The theme song to the 90s classic sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” perfectly captures the whimsical thrill I feel whenever I reach back to the third installment of the NBA Jam series on SNES, NBA Hang Time. While it rarely gets mentioned in the same breath as NBA Jam (Jam I) and NBA Jam: TE (Jam II), Hang Time is a refreshing spin on a timeless mold of arcade video gaming. What can be better than a dunk? A double-dunk! What can be better than being ‘on fire’? The team is on fire! While Jams I & II have earned the adage “often emulated, never duplicated,” NBA Hang Time proves the altruism “emulation is the sincerest form of flattery.”
Though they couldn’t include “Jam” in the title due to Acclaim owning its rights, Funcom wisely kept the structure of Jams I & II in tact when developing Hang Time. Multiplayer, which like the prequels utilize the Multitap for up to four players, includes head-to-head and co-op options. Single player matches can be played as exhibition against the computer, or in a circuit mode using a created pen name. The button mappings differ slightly from the original Jams, but the basic functions of shoot, pass, push, jump, block and rebound are all still there. The team selection screen displays your selectable duos, but unlike the prequels in which all teams had to be defeated to unlock your full roster, Hang Time gives you five players from the gun. The incurring of ‘injuries’ (from getting pushed over) continue to play a significant role in making your character less effective on the court, so it is significant that both players can be swapped out for fresh legs at half-time, instead of only having one man in relief.
The ‘streetball’ feel Hang Time provides is a perfect yang to the indoor yin of Jams I & II. It strikes me as a healthy and fluid evolution of the series since the fantasy elements of pushing and elbow-throwing have been a significant element of Jam culture from the get-go. The absolutely classic element of getting ‘on fire’ by scoring three consecutive buckets with the same player still holds, but is elevated by allowing your duo to get on fire by executing three consecutive alley-oops. As if the addition of alley-oops to the Jam universe wasn’t enough, you can even begin an alley-oop after passing the ball off to your teammate who was doing an alley-oop … for a freaking DOUBLE DUNK! If that ain’t street, I don’t know what is. Added to the gameplay repertoire are spin-moves, fade-aways, side-leaners, and heel-to-butt jumpers — all adding to the schoolyard element of basketball popularized in the 90s by Michael Jordan (who is, as always, absent from the game due to licensing).
One of the thrilling aspects of NBA Jam: TE was the secret players you could get by punching in the right code at the ‘enter name’ screen. Sun’s Gorilla, Hugo the Hornet and Hillary Clinton were some of my fave secret players to jam with. Hang Time made code punching easier by having a three-number dial at the ‘tonight’s match-up’ screen, but a more significant addition is Create a Player. The user can build a player by arranging attribute points and choosing from stock uniforms and silly faces. The player name is then saved to the game and can be used to try and beat circuit mode, which like Jams I & II pits the user serially against all NBA teams, from weakest to hardest. The created player has the opportunity to improve by gaining 2 attribute points every 3 wins. While overall this is a brilliant addition to the series, I have to criticize the mode for having a lack of plausible faces. Poor “!HOSER,” my own created player, was destined to bear a sheep’s head.
Another noticeable divergence from the original Jams is that the court feels smaller, while keeping the players just as fast. This built-in strategy allows defenders to more easily make up ground to defend a dunk. It also puts an even higher premium on winning the “pushing” game, meaning the gamer really has to be on his timing. Cause if you get knocked down it’s a 2-on-1 to the hole, sucker! Success in the Jams have always hinged on timed execution, but Hang Time adds depth to this by 1) allowing a user to control his CPU teammate’s choices to shoot and turbo on command, and 2) introducing a guessing game through the element of double-dunking. Who to defend? If you wait too long to choose, you may just find yourself knocked down to the ground and 2-points worser for the wear.
The multiplayer elements of Hang Time are the main reasons it is such an exciting, fast-paced thrill to play, and makes it an honorable member of the NBA Jam series. I love how matches are allowed to hinge on that one hot-streak attained by a player or duo, and I appreciate how true to the sport of basketball that is. The accurate likenesses of the real NBA players adds an emotive depth to the triumphs and short-comings of its players. It’s all fantasy and it’s all NBA, and that’s wonderful.
All told, most gamers will consider Hang Time to be a tier below its predecessors. But when one considers the game showed little improvement in its Nintendo 64 installment, we realize what a complete game NBA Hang Time on SNES is. When I want my straightforward slamma-jamma sensations, I go to Jam I or II. But when I want some raw street-like spin-moves, leaners and fades, I go to Hang Time. It’s simply a must try for lovers of NBA Jam. Now, get out there and practice those double-dunks, before the Fresh Prince decides you’re up to no good.
Four out of Five Stars
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