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For: iPhone   Also on: Android, iPad

Pump up the jam

Product: NBA Jam | Developer: Bight Games | Publisher: EA Mobile | Format: iPhone | Genre: Sports | Players: 1 | Version: US | App version: 1.0.0
NBA Jam iPhone, thumbnail 1
Being a basketball fan is like having a job. There are full-time fans who watch every game, follow their favourite teams religiously, and snap whenever somebody talks while the game is on.

NBA Jam is for the other kind of fan: the part-timers. The type who talk during free throws and don't freak out when the channel accidentally changes when a buddy sits on the remote.

High-flying dunks and big-headed players deliver instant fun, yet it's as easy to cast NBA Jam aside as it is to pick up. Without head-to-head multiplayer or at least some other compelling mode other than the campaign, it's hard to find a reason to keep picking this over-the-top arcade game up.

Practice makes perfect

First, what works: solid controls, great graphics, and fun on-the-court action. NBA Jam easily beats EA Mobile's earlier efforts at crafting a ball game for iPhone and iPod touch, offering a game that's fun and functional.

Even when accounting for the difference in focus - NBA Elite 11 targeting full-time fans with serious simulation, while NBA Jam opts for slammin', jammin' arcade antics - the design works better than its predecessor. It's more polished, easier to play, and generally feels more put together.

NBA Jam inherits the core mechanics from NBA Elite 11, tweaking and tuning them for the better. A contextual virtual analogue stick moves your player, whereas three buttons in the lower-right enable shots, sprints, blocks, shoves, and steals depending on whether you're holding the ball.

There's an optional gesture-based control scheme, but the default virtual button configuration works well.

It's actually got game

Surprisingly, NBA Jam has a real defensive game. Unlike NBA Elite 11 with its pathetic hope-and-pray defensive mechanics, here you're able to actively check the ball carrier with foul-worthy shoves, aggressive steals, and blocks that actually prevent the ball from reaching the basket.

Understandably, these new defensive options could only be a part of a game as outrageous as NBA Jam. Shoving a player won't fly in a real game and so it's important to note that much of the fun comes from the fantasy of it all.

That's fine because it's fun. Triggering a slam dunk from the three-point line is ridiculous, but it's also awesome. The ability to unlock classic players by completing challenges encourages you to mix up your moves, although the limited modes may not have you playing for terribly long.

Where's the multiplayer?

While the single-player campaign earns kudos for its length, it deserves no praise for depth or structure. Progress is tight and linear with each match played in sequence with no deviation allowed. Such a stiff structure goes against the game's casual style.

Worst of all is the lack of multiplayer. The game's two-on-two matches are crying out for head-to-head multiplayer - a feature that has been requested since 2009 when EA Mobile first released NBA Live. Its absence here is stunning.

Regardless of such an egregious omission, NBA Jam is good fun played solo and that's enough to please both part-time and full-time fans alike.

[UPDATE: NBA Jam has received a multiplayer update since this review was first published.]

Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 10 February 2011
NBA Jam is one slammin', jammin' ball game, but where's the multiplayer?
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