Personally, I find Midway overrated. Their sports lineup, for the most part, doesn’t wow me compared to games from EA, Sega, and a handful of other companies. That being said, NBA Jam is one of the very few exceptions. The blockbuster 1993 arcade game got its ports handled by Acclaim in early 1994 with Iguana developing most of them. As far as the SNES version goes, it’s no frill, over the top, frantic basketball. It’s a concept that works extremely well and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
At the time, the only basketball games with the NBA license were EA games (NBA Playoffs) and Tecmo (Tecmo NBA Basketball) leading the way. A number of companies were starting to get in on the pie, including Sega (NBA Action) and Konami (NBA In the Zone). NBA Jam is a successor to an earlier arcade game called Arch Rivals. The core game from that one is what you see here. It is two on two basketball. You got lots of over the top slam dunks. Punching players is allowed in order to get the ball back to your team. It is so simple, but executed to near perfection.
This was one of the few games at the time to have all 27 NBA teams. Even with only two players on each team, you get what were the best players the season prior. For the ports in early 94, these are based on the 1993-94 rosters. You want to be Patrick Ewing? Go ahead and be the New York Knicks. Want a duo like Larry Johnson and Alonzo Mourning? Play the Charlotte Hornets. The pick and roll of Karl Malone and John Stockon? You want the Utah Jazz. Notable omissions include Shaquille O’Neal and in later copies, Charles Barkley. Pick your team wisely because the duo you want will have certain strengths and weaknesses. A guy like Clyde Drexler will have good speed and defense, but is weak at shooting three pointers. The opposite could be said for a player like Isiah Thomas, who can nail three pointers, but can’t dunk to save his life.
Getting the presentation down is one of the aspects you can’t mess up. NBA Jam does not fail. It is just about as close to the arcade as you can get on a SNES port. Everything is intact. From the dunks to the menus, the accuracy is there graphically, even if it is a little scaled down and there is no crowd animations. The audio isn’t bad, but lacking. As for the music, it’s only for the menus and when a quarter ends. That’s disappointing, but what is here, even though a little inaccurate, has a bit of that basketball vibe. It’s like you’re getting pumped before the tip. Sound effects and the crowd are pretty good. The commentary voice is a little muffled, but you can understand what he is saying. Overall, they nailed it on this first effort.
NBA Jam hit at the right time for multiplayer. It was a one to four player game in the arcades, and this version here retains it. You just need a Multitap. There are two modes to it. First is the head to head match, where it can be you against the computer. Using this option also is good if you’re facing a friend or multiple friends. Second is a team game where if you are playing with someone, you’re working together to win the game. Controlling your player is very simple. On offense, you can shoot and pass the ball, while jumping and knocking out players is used for defense. The shoulder buttons are used for the speed when using the default controls.
While this may have punches and a lot of rules omitted, there are a few that remain. There is a 24 second clock, making sure no one abuses having the ball forever. The only other one is goal tending. There aren’t any powerups, but not having any doesn’t hurt the game at all. Scoring three buckets in a row with the same player gives you unlimited turbo. It stays that way until your opponent scores points. They do allow breaking the glass on the board, which at the time, breaking the backboard could still happen.
NBA Jam does allow saving your stats, but unlike the Genesis version, this is a password save instead of battery backup. Still, it’s better than nothing. Games are played with three minute quarters, but there are options here. You can alter the difficulty of the opponents, as well as alter the time per quarter. Included is a tag mode where you can control both players rather than control just the one you selected on the team. Other than the controls, last is a computer assistance mode. For difficulty, it’s one of those arcade games you can pick up and play, but beating every opponent means mastering every team’s weakness and making those crucial shots to get further in. There’s not much else that hasn’t been said. Just other than the audio, NBA Jam is a must play on any console, and the SNES version is no slouch. It’s one of the few games to nail it down on its first try in a series of games.
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