA Jam. Originally, NBA Jam was a basketball arcade game (aka coin-op) from 1993, and quite good it was too. Like most good arcade games, it benefited from not being too complex, not offering a simulation of the sport, but rather a simplistic version of it, but which was playable enough to entice both the basketball buff, as well as the occasional gamer.

Now let's be clear about this, technically speaking, this Sega Mega-Drive conversion is excellent. The graphics are brilliant, the action is fast and furious, and even the voice commentary has been retained from the coin-op. But let's take a look at how the game is played first. Well, no nuclear science here, you pick your NBA team and then go head to head with the computer (or a friend) on a match. The action is being portrayed from a horizontal semi-3D view, similar to television footage, and also reminiscent of Commodore's ancient
International Basketball, or even 1987's Basket Master.

The game uses some poetic licence in that you don't get to play with all five players, as normal in basketball games. Instead you play only with two, the stars of the team, say, Shaquille O'Neal and Scott Skiles in the case of
Orlando Magic. This not only simplifies things, but it also speeds up the action. Another thing that is ommited is the fouls and resulting free throws. Again, this works in the game's favour since it speeds up the action significantly.

However one aspect which the programmers got wrong with this conversion is the difficulty. In fact, it's possible to "hijack" the game, so to speak, by using the following little trick. Now, in NBA Jam there is this thing whereas if you score three successive times while the opponent doesn't, you get "on fire" and your chances of scoring increase dramatically. You are also rewarded with the ability of interfering with the ball while on its downward flight to the basket, which is normally a violation.

Herein lies the game's loophole. If you do that on an opponent's shot, while the game considers this as a violation and thus as a scoring shot, if you proceed to score, it considers it as if you've scored while your opponent hasn't (even though the score is normal). So by doing this, you can easily get "on fire" and thus win all matches easily. It is because of this little bug that I give this 7/10 and not 8/10. Thankfully, the following
NBA Jam Tournament Edition omitted this flaw and as such is the version to get.



johngf said...

I loved playing this game with friends back in the day. For some reason I always found it difficult to execute shots for three-pointers, but I loved the action and the competitiveness. The weird thing was that it wasn't until I saw SNES screenshots or the arcade version in action that I noticed the huge heads! The MegaDrive couldn't handle sprites as big as many other systems, but I still loved it.

And don't forget how amazing it was to see those brief flashes of extremely poor FMV! Watching those video clips, even though they were small and grainy and very short, was like seeing the future!

Jim Slip said...

The easiest way to to score three-pointers is to do it when you're on fire.

I haven't tried the SNES version, and it's been a while since I played the arcade one, so I can't really comment on the graphical differences between them.

I agree that the FMV clips were a nice touch. -)