NBA Jam Crushes The Nuance

I'm not a sports gamer, not even a little bit.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy the occasional sports video game, it just means that if I do that game was exceptionally well made.

Over the year's I've played and enjoyed my share of Madden, Tiger Woods and a variety of board games. But no sports game has taken up more of my time than the arcade version of NBA Jam.

Playing it alone, teamed up or one on one, I always had a blast with the game. I think that's because it did such a good job of capturing the essence of what makes basketball fun to watch and cutting out all of the boring stuff. Every play seems to be a power play in NBA Jam, every dunk insane.

I've been anticipating checking out Electronic Arts' take on NBA Jam since it was first announced.

During my recent tour of Nintendo's touring van, I finally got a chance to play a bit of one-on-one and solo play. While it was quite a bit of fun to play on the Wii, I was a bit disappointed at how much of the original game's nuance has been stripped.

The first thing I noticed was that the game, when I was playing against one other person, didn't seem to allow me to control the second on-court player in my team. I was so flustered by this that I actually paused the game to quiz the Nintendo rep about it. When he confessed he wasn't sure how to do this, we went to the in-game control screens. Still nothing.

I ended up finishing my time with the game, but still not convinced that EA Sport would strip such an essential part of one-on-one play from the game, I emailed the developer. Surely I had missed something, I thought.

Not so, confirmed EA Sports' Duke Indrasigamany.

"When you're playing NBA JAM with two people, the other two players will be AI -ontrolled," Indrasigamany told me in an email. "Part of the that has to do with the some of the move combinations in the game. For instance, if a single player controlled both characters it would be impossible to the alley-oop where you would be passing to a character that was already in the air, and going for a dunk."

While I can understand that EA wants to make the game more accessible to its audience, I don't get why their game can't handle things the way the arcade version did. In the arcade, tapping the pass and shoot buttons when the AI-controlled player has the ball, gets him to pass or shoot. Pretty straightforward.

An alley-oop was that much more satisfying when you pressed the pass button for your computer-controlled buddy, and then pressed the shoot button for your character. It wasn't brain science, but it added a bit of much needed skill to the over-the-top game.

These AI hand-holding waggling controls don't kill the game, not by any stretch of the imagination. NBA Jam played on the Wii is still a blast, and I'm sure I'll still be playing the hell out of it when it hits the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360 in October.

There is, for instance, the return of bombastic announcer Tim Kitzrow and the ability to sink so many shots that your player catches on fire. And let's not forget all of those wonderful Easter eggs.

NBA Jam is a game that needed to be brought to this generation's consoles and it appears that in almost every way, EA Sports nails it.

Sorry this video blew out the gameplay, but you do get a look at how the Wii's motion controls work.

Update: EA was mistaken when they first answered my question, the game does allow you to control the passing and shooting of the AI player.


    If its like the arcade game was - instant GOTY.

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