If you loved NBA Jam on the Super Nintendo console back in the '90s, the iPhone version will transport you back to the slammin', jammin' days of yore. If you're new to the classic two-on-two basketball game, prepare to waste a whole lot of time, and get some ice ready for your sore thumbs.
NBA Jam for iPhone
is a faithful translation of NBA Jam Tournament Edition, featuring at least three regular players (plus one or two unlockable characters) from every NBA team. Unlockable bonuses abound, and you can even shell out for some in-app purchases if you want extra characters and play modes without doing the work. The controls take a little getting used to -- especially if you choose to play with gestures -- and the lack of an online multiplayer mode is disappointing, but the overall gameplay experience is worth your $5.
Below, we bring you a closer look at the small-screen NBA Jam experience.
Although its visuals aren't optimized for the iPhone 4 Retina display, NBA Jam on iOS blows its SNES predecessor's graphics away. That's not surprising, considering it's being released nearly two decades later, but it's nice to be able to see some detail on the players' faces instead of just recognizing them by body type. Big Head Mode gives you an even closer look at each player, but their enormous heads take up a lot of space on a tiny screen. Stick to regular size for serious gameplay.
On top of the aforementioned Big Head Mode, which you can unlock by completing a quick tutorial about the controls, there are plenty of other goodies to unlock in NBA Jam for iPhone. Every team has bonus characters, including past superstars and mascots. You can also acquire special basketballs, and activate powerups like unlimited turbo and 1-shot fire. If you're lazy, you can buy most of the unlockables from the App Store using the game's in-app purchase menu.
The controls are the only place where this Jam really suffers compared to the classic version. You can choose between Arcade Mode and Gesture Mode, and I recommend Arcade as the easier of the two. On-screen direction pads are always tough to use, and the pad in NBA Jam's is no exception. The hold-and-drag interface for using two buttons at once -- turbo passes and turbo shots, for example -- definitely takes some adjustment. It's not bad, but it still makes you long for a Super Nintendo controller. Gesture Mode might be easier if you can get the hang of it, but I found even basic running to be a bit tricky, and switched backed to Arcade after one game.
He's heating up! He's on fire! Razzle dazzle! All your favorite sound clips from the original NBA Jam are here. There's also much more announcer commentary, though, which might annoy NBA Jam purists. I just think of it as the way the designers would have wanted it if they didn't have to work with the limited storage of a Super Nintendo cartridge. On the iPhone, that's not a problem: the announcers actually say the names of individual players, and talk trash about weak dunks. Turn off the vibrate option, though, because it's way overused in this game.
If you love basketball, the NBA, or the old-school version of NBA Jam, this is a strong buy. If you even think you might like those things, you won't be disappointed. You're likely to get at least a couple of hours of fun for your five bucks, and that's a pretty good deal.