iOS Mini-Review: NBA Jam

March 17, 2012 at 1:18 am | Posted in iOS Reviews | 1 Comment
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I remember my first handheld experience with NBA Jam very fondly.  Being a big NBA fan and playing the original game as often as I could in the arcades, I was extremely excited when NBA Jam came out for the Sega Game Gear in 1993.  Sure, the graphics were stunted but I was finally playing with NBA-licensed teams and with real NBA players!  Even on the Game Gear’s 3.2″ screen, NBA Jam translated the arcade experience well.  Since EA picked up the NBA Jam license from a defunct Midway, they’ve rekindled the flames of the classic with solid home console releases and a successful download-only follow-up.  Expanding into the world of mobile games was an obvious step for the franchise.  NBA Jam has always been easy to pick up and play, but what happens when you take away buttons and move to an iOS touchscreen device?  NBA Jam ($0.99 App Store) keeps up the tradition of replicating its classic feel across gaming platforms as EA Sports engineers the mobile version to work as well as ever.

NBA Jam was originally released on iOS platforms in February, 2011 and give EA credit.  Instead of just dumping a quick shell of their Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 build, they delivered a complete NBA Jam experience (for $4.99 at first) and they continued to support the game after its release (up to version 1.0.55).  They also added on Game Center compatibility and a local wi-fi multiplayer experience in past upgrades.  Currently, NBA Jam is #11 on the App Store Top Purchases list; a solid accomplishment for a sports title.  NBA Jam mixes in the right amount of game modes and features for a portable experience.  In addition to your standard ‘Play Now’ option, you can traverse through a Campaign mode which pits you against 37 teams (including classic players teaming up), all the while unlocking different players and other goodies as you advance.  The roster is solid and even includes some legends not used in future follow-ups, like Allen Iverson. EA also gives you the opportunity to throw more money at them with in-app purchases of different Division player packs that include mascots and other NBA legends.  These can run from $1.99 to $3.99 with the ability to purchase all unlockables via the Big Man Package for $7.99.  As with most iOS App Store reviews, some players feel entitled to the most recent roster update imaginable, but with the game currently strolling along at $0.99, it’s hard to be picky there.

The biggest obstacle in tackling NBA Jam on a touchscreen device is how to best lay out the controls for the game.    Consolized NBA Jam games use four buttons nowadays, with one of those being your turbo (typically a trigger button).  It’s always a best practice to use Turbo + Shoot or Turbo + Pass, so how do you make that work on a flat screen?  Excitedly, EA nails this part of the game as you can keep your finger on the turbo button while you slide to either the pass or shoot to get the desired effect.  The one piece that can throw you off is the juke and cross-over options on offense.  Here you have to shake the device in order to break your opponent’s ankles.  This isn’t ideal as you lose your bearings for a second but kudos to EA for not taking any of the controls out from the console games.  There is a tutorial to get accustomed to the touchscreen buttons before you jump into the game also.

I’m often questioned, and normally it is after suffering through a bad game like Double Dribble Fastbreak, “Yes, but what are the best sports titles out there?”  When it comes to basketball games on mobile devices, I cannot recommend NBA Jam enough. The frantic, fast-paced action has translated to the small screen with the perfect balance of modes and challenges for an iOS game.  The announcers (“Is it the shoes?” is still awesome) add to the atmosphere and the graphics are fantastic. At its original $4.99 price tag, the game offered enough options and depth to warrant a purchase. At $0.99, NBA Jam is a steal and a must-buy for sports gamers.


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