PAX impressions / NBA Jam

In Portland, Oregon, NBA basketball is king. We only have one major league sports team, so growing up in the area usually involves having a high affection for the hometown Portland Trailblazers. Being a Trailblazer fan rarely had such an advantage than in the early 90’s when you got to be Clyde Drexler & Terry Porter in the original NBA Jam.

Many a afternoon was spent playing the Sega Genesis version with my school buddy who was stuck with Shawn Kemp & Detlef Schrempf of the Oklaho…I mean Seattle Supersonics, and NBA Jam still stands as one of the tentpole videogame experiences of my youth. It’s been seventeen years since the glory days of the franchise, and it’s back in a big way on Wii this October.

A fellow journalist and I took on the team of another journalist and NBA Jam creative director Trey Smith. We picked my hometown team of the Portland Trailblazers featuring Brandon Roy & Greg Oden while Smith wanted to be cheap and play as Lebron James & Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat, and I can now confirm that Miami thrice is going to be NBA Jam’s version of picking Bo Jackson and the Raiders in Tecmo Bowl. I don’t think King James missed a shot the entire damn game, but Greg Oden did block a couple of his shots without his kneecaps exploding half way through the game.

The memories started flooding back the moment the game starts when you are welcomed to NBA Jam by the sultry tones of Tim Kitzrow, who will be reprising his role of zany announcer for this new iteration, as it just wouldn’t be NBA Jam without him. Within five seconds of starting the game, you will be thrust back into your childhood, as everything from the turbo button to the overly exaggerated art style screams NBA Jam.

This is a Wii game first and foremost, but you’ll be using buttons more often than motions. Shooting and jumping are controlled with gestures, as you’ll tilt the Wiimote up to jump and thrust down the nunchuk to shoot or dunk, and it feels great. “We’ve all played those games on Wii where it’s just a waggle-fest,” said Smith when asked how the team went about finding the right balance of proper motion control usage. “It has to be intuitive, it has to be responsive, and it has to be satisfying…If a gesture doesn’t check each one of those boxes, then we moved it to a button.”

The game puts fun above everything else, and the awesome power of NBA Jam made four complete strangers start high-fiving and talking smack almost instantaneously. The Trailblazers fell to the mighty Heat this fateful morning 53-47, but even that couldn’t wipe off the big grin on my face. Smith described the game as “going to your happy place for hardcore Jam fans”, and I couldn’t agree more. Anyone even remotely intrigued by the proposition of playing a new version of NBA Jam shouldn’t hesitate checking the game out when it launches on Wii this October.