NBA Jam was — and still is — an experience. No, that’s not some preposterous fluff dreamed up by an National Basketball Association maven like yours truly. It was truly an experience because if you were around at the time that Jam hit the streets, you’d remember the sheer amount of hype that surrounded the arcade release. You’d also remember the hype that came home with it. Was it justified hype? Yes and no.
You see, Jam represented the start of the exaggerated sports game era, the type of game where the player animations were over the top and the action just as extreme. Throw in a plethora of secrets — like playing as President Bill Clinton — and the hype went into overdrive. The game isn’t bad and it mostly lived up to its billing. The simple setup of two-on-two basketball and fast-break basketball helped certainly, and the animation isn’t bad at all. The player interaction is where it mostly succeeds, actually. At the time, there was no other place to get the kind of play that Jam offers: Crazy dunks, the ability to be on fire from great shooting and street ball-type rules. It’s that offering that made it a phenomenal success.
Jam doesn’t stumble in its race to be an in-your-face baller experience. That street ball player interaction means you don’t have to learn much about the game to succeed and play well. The control is simple yet has a layer of depth that means anyone can do well at any skill level. The atmosphere could be a little better with a better soundtrack, but what will make you take notice is the announcer. If there’s anything you will remember about the game, it’s Tim Kitzrow shouting to the top of his lungs that a man is “on fire” or “BOOMSHAKALAKA.”
The graphics, like the soundtrack, are nothing to get excited about. There’s a static crowd except for the courtside folk, and then there’s the players. Jam popularized the over-exaggerated look for players, and it certainly had its uses. It’s not out of place for Jam, and it brings a certain atmosphere to the action that Jam benefits from.
If there’s ever a reason to play NBA Jam, find it in the cartoonish action, sound and look. That’s where the fun is, and the main reasons why the game succeeded in living up to the hype (mostly) that broke backboards in the olden days of 1993.