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Saturday, February 12, 2011

NBA Jam - Wii Review

Going to theme again this weekend. Got free tickets to a Pistons/Heat game last night. Seats were high, Pistons got drilled - but it was still a load of fun, so NBA is my theme this weekend. :)

EA Sports did not get around to releasing its "EA Elite" basketball series (based off of its longstanding "Live" series) this year. For the last several years, 2K sports has been releasing an NBA series that has been receiving better reviews and sales. Thankfully, EA had another NBA game in the works, and while it does not try to contend with 2K as a realistic sports simulation, NBA Jam is a game that brings back a lot of memories while being a whole lot of fun.

NBA Jam has been around for aged - I remember it from late high school/early college. It was a quarter muncher in the arcades, and it was a blast when it was brought to home systems. We still have a version of it bouncing around on one of our Nintendo systems - I want to say our Super Nintendo. I may have to look that one up for my Retro Reflections this weekend.

I imagine most people have at least seen or played a round of NBA Jam in one form or another over the years, but for the uninitiated it is an over the top 2 vs 2 arcade hoops game. Defense consists of soaring ridiculously high in the air to block shots, or to try and steal the ball - or to simply shove the ball handler in an effort to knock them down and take the ball, or maybe knock them out of the air on a shot or dunk attempt (which sort of reminds me of Arch Rivals now that I think about it).

Offense consists of dribbling, passing and shooting. Oh, and dunking. Lots of ridiculous, high-flying dunking. You can amp these options up, doing some fancy dribbling to try and ankle-break your defender. You can throw elbows to clear space around you (Bill Laimbeer and Charles Barkley would be proud of these swinging limbs) and are capable of flipping behind the back passes to your teammate. This is all well and good, but you play this game for the insane dunks and hope to hit 3 shots with one of your players while the defender does not score. Do this, and the insanity ratchets up a few more levels as you hear the announcer let everyone know that your player is "on fire!". You gain a tremendous bump to your shooting percentage, allowing you to rain down three pointers and perform roof-scraping dunks that leave the net burning when the ball passes through it. Flying alley-opps, summersault dunks and more are not only fun to watch, but something you see occur in almost every game as well.

There are some other modes as well. You can play the classic game, but we have a remix mode where it is NBA with Power-ups (like ones that make you really strong, really fast or really small for example). There's a backboard smash where the goal is to deplete the basket's 'health' and the win. Obviously picking high flying dunkers over three point shooters or nimble guards works best. There's 'boss battles' where you play against NBA legends like Magic Johnson or Larry Bird - I thought these were cool, but a bit frustrating at times, 21 - which is three guys doing what they can to be the first one to reach 21 points. So, how does the entire package hold up?



Graphics - 8:

The visuals themselves are fairly throwback - but I loved that about the game. There are Photoshopped heads tacked onto the bodies. No fancy 3D rendering of heads here - you get faces that are looking this way or that way; they're comical and fun (especially in Big Head mode). There's plenty of things going on in the background, and while none of it is rendered in incredible detail, the graphics all animate very smoothly. I am sure from a technical standpoint it's easier to craft an engine that only has four players on a court instead of ten like an actual NBA sim, but the quality was excellent all the same. The game oozes style, and it feels like one big highlight reel.



Sound and Music - 6:

You know, I don't recall most of the music. I recall a few tunes here and there that were okay, never really heard anything that made me go: wow - that doesn't fit. But the sound effects were good and the announcer was a treat. In the old games he rattled off comments and one-liners and they still did not get old for me. The enthusiastic presentation kept me grinning and I was looking forward to certain catch phrases - knowing they would inevitably occur. Obviously it's not amazing tech on display here - it's not as detailed as the kinds of audio you find in a game like NBA 2K11 or Madden, but it gets the job done and helps set the mood. Still, a bit more variety wouldn't have hurt, especially given how many games you do play to get through a 'season', and it really does not have the depth of a game like NBA 2k where you get a lot of color commentary about a player's background.



Gameplay - 8:

You can navigate the menus easily enough. There's several modes here. Still, none of it works if you don't have a smooth controls and a fun game to play. Luckily NBA Jam delivered this. The pacing is fast, and sure - sometimes it feels a bit cheap when you get laid out near the end of the game and the cpu hits a near-half court shot to win the game *ahem*, but pulling off huge dunks never gets old and watching a basketball that's on fire swish through the net, setting it ablaze from beyond the three point line is a great feeling. There are a few different control schemes too, for people who just want to use the Wii remote on its side, or use a more active scheme that takes advantage of the motion, or a classic controller hooked up to the Wii remote (I usually used the last option myself, but all of them worked quite well in my opinion).



Intangibles - 7:

The game is a hoot. When I first put it in, I played for nearly 3 straight hours. All three of my kids stopped to watch and ask questions. My oldest, who doesn't really care for sports or play many video games sat out on the sofa chatting with me and getting excited at some of the bigger dunks for nearly an hour. My son doesn't really play sports games, but he enjoys this one too. He's not interested in a post game that mirrors real life, or if Blake Griffon's dunk ability is an 80 or 90 or how his players will progress. Games like NBA 2k11, as well as they are made, have never piqued his interest once, but he wanted to play this - on his own and with/against me. This game really plays and feels like the classic game - right down to having a bunch of unlockable content, which is a lot of fun to find as well.

That said, there are some limitations here. The game does not offer a great deal of depth to the core game. There are obviously differences in the players, but really Lebron James never felt that much different to me than using Wade. Bed Gordon and Rodney Stuckey were just fine, but not much different either. The additional modes are interesting, but don't live up to the primary game for the most part. Playing locally is fine... but there's no online, and that feels like a tremendous missed opportunity. That would have added a ton of life to this title in my opinion.



Overall - 7.25:

I've really been enjoying NBA Jam. It was a Christmas present that I've finally had a chance to sit down and spend some time with, and overall I have to say it is one that I am going to enjoy playing through another season or two with. But, I suspect it will wind up in my trade-ins pile before spring, and that's a shame because a few more decisions would have furthered its value - like adding online support. However, when it's said and done, NBA 2K11 will be getting put back into my 360 sometime this summer when I get an itch to play some basketball again, because the year by year progression and online options will be there. Then again, consider the audience I suppose. None of my 3 kids will playing NBA 2K11, but at least 2 have played NBA Jam. It facilitated some discussion between my daughter and me about the NBA, some of my favorite players - and that probably would not have happened without this game. That will no doubt keep me thinking favorably about NBA Jam for the Wii, much as I have fond memories of it from the arcade and Super Nintendo days.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Gaming News and Notes from 2-9-11

Let's see what's crept up in the last week in gaming news:

Guitar Hero or True Crime fans? Bad news then - those business teams are being disbanded. End of the line for both it would seem.

Blizzard is notorious for making sure their games are incredibly well-polished prior to release, which no doubt is a big reason for their success. So from a quality standpoint, fans of the company (raises a hand) can appreciate their somewhat slow release time. Those of us hoping to see Diablo 3 this year however may be left a bit disappointed as Blizzard promises two releases before the end of 2012 - but that they may not have any in 2011.

Like Tekken? (hand might as well stay raised from the last paragraph) Then any bits about Tekken Tag Team 2 will be welcome. I recall the first tag team for Playstation 2 - it was awesome. This should be good stuff.

Will there be a Kinect Gears of War -on-rail shooter? Maybe.

Like Infamous? (hand still up). Excited for part 2? (hand still up). Want a $100 hero edition? (hand falls quick). yeah, bit outside my price range, but if you're interested - check here.

LG is suing Sony - and trying to keep PS3's from being sold in the US. Yeesh

Playstation Network got it's update - including Stacking, which has been getting good reviews so far. Oh, you can get it on Xbox live too.

The Darkness was a pretty cool shooter, so hearing that a sequel is in the works is good news.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Tecmo Super Bowl - Retro Reflections

We'll consider this the Super Bowl special edition. I was trying to think of what game or games would be most relevant this weekend. What did I come up with? Tecmo Super Bowl for the NES. Before there was Madden, there was Tecmo Bowl, which I played a fair amount of when it came out. But it wasn't until I could play out an entire season, complete with rosters, stat accumulation and the Pro Bowl teams that I first fell in love with the NFL. I was discovering Barry Sanders on my Detroit Lions around the time this game came out, and they really were what developed my interest in sports games.

So how did the game hold up when I put it back under the microscope this weekend? Surprisingly well! There's only 8 plays on offense and defense. It's a guessing game, you call defensive plays and if you guess the same one the offense guesses, you decimate them. Call something similar to what they call, and you have better odds of defending it. Offense is 4 running and 4 passing plays. They vary up a bit by team. I usually used the Lions, the Bills or the 49ers back then.



Calling a run play with Barry Sanders had me grinning ear to ear the first time I 'juked' (that's putting it nicely. I ran at diagonal angles is all) a defender, and when I got a sack with Ball after he tossed the blocker aside like a rag doll, I laughed aloud. It's really a gimmicky offense most of the times: drop back basically forever. Toss the ball really deep. 100 yard passes are not as impossible as they should be. It was still a blast taking control of Chris Spielman at linebacker and drilling the running back with a dive tackle.



In the video I made, I played the Pro Bowl rosters and had one play that epitomized the game for me years ago as I dropped back, immediately identified the bottom wide receiver with no one covering him, threw the ball very badly, but he leapt up, grabbed it, sprinted to the goal line and shed the defender for a touchdown. The cut scenes were fun to see as well - and I got that last sequence in the video I provided.

I don't know if this was the first game to use all NFL teams, have full NFL rosters, or to have full season stat tracking - but it was the first one I ever played and it set me down a path of more than 20 years (and counting) of NFL licensed football games and a lot of good memories playing them. Appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday, wouldn't you say?

Now for the videos... I've got Youtube first, Screencast 2nd







The Screencast one looks better, but it auto-sizes better, doesn't re-encode either. Youtube however doesn't attack my bandwidth the same way an offers the option of other people finding it. I'll probably do some tweaking and do one more comparison next week, but I am leaning toward Youtube at the moment - I just need to get better with the dimensions.