(SNES / Super Nintendo)

NBA Jam (SNES / Super Nintendo)

Game Review

NBA Jam Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Spencer McIlvaine

The very definition of Boomshakalaka

Released amid a surge in the popularity of professional basketball during the early 1990s, NBA Jam rode the wave along with many other basketball video games. In spite of all the competition, it became a legend in its own time and is still remembered fondly today. Often sport-based games become obsolete a year after their release, but Midway shattered that perception with a dunk heard 'round the world.

No doubt one of its biggest selling points, its cutting edge graphics feature lifelike character animations while most other video games of the time generally look more like a cartoon. NBA Jam's designers drew its players to actually resemble what they looked like in real life, and although we take this for granted now on modern systems, the effect is still an impressive feat considering that it was accomplished on the Super Nintendo.

The soundtrack is also upbeat and catchy, while oftentimes sports games tend to either license popular music of the day with little regard to theme or consistency or feature generic midi music for lack of anything better. NBA Jam’s score is perfectly matched to the action and will have you humming along for days after a play session. Additionally, the commentary by the in-game sportscaster is perfectly suited to the gameplay and uses memorable catch phrases that are still quoted even now.

The gameplay is fast and furious. Sometimes even basketball can slow down with the application of a good defence, but NBA Jam moves at a constant breakneck speed. With only two players per team, the court is left wide open for the player possessing the ball, making for a very offence-friendly game. Matches play like a race to rack up the highest score (and pull off the more impressive stunts) rather than the slower, strategic grind that comes from having a full five-player team on each side.

Further distinguishing Jam from the other basketball games of its time is the fact that despite the official license from the NBA, it moves beyond arguably boring realism into the exciting world of fantasy with impossible jumps, basketballs catching on fire, and players punching each other in the back of the head without any consequence. NBA Jam is extreme – and by extreme, we mean extremely extreme. Even while going for realistic representations of the players, it utilises completely unrealistic gameplay and player abilities. Most of the action is powered by the inclusion of a "turbo" button that players can lean on to get the most out of their team. Until you use it up and wait for it to recharge, you can put it towards making extreme leaps, running faster and shooting more accurately. You can more skillfully attempt normal three-pointers or channel your inner Michael Jordan for a slam-dunk from the three point line, adding a couple of mid-air flips just for style. The action is over the top and a feast for the imagination.

Taking things to an even greater extreme, if the same member of your team scores three baskets in a row, he becomes "on fire" and can use the turbo all the time while endowed with even more powerful abilities. This status is obviously unbalancing, but it doesn’t last very long. Given that NBA Jam focuses on dazzling the player with crazy, outlandish moves, attaining "on fire" status always feels like a great accomplishment as it makes possible the most bizarre moves available – including actually being on fire – and is undoubtedly the most iconic experience in the game.

This surreal arcade style action combined with the simultaneous rise in popularity of player vs. player fighting games produced a perfect storm in NBA Jam. Released only a year after Midway’s own Mortal Kombat, players were hungry for player vs. player violence and NBA Jam delivered. Although this was not the first time such a gimmick had been tried in basketball video game history (Midway introduced the punching mechanic in its own Arch Rivals four years earlier), this was the first time everything had been brought together into one tight package, complete with official licensing.

One downside, however, is that not all of your favourite players are here. One of the most famous basketball players of all time, Michael Jordan, was benched due to licensing issues. Charles Barkley, originally in the game, sat out later printings of the cartridge to instead promote his own competing title, Barkley: Shut up and Jam!, released around the same time. Other well-known names from the era are absent as well, but with only two players per team, this will likely go unnoticed once the game begins.

Perhaps a greater shortcoming is that the game, although exciting at first, becomes repetitive over time. Once you have experienced most of the special moves available, they become less entertaining each time thereafter. However, in the meantime, you will have exhilarating multiplayer fun. And if you know your way around some cheat codes, you can extended the scope and lifespan of NBA Jam far beyond what a silly two on two game of basketball ever otherwise would.


With fast-paced, addictive gameplay, a catchy musical score and graphics that are still easy on the eyes today, NBA Jam has certainly aged well and, despite its tenuous connection with reality, stands as the definitive basketball game of its generation. Although there were many sequels that tweaked the formula with extra bells and whistles, none exceeded the original in core gameplay quality. Indeed, it is a testament to the excellent game design of this first release in the series that its developers and publishers were able to later repackage what was essentially the same game for years while making few, if any, changes.

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User Comments (27)



LuWiiGi said:

Great review, Spencer, you desribed the game very well. Looks fantastic for its time, it's hard to believe those are SNES graphics.



Mayhem said:

From downtown! I recently discovered that someone I know worked on the SNES conversion... definite thumbs up from me, my brother and I played this to death...



Vantes said:

Tournament Edition, and then Hangtime later were both really good too.

I'm surprised one of these games didn't see a VC release.



Gabbo said:

Don't thank me. Thank Zach for all the rewrites he made me do



Token_Girl said:

One of two sports games my brother and I ever played as a kid (and the only good one, the other was Madden or some football game for Sega CD, which was only good for creating inside jokes down the line). We had this game for Game Gear, and we were always fighting over it.

Of course, the catch phrases/announcements weren't in there (nor was the same detail in the graphics, or all the moves), but given portable technology at the time, it was a competent port. We didn't have much skill and games would basically be decided by if we got the fire enough times to beat the computer (our mom would only get us one copy of the game, so no link cable action unfortunately). Lots of character and fun to be had though. We still occasionally bust it out sometimes for nostalgia.



smithers said:

still have this game but its at my grandmothers house at the moment, really awesome game



StarBoy91 said:

I haven't played this game in who knows how long.
Great review, Gabbo. I still remember when I saw the unbelievably amazing special dunking moves back when I was little.



Kid_A said:

Fantastic game. I think I liked the N64 one better. Show Time, was it?



CanisWolfred said:

I played the Genesis version like hell back in the day. I outta pick up a used copy just for the helluvit. They go for only a few bucks these days.



B-ry said:

Man I used to play this all the time with my brother. The graphics haven't aged well at all! We loved it though.



Tasuki said:

I had the original on Sega CD it was one of the few sports games other than the FIFA series that I liked. I remember playing as President Clinton most of the time lol. I just picked up the Wii remake cant wait to see how that one is.



Fuzzy said:

Bought tournament edition recently off eBay. Best $5 I've spent lately.



PSICOffee said:

Yeah this is another game on my to get list, but I think I'm going to get the tournament edition because it has more. I'm sure the game is hell of a lot of fun.



Ragnarok10 said:

I loved this game when I was younger. When there was a flood in my house it was literally the only game that stopped working... it was so sad.



TheBigHamlin said:

All the games in the series are a blast, but probably spent most time with hangtime on n64, if you could get four players going, awesome. Can't wait for the wii version.



Steamboat_Willie said:

"Tonights match-up. Spurs versus Rockets"

Man, I used to play this game constantly on my SNES back in the day. So many great memories.



JimLad said:

If I'm not mistaken NBA Jam on the SNES is actually a 4 player game, by use of a multitap. I have it, yet no one ever wants to play. :<
I need new friends.

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