Brad Woodling’s favorite: NBA Jam (1993)

September 16, 2012

In the My Favorite Game series, get to know us better as staff writers share the game they love most and why.

When I first laid eyes on an NBA Jam arcade machine, I was blown away. The announcer was screaming, the basketballs were on fire and my favorite NBA superstars were windmill dunking on each other. In addition to the TV-style presentation, the in-game player graphics transcended anything that had been seen in sports gaming. The faces of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were digitized and very recognizable. The watershed moment of experiencing this firsthand when I inserted my first quarter spawned my love for the game and series.

Honorable Mention: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night: I was fortunate to have a bunch of free time at college and could immerse myself in games, and boy were 1997 and 1998 a good time for that (honorable mention head-nod to Final Fantasy VII). While derided by some as being too easy, Castlevania: SOTN was my speed, and the time it took to get to 100% made beating the game one of my favorite accomplishments.

The NBA Jam series is propelled by a couple of key features. First, it attracts non-sports gamers due to the arcade-style action and pace. Second, it promotes multiplayer and forms bonds with your friends, as the single player campaign was daunting and expensive, and you always had to start with the Dallas Mavericks. Finally, NBA Jam exemplifies the “easy to learn, difficult to master” mantra. Anyone can fire up a three-pointer or throw down a gorilla dunk, but the timing and finesse around blocking shots and making quick decisions on the court took hours of experience with the game.

While the arcade game was breathtaking, being 14 years old at the time yielded an issue with being able to constantly play it. Fortunately, just a year later, the home console ports of NBA Jam came out. At the time, we had a Sega Game Gear and I lucked out. Not only was the Game Gear version coming out the same day as the Genesis and SNES games, but the handheld port was really good and completely captured the manic nature of NBA Jam. Sure, it was shunted to a smaller screen but this did not deter me from spending many long car rides playing the game.

Honorable Mention: Super Mario 64: I’ve spent a fair amount of time watching others play video games, but Super Mario 64 was the most pleasant experience I’ve had while being forced to do so. From the camera angles to new Mario controls to exploring a 3D Mario world for the first time, the game was so immersive and jaw-dropping.

Once I garnered the resources to procure my own consoles and games, I picked up the Genesis version, then the Sega CD game, then the follow-up: NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. NBA Jam was the first gaming franchise that I actively collected for, and I still search them out today. (I recently picked up the PlayStation versions of NBA Jam: TE and NBA Hangtime to add to my NBA Jam family.)

Next, my friends and I enjoyed NBA Hangtime for the Nintendo 64 (the true sequel to NBA Jam: TE), and I played around a bit with NBA Showtime: NBA on NBC for the Dreamcast as well. I found my way back to the franchise with this generation’s reboot and thoroughly enjoyed NBA Jam: On Fire Edition. The multiplayer experience online against buddies or random strangers absolutely stoked the old fire I had for the original game. Picking up the familiar gameplay was like riding a bike, and the excitement over hearing the announcer exclaim “Is it the shoes?” or swishing a winning three-pointer at the buzzer had all the original feelings I had for the game rush back to me. That’s the sign of a game you truly enjoy.


Graham Russell September 16, 2012 at 8:33 pm

You know I share your love for the Jam! I’d be interested in your thoughts on the various ancestors, knockoffs and competitors throughout the years, from the old stuff (Arch Rivals, Street Hoop) to the recent (NBA Ballers, NBA Street, Mario Hoops 3-on-3).

Brad Woodling September 17, 2012 at 9:27 am

Great question and this is where my retro lens can work for or against me. I’ve played Street Hoop – but only recently (and through the Virtual Console release). I’m very intrigued by Run and Gun from Konami, which was an arcade release in the NBA Jam vein. Didn’t have a NBA license but pretty much ripped off likenesses and numbers. It looked like a suped up NBA Give and Go on the SNES (also Konami’s).

The more recent titles…well, I own them (now) but candidly did not play them when they were released. I was all about simulation games so played a lot of the NBA 2k series. As life’s priorities changed and time became more limited, I really shifted back to more arcade-style games. While I really enjoyed the NBA Jam reboot, I very much prefer the single player pieces in the On Fire Edition. The boss battles and power-ups that were campaigns in the first game really didn’t interest me.