is most popular for being the creative heads behind the Mortal Kombat
franchise. Yet they are also well known for taking normal professional sports
games and turning them into twisted, violent and completely unrealistic
sporting games, with varying success. They have had many games like this, yet none of them have ever come close to "NBA Jam."
I'll never forget it. It must have been 1993, the year "NBA Jam" hit arcades. I was in a Fuddruckers restaurant during my junior basketball team's end of season party. Two people in their mid-teens were playing this relatively new video game called "NBA Jam." One of them was quietly winning, while the other was yelling things like "Hey, that's a foul!"…"Out of bounds! Hey! He was out of bounds!" and "That was so 3 in the key!!!!"
I started watching this game, and the man had a right to complain. The game had real NBA teams and (for the time) incredibly realistic looking NBA players. Yet I couldn't quite grasp what the idea of the game was. It was only two on two, the court seemed rather small, the players heads were huge, other players were hitting each other to force turnovers and the ball would randomly be on fire when a certain person would have it. This certainly not what I had been taught in the past year during our junior basketball season, and nothing like what I saw during NBA games on television...well, except for the hitting part (Much thanks to Bill Laimbeer and Dennis Rodman for that). I was confused...yet...I was very intrigued.
Over time, I learned to love “NBA Jam”. I loved it for its strategy, such as the art of goal tending an opponents basket when I realized the violation didn't count against the three consecutive baskets in able to be on fire. I loved it for the outlandish play by play announcer (you know "Razzle dazzle!", "Slams it in!" and my personal favorite, the "Counted!" line if you hit a buzzer beater). I loved how the in-arena advertisements in the game also served as positive messages for kids ("RECYCLE", "DON'T SMOKE", "STAY IN SCHOOL"). I loved it because although you could hit people, the game still followed rules like double dribble and the shot clock violation so not to slow down the flow of the game.
I loved it because as a kid, I knew that in a real basketball world with real basketball rules, that Chris Webber, Calbert Cheney and Scott Skiles could never take my Washington Bullets to the NBA title. Yet in "NBA Jam"...the night I beat all 27 teams with my Bullets…I thought anything was possible in the “NBA Jam” world.
And to me…it was.
“NBA Jam” was the first game I can remember to have cheats that seemed to enhance the game without ruining any effect to the game at all. While it had cheats like "dunk from anywhere" and "always on fire," the game allowed you to play the game as non-NBA players. Over time, as they made more "NBA Jam" games, you could play ball as various NFL players such as Randall Cunningham and Warren Moon, you could play as president Bill Clinton, vice president Al Gore and even First Lady Hilary Clinton. You could play as mascots like Benny the Bull or Hugo the Hornet, you could play as NBA great Larry Bird, all three Beastie Boys, Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, Chicago White Sox great Frank Thomas. In some versions you could even play as Mortal Kombat characters! I remember Nintendo Power had a contest and a kid got to be a secret character in one of the many sequels to the original "NBA Jam." I also remember whispers going around my group of friends at school that a Michael Jordan code existed. These rumors proved to be false though.
Perhaps the lone drawback to the “NBA Jam” engine is something that has cursed every single attempt by Midway Games to cash in on the success of "NBA Jam" with other "extreme professional sports" games. The game was rigged to be close. For example, say it was the 2nd quarter and I started to take a thirteen point lead, all of a sudden my players wouldn't be able to dunk, every outside shot would be an airball, the opposition would shake off every attempt to knock the ball away from them, and every 3 pointer taken by the opposition would be nothing but net.
Yet, sometimes, when it didn't get too out of control, it was hardly noticeable, and made for some amazing finishes in some epic "NBA Jam" games.
Perhaps the one Midway game most effected by the whole "rigged to be close" aspect was the Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey games. If a team took a lead by three or more goals, then if the trailing team simply cleared the puck from one end of the ice to the other, it would somehow slip between the goalie's legs for an incredible 180 foot goal.
The "NBA Jam" name continued on into many more games such as "NBA Jam: Tournament Edition" and "NBA Hangtime." Midway is now pushing games such as "NBA Ballers," with photo realistic graphics, big name NBA players endorsing the game, and hip-hop heavy soundtracks.
That sounds nice, yet I'd rather play in the 16-bit world of "NBA Jam." A world where the action is always fast, the play-by-play is always fresh, the dunks are always hard, and guys like Dee Brown, Mark Price, David Robinson and Scottie Pippen still rule the court.