NBA Jam was at its time the epitome of what an arcade sports game should be, and 15 years later, it still is. The franchise has gone through some rough times in the past but this iteration went back to the franchise's roots and recreated the arcade classic with some modern improvements that really brings the old glory back.
The most important aspect of any arcade game is that it's easy to pick up and play. It's trying to sell itself to players who just don't want to learn complicated combinations of commands. There are only 2 motion control commands, flick up to jump and then forward in a shooting motion at the top of the arc to simulate shooting. Also when running towards the net, flicking up and then down at the top of the jump arc leads to a dunk, and on defense, flicking up is used to attempt to block a shot or dunk. All of these controls are done in such a way that the game can easily be played with motion controls while sitting on a couch or without view of the IR sensor. Fortunately for long time fans of the series as well as those who remember the game from its arcade days, EA Sports has provided a classic controller scheme that is very similar to the original control scheme.
For those who have never played NBA Jam, it is a very simple 2 versus 2 arcade basketball game where insane dunks and ridiculous shoving contests are commonplace. This version however provides a lot more to really add to the experience and help prevent any form of fatigue with the game. There is the classic campaign where you take your team through all 29 other teams as well as 6 boss battles featuring legendary duos from previous eras. There are also other modes such as break the backboard, where the goal is to shatter the glass of the opponent's backboard. This mode is especially cool as the most damage is done by dunking and alleyooping which shifts the focus away from making epic half court shots to getting in close and battling it out in the paint.
NBA Jam has tried to add depth to the formula by adding a Remix mode that provides power ups that can help or hinder your players. However, this experiment fails on all fronts as it really doesn't add to the depth of the game. The major problem is that the power ups seem rather useless when it comes to affecting how the game is played. This differs from Remix Tour which allows you to fight your way through the divisions trying to complete 3 challenges against each team. This is a lot of fun and really lets you get to experience all the modes and boss battles however given the limited number of modes and personal preferences, advancing through this campaign at various points will become extremely tedious.
The game also sticks to its stylistic roots providing the classic arcade feel that long time fans will immediately recognize while sprucing up the animations and body movements to allow for ridiculous, but good looking dunking and shoving. The player faces are simply photos, which really sells the arcade vibe as well as being absolutely hilarious when the game freezes at the end of a quarter. There is also the option to use big head mode which is virtually a must while playing as it just adds so much old school flair. The effort put into maintaining its classic feel extends to the commentary which is done by Tim Kitzrow who did all the original voice work. He has redone all of the original lines and added quite a few more. This detail may seem insignificant but for those fans that remember him shouting all the classics in the arcade, it means a lot.
An arcade game isn't complete without a plethora of collectives and on that front NBA Jam delivers. The first unlockable to get is definitely big head mode which is unlocked by doing the Jam Camp training mode. After that all of the unlockables are achieved by doing various in game objectives such as score 10 baskets in a row and get 10 shoves in a game. Another type of unlockable is the ability to play as the legendary teams once you've beaten them in the campaign mode. This is pretty awesome for long time basketball fans, and those players that like having the best players possible at their disposal.
Unfortunately all of these great features and changes don't change the fact that this is at it's core, a simple arcade game. The game mechanics while fun in short bursts or with a lot of friends just aren't deep enough to sustain long term individual play, and several of the modes are uninteresting. The commentary while having classic arcade flair becomes annoying over extended playing sessions and the motion controller can be quite hard on the wrists as well due to the fact the game requires constant flicks of the wrist.
NBA Jam, despite reviving an arcade classic and bringing it into the modern era, struggles with its depth and level of replayability. It is a fun game to play with friends and always leads to a lot of excitement, just like the game did in the arcades back in the mid 90s. However as a single player game, it's lacking and there really isn't enough depth to keep things interesting.