When NBA Jam was released in 1993, it was a trailblazer for the burgeoning field of arcade sports titles. Developed by now-defunct Midway, it offered up rock-solid two-on-two basketball gameplay with outrageous dunks, the ability to go 'on fire', and digitized graphics. The series spawned numerous sequels after its mainstream success in arcades and home consoles, but eventually met its demise with the Acclaim-developed PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions in 2003.
The realm of arcade basketball was not dead, though. EA Sports' NBA Street series had a number of successful entries during the GameCube, PS2, and Xbox era, but fizzled out following a 2007 release. Midway, not using the NBA Jam license, released another entry in their recent NBA Ballers series in 2008 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Mario even tried his hand at basketball on DS in Mario Hoops 3-on-3. Still, the unbridled success of NBA Jam hasn't been duplicated.
With the success of the Wii, EA Sports has been trying to figure out how to succeed in the vastly different market. Their last NBA game on Wii, NBA Live 09 All-Play, was met with a 51 Metacritic average. Since then, EA Canada has been working on a new basketball game specifically for Wii. Initially, this game was called NBA Kids, according to NBA Jam's Creative Director Trey Smith.
It wasn't until EA Sports wound up talking to the NBA about licensing the proposed game that they made a startling revelation. "The NBA owned the Jam license," Smith said. "Midway only licensed it."
So Smith and EA Canada changed gears and began work on an NBA Jam title. As they worked on it, they discovered that Mark Turmell, the creator of the original game, was working at EA Tiburon. Turmell was sent an early build of the game, and he sent back a laundry list of things that weren't in the style of NBA Jam. Later, Turmell spent a few days working with the team at EA Canada, and following that, critiquing the updated builds he sends them. All of this echoes Smith's mantra about the upcoming game: "Stay as true to the original as we can."
And they are, with a Classic campaign that feels like it's straight out of 1993, a cheesy announcer, the 'on fire' mechanic, and a graphical style using 3D models and high-resolution photography that echoes the original's digitized graphics. There is also an all-new Remix mode that throws some power-ups into the fold, and in-game achievements that unlock bonus characters.
Outside of the recent announcements of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, the team is playing coy with the other unlockable characters. "Just think of any relevant player from the original and any great NBA player since then and we've probably tried to get them," Smith said. "We're trying to get everyone we can."
As far as more outlandish characters, such as Bill Clinton, various sports stars (Warren Moon, Frank Thomas), and mascots, Smith merely reiterated what he's obviously been saying to everyone who asks him about the game: "We're going to stay as true to the original as we can."
NBA Jam is set for a fall release exclusively on Wii.