NBA Jam Wii Hands-On
Micah Seff
July 21, 2010, 3:01 am

While at EA’s showcase event, the GameXplain crew had pretty much one thing on our collective mind. As we sat through the pre-show lunch and the following stage presentation, one phrase was resounding through our heads: Boom-shaka-laka.

If you like fun (and were conscious in the ‘90s), then you’ll probably be familiar with that phrase. NBA Jam was like nothing else I had played, and gave me an all new appreciation for sports games. The intense pace, over-the-top sensibilities and iconic characters were infinitely memorable, and ingrained themselves in my fun centers. Bearing all that in mind, it’s no small wonder that the first game I gravitated towards once I was let loose was the soon-to-be-released, snazzy-looking update to the classic franchise, NBA Jam Wii.

I had heard how good this game was from Jimmy Thang after he played it at E3, but I still had my doubts. After playing it today, I’m happy I had my reservations, as NBA Jam Wii really just might be everything I want it to be. Unlike other stalled attempts to revamp this franchise, EA seems to have hit the ball out of the park this time (mixed sports metaphors aside).

The first thing I might as well mention is that I played the game the way EA wanted me to, which was thankfully with Wiimote and Nunchuck firmly in hand. I guess I was a little concerned about the motion implementation, but it turned out just as I had hoped. The devs started with several moves mapped to motion controls, but by the end, they settled on an awesome simplification. Flick the Wiimote up to jump, and then down to shoot. I never found myself incorrectly performing moves, and there was more than a little visceral satisfaction to slamming the Wiimote down as my big-headed LeBron James dunked the ball. Players scared of motion control in games can rest easy, you can also play the game with the Classic Controller or the Wiimote held sideways.

I didn’t get to play a full match proper (though you obvious can in the final game), but I did get to spend time with two really awesome sub-modes that offered up interesting variations on the core 2-on-2 gameplay.

The first of these was a backboard-breaker match that the developer on hand pitched to me as Street Fighter meets NBA Jam. In this mode, players squared off in teams of two and tried to destroy the opposing team’s backboard by depleting its lifebar. This mode was so much cooler than it seemed at first just because it played with my normal expectations of scoring in a basketball game. Skillful, three-point shots barely do any damage at all, whereas a brutal dunk will take off a huge chunk of life. It was really fun, and kind of tense as both lifebars inched towards death, and fending off killer dunks became more and more important.

Once I slaughtered my way through this mode, I was deemed worthy enough to try the other special mode on display, a boss battle. This mode called for players to square off against an assortment of basketball greats. There was only one boss on display this time, but it was an awesome one: Magic Johnson. 

This mode was likened to Punch-Out!! and I can sort of see the comparison. In this case, Magic performed feats of actual magic, teleporting around the court to receive passes from himself, and rocking me with dunk after dunk. Like the aforementioned Punch-Out!!, once I had his pattern down (and could get the timing right), I found myself able to block his shots effectively and steal control of the ball. Once I was in control, it became apparent that Magic’s enchanted powers only helped him on offense. I could score several times in a row without losing control of the ball.

This game was definitely the one that impressed me the most today. The visual style really worked for me, the gameplay was instantly recognizable as NBA Jam, and the alternate gameplay modes turned out to liven things up in cool, new ways. When I asked if Bill Clinton was in the game, the EA dev merely responded that they are trying to offer an experience as close to the original as possible. I hope that means that he’s in, but I also hope George W. and Obama are somehow in there. I mean, c’mon. Just think about it.
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