BOOMSHAKALAKA! NBA JAM Is Back! Hands-On Preview

BOOMSHAKALAKA! NBA JAM Is Back!

There I was, twelve years old. A one-pound bag of Starbursts and a one-pound bag of Skittles on the table in front of me and my friend Brian. We had gone through a case of Dr. Pepper, it was 2 a.m., and we were still playing NBA Jam. We'd heard so many "Boomshakalakas," "Is it the Shoes?" and "He's on fires" that we could barely think in anything other than that classic announcer's voice. Co-Op, Competitive, we'd switch off, and never stop having fun.

Tournament Edition, the game's sequel, added in some new fun. It didn't get away from the basics too much, but threw in some features (that could be turned on and off) to spice things up further. Of course, you got to dunk on Shaq with Hilary Clinton, so overall it was a win. Let's skip over other attempts at updating and reviving the franchise and fast-forward to present day.

We haven't seen Jam in quite some time. Cue EA Sports to step in and pick up the license. They're bringing along the game's creator, the flashy dunks, and yes, the catchphrases, for an old-school romp that is absolutely on fire.

The game will initially be available on the Nintendo Wii, though the representative from EA Sports on the scene to present the game hinted that PS3 and Xbox 360 fans had some hope for the future. "We're very focused on getting this out the right way," he said.

EA's focus on the Wii with this game is simply to penetrate that market with a basketball game. Their Live franchise has underperformed on the platform, and when they got this license, it was ideal to break in. That doesn't mean, however, that there are a ton of motion controls shoved in.

"We started out with motion controls for nearly everything. Swipe to the left for a steal, push both the nunchuck and wiimote forward for a push. We quickly realized that it was just uselessly confusing the game and taking some of the core pick-up-and play out of it." Instead, EA Vancouver decided to make the only motion control be the most natural one, swing up to jump, swing down to shoot. That's it. All other motions instead got mapped to a button. With the optional classic controller, you can do away with motion controls altogether, but it really did give an extra bit of satisfaction to a nice shot.

Playing it was like being transported back to that basement room, sitting in front of the 19-inch TV. The thumbstick on the nunchuck is your motion, button presses steal, pass, push, turbo, and do the new spin move and pump fake on offense. The spin move in particular brings a new dimension to the game.

"The push is powerful, and sometimes too powerful. The spin, if you time it just right, lets the opponent just push right through you, giving you an open drive to the basket."

Everything felt very natural, and within seconds, myself and the other three players were trash-talking, howling with laughter, and crying out at the big moments. The classic Marv Albert-inspired announcer is there. While many of the catch phrases couldn't be confirmed, I heard at least one "Boomshakalaka," a "He's on Fire," and a new one, "This is getting SEXY!" The one Wiimote gesture worked great, and  didn't feel out of place in the frenetic pacing of the game.

Again without specifics, we were teased that "all the signatures" of the series will be back, including unlockable characters, codes, and more. And the next big thing? There's a new mode that allows players to play a completely different style of Jam. Power-ups, boss battles, and more will be thrown into the zany mode. It is kept separate from the "main" game, so purists can stick to the old-school vibe if they prefer.

Two ten minute sessions with NBA Jam weren't enough. I wanted more immediately. They were enough, however, to see that this game isn't just in good hands, but it will instantly bring people back to the Skittles and Dr. Pepper days of old. 

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