What made NBA Jam so popular in arcades nearly two decades ago is the same thing that draws thousands to the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk Contest every year - pure spectacle. And NBA Jam for iPhone packs plenty of spectacle into a Spudd Webb-sized package. You'll instantly recognize all of the staples of the series: bombastic commentary from the announcer, exploding backboards, pyrotechnic dunks and, of course, cameos from leaders of the free world.
In order to recreate the original game's speedy highly-flying feel, the developers have implemented the perfect mix of on-screen and accelerometer controls. You can switch between arcade or gesture controls in the options menu. For both set-ups, you use a virtual thumbstick to drive down the court. This stick repositions on-the-fly (brilliant – every game should do this) so you can charge the lane even if your thumb is slightly off center. You have the option of virtual buttons or a touch-activated radial dial to jump, shoot, pass, steal and shove, while shaking the iPhone enables you to throw elbows when other players try to grab the ball.
Once you've chosen your control setup, NBA Jam presents you with a pair of gameplay options, Play Now and Classic Campaign. The former provides you with a quick one-and-done option while the latter offers a linear progression through each team in the game. Along the way you'll unlock mascots, hall-of-famers like Larry Bird and Karl Malone, plus a handful of special privileges like Big Head Mode, Unlimited Speed Boost, One Shot Fire and Camera Hog. If you're too impatient to play through campaign mode the Jam Store offers you the option to pay between one and four dollars to unlock blocks of players and privileges. This actually evoked wistful memories in us of dumping fistfuls of quarters into our local arcade machine.
The only glaring ommision here is the lack of multiplayer. There’s no way to ball with friends over bluetooth, which seems especially odd given the fact that both the arcade and home console versions are so multiplayer focused. We’re hoping publisher EA is planning on patching in this functionality. But even without multiplayer modes, NBA Jam still sinks a three-pointer for nostalgia and keeps the franchise on fire into the new decade.
Mar 1, 2011