“Swoosh!”

PlayStation 3
Released in 2010 by EA Sports
Rating: 5 out of 5

This ode to the classic NBA Jam is not only the best of all the copycats, it may actually be better than the original. The action is fast and furious and challenging in its own unique way.

Where it falls in the series

The original NBA Jam hit the 16-bit consoles in 1994, and I don’t even want to try to tell you about all the follow-up versions and other associated titles, except to say that I like NBA Hang Time on N64 quite a bit. EA released four NBA Street games between 2001 and 2007, which are inspired by NBA Jam but have a 3-on-3 format focused on over-the-top dribble moves, while Jam’s original publisher Midway made the 3-on-3 game NBA Hoopz (pretty bad) and a series of NBA Ballers games where you play one-on-one (not a fan). EA acquired the NBA Jam brand out of nowhere and released this game in 2010. NBA Jam: On Fire Edition followed in 2011, and I don’t know much about it.

Praises

The game is simple all-out fun. It’s challenging, but the few qualities that initially frustrate you will reveal themselves to add valuable wrinkles to the exciting gameplay style.

Compared to the original, there’s a lack of open space, which makes every inch of the court a danger zone. You’ve got to move fast and make wise passes.

Defenders have an easy time blocking shots. This is certainly frustrating at first, but it makes you work hard for open shots and paths to the hoop.

You can use the right thumbstick for shooting, but thank the heavens that you can opt to use a face button as well and it works just fine.

The CPU puts up a decent fight. There’s a wide variance in how good the teams are, which adds replayability.

The graphics are gorgeous. Players are tastefully stylized, and the animations are great and make the gameplay feel natural. Some of the new dunks are spectacular and have cool effects, like one where the camera zooms out to show your player flipping 30 feet in the air. You’ve got the same effective viewpoint as the original Jam.

The sound is also top notch, with realistic squeaks and bounces, snazzy music, a super fun announcer, and a crowd roaring with energy.

Gripes

Some people will hate the artificially coded logic that makes the CPU tougher and easier at various points in the game, but I’m cool with it. It adds unpredictability.

The spin/crossover button is practically useless for a human but somehow the CPU can use it just fine.

While there are a few cute features, the game could use traditional season and playoff modes. Minor gripe.

Top teams

This came out after Lebron James joined Dwayne Wade on the Heat, but the toughest pairs include a great shooter and a solid big man: the Lakers with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Celtics with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and (oddly) the Rockets with Kevin Martin and Yao Ming make up the top tier.

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