Developed by: Midway
Published by: Midway
Platforms: Pick one, NBA Jam was on it
Feeling Like: I’m on fire!
How many sports video games leave any kind of a legacy? I’m not talking about brands, like FIFA or Madden, but specific titles. Iterations always minor gameplay tweaks with slightly better graphics and updated rosters, but few enter any kind of cultural zeitgeist or become seminal.
NBA Jam may be the single most memorable sports game, and it’s all thanks to Tim Kitzrow.
Even those that haven’t played it know some of the lines.
HE’S ON FIRE!!!!
At the buzzer!
Welcome to…NBA JAM!
They’re catchy, they’re original, they’re full of energy. They’re heard throughout the game. Having voiced audio in sports games was unheard of 1993. Nba Jam wasn’t the first to try this, but it was easily the most successful. And this was on hardware that had 16 megabytes of memory total.
It was a hit in the arcades and every friend I knew had it for their Sega Genesis. It was the perfect pick up and play option. The fact that it was two on two instead of five on five meant there was very little room for confusion. Every fundamental of basketball was dead simple – dribbling, passing and shooting were was easy as moving and pressing a single button. Pulling off wild dunks or last minute buzzer beaters or blocking a shot without being charged with goaltending required more patience and practice. With a group of friends fueled by pizza and soda, however, the hours melted away and the intensity of the matchups always ramped up. Getting better was only a matter of time, and since matches didn’t last long, it was trial by fire.
It’s the kind of game where if you saw it in an arcade, no matter what the year is, or where you were, or how much time you had, you had to give it a go. Even if the screen had burn in, you could still hear Kitzrow’s emphatic declaration that a player was engaging in razzle dazzle, or somebody putting up a brick.
Honestly it still looks pretty good for a game that’s nearly 30 years old. The background fans actually look like people and while the players themselves have this bizarre head-model thing going on, it’s meant to be over the top and stylistic anyway. The game was so popular and easy to play that it was soon made available for every system and I mean every system. I couldn’t even fit it in the “Platform:” section. Suffice to say, if a machine played video games from 1992 to 2011, you could play some form of NBA Jam on it.
You saw other games try to copy the formula; while I only played it for a few moments, it was easy to see where NFL Blitz’s influence came from. It’s easy to understand why; it lent itself perfectly to multiplayer and it was arcade-y enough that even non basketball (hell, non sports) fans could enjoy it right away. There was sizzle and steak to boot. I always tried to go for three pointers and three pointers only, but I generally was massacred by better players who could vary their attack and defend my predictable routes.
I absolutely love that only a few years ago, the creator of NBA Jam, Mark Turmell, put in a line of code that meant if you were playing as the Chicago Bulls vs. the Detroit Pistons and had a buzzer beater shot, it would always miss. I can’t even imagine how many maligned shooters protested for decades that this was the case, only to have confirmation when they’re middle-aged adults with jobs and kids. I wonder how many booted it back up to test it?
My experience may have been limited to playing at the Stockdill’s house and getting destroyed by Graham and his buddies, but I was always game. NBA Jam deserves to be listed as one of the greatest sports games ever, but it’s the vernacular that’s left a legacy impossible to ignore.