NBA Jam: It’s on Fire for iOS

NBA JamBoomshakalaka is right, as the classic arcade basketball game NBA Jam is back with gusto on both the iPhone and iPad devices. Developed by Electronic Arts, this remake of the original Midway title from 1993 has not disappointed. In fact, the game has found itself for awhile at #1 on the top paid iPhone apps list. It’s now #6 on its top grossing chart.

An extraordinarily over-the-top basketball game, the remake is brought to iOS courtesy of EA Sports, and for the most part translates well onto the device. At $4.99 for iPhone and $9.99 for the HD iPad version, the title brings all the nostalgia that players will remember from the original along with the upgraded NBA players and visuals they should expect. That said, not all of the controls translate perfectly to iPhone or iPads as many of the more advanced movements are controlled in awkward ways such as shaking the device.

LegendsFor anyone unfamiliar with the original NBA Jam, this new version does justice to its predecessor. Players play four, few minute quarters of basketball in a two-versus-two game using the actual players from the various NBA teams. The player only controls one directly (in terms of their movement) but can also prompt their teammate to pass or ally-oop at any time. Also, as part of the artistic style, each character tends to have a slightly oversized head which is actually a photograph of the player themselves. It sounds weird, but it’s all part of the ridiculous style the game has.

The style is shown best in its play. Steering with virtual controls, players tap context-sensitive buttons in order to shoot, shove (yes, shove, realism is more or less out the window), run, dunk, and so on. It’s the last that is most important, and likely what veteran players will remember most. Each dunk is performed by tapping the shoot button while on the move, and each one is increasingly more over-the-top from the last. From spins, to shattered backboards, to 10 foot leaps, each dunk is completely unrealistic and wonderfully gratifying because of it.

NBA JamPart of the reason is because EA got their hands on the original NBA Jam play-by-play announcer, Tim Kitzrow, to work on this new version. As such, all the color commentary, analogies, and “boomshakalakas” are back in force. Aside from these, players will likely remember one other very important aspect of the game: Fire.

Yes, players can still “be on fire” in NBA Jam. What this means is that should a character score three shots in a row without the other team scoring, the ball will ignite whenever they are holding it. This power-up equates to special privileges (such as the allowance of goaltending), increased shot accuracy, shot distance and so on.

Since this is a remake of an old game, it would be a shame if there weren’t at least a few new extras, and this hasn’t been overlooked. Players are actually able to unlock a number of special characters (e.g. “NBA Legends” such as Magic Johnson or Larry Bird), “privileges” such as “big head mode,” or special basketballs, in an achievement-style fashion. In addition to this, many players from the various NBA teams cannot be used right from the get go. Expectantly, these must also be unlocked, and such is prudent as each player comes with their own set of stats such as blocking, stealing, passing, etc. Like most games, the initial characters users will team up with tend to have lower statistics.

Beyond unlocking challenges, players can also participate in the classic “Campaign” mode in which players will attempt to beat every other NBA team, and may also have to play against some of the previously noted “legendary” players. In addition to this, the game supports local multiplayer via both WiFi and Bluetooth with up to four users involved.

UnlocksAs fun as all of this is, there are a few minor complaints to be had, but nothing that is going to detract from the rest of the experience. The only one that really stands out is that players are able to perform cross-over or spin dribbling maneuvers in order to get around defenders, but the means of doing so is by shaking the iDevice. This is in the default “arcade” controls mode where everything is a context sensitive button press and this mechanic just feels awkward and forced. It just doesn’t fit with the flow and ease of every other control. Now, in the other control scheme, — which is “gesture” control — such movements can be controlled by swipes; but then again, so are many of the other controls. For old NBA Jam players (which is going to be a large portion of this game’s player base), this is going to feel extremely clunky and will take getting used to.

Even with the minor negative nuances, NBA Jam is a fantastic addition to and iOS collection of games. Between the commentary, absurd dunks, and relatively simple controls, the title is extraordinarily easy to pick up, yet is one that can hold a great deal of challenge in the long haul. Well polished, the app strikes a strong balance between nostalgia and more modern play and control schemes with only a few trivial issues to deal with. In the end, if users are looking for a quality game that shirks off realism, or just a trip down memory lane, NBA Jam is a game worth checking out. If you are unsure, the game also has an iPhone lite version.